Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Hoarding and guns don't mix

The thing about growing up in a completely crazy family is that, no matter how nuts everything is, it's still your reality. As a child, you don't really have the perspective to know how much your family is different from others, even if you know that it is. And even as an adult, although I am completely aware that my family was waaaaaay far along the dysfunctional spectrum, I forget how weird my stories are until I see the facial expression of the person I'm telling them to.

That is, I forget how weird some of the stories are. The rest of them are completely, gobsmackingly insane. I was reminded of one of the strangest recently, when I ran across this article about a hoarder who got into a standoff with the police. The city inspectors and police escort came out to inspect the home for blight. As they were trying to figure out how to navigate through the front yard to get to the door, the hoarder opened fire.

That story was very nearly mine. My mother's father was a hoarder. He owned a house that was so filled with junk that you could only wind your way through the rooms by sliding sideways through the  stacks of his belongings. Magazines, newspapers, broken musical instruments, dead rats, moldy food -- you name it, it was piled in the house. The front yard was mostly occupied by a collection of automobiles in various states of disrepair. I don't remember what all was in the backyard, although I'm fairly certain that it was the barrels of gasoline from the 70's oil shortage that caught the attention of the local authorities. Oh, and did I mention that he also had a propensity for collecting unregistered guns?

You can see where this is going. Eventually, the city seized his house as a health hazard. The night before it was scheduled to be demolished, my mother told me that Grandpa had called her, raving about government crooks and persecutors. He told her that he wasn't going to stand for it. His plan was to lie in wait for the bulldozer driver, who was coming in the morning, and shoot him on sight.

My reaction to this piece of information was to insist that my mother call the police. My mother's reaction was to insist that he'd never really do it. Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, I've been accused more than once of being a pessimist. I'm just saying that when a man beats his wife and kids, assaults police officers, and has been in and out of jail on weapons charges, you should take him seriously when he threatens to off someone. After some serious pressure from me, Mom finally agreed to call the police. They went out to talk to him that evening, and no one ended up getting shot. The house got bulldozed, my mom continued to live in a constant state of denial, and I got one more crazy story to add to my collection.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

It's not me, it's you

I've worked long and hard to gain emotional distance from enmeshment with my mother and her hoarding. (Geographical distance helps too. I now live 700 miles away from her and my childhood home, which I can only imagine is filled to the rafters by now.) I don't visit much, as the visits are unpleasantly laced with dysfunction and weird interactions between my mother and me. There's a lot of verbal tap-dancing going on with my attempts to derail her before she gets going on topics that set her off and make me crazy. Religious discussions go something like this. Mom: "I wish you went to a Bible-believing church more often." Me: "I believe there are many paths to God." Mom: "I'm so sad that you're going straight to hell!" She's a very conservative Evangelical Christian. I'm about as liberal as you can get without being Noam Chomsky, so politics are also off-limits. Discussions about other members of the family aren't so great either. Me: "No, I think my younger brother is doing pretty well. He likes his new job a lot." Mom: "I just don't understand why he would want to work for a morally corrupt institution like a bank. Do you think he's morally corrupt too?" Oh, and the holidays. Mom: "I'm setting a boundary and have decided that I'm not going to allow you in my house. Why don't we meet on Christmas Eve at Carl's Junior?" Me: "WTF?" (Note: The first few were just examples. The last one actually happened, minus the swearing at my mother part. And let me tell you, there is nothing more depressing than eating greasy hamburgers in a fast food joint on Christmas Eve.) 

Still, once in awhile, the guilt kind of gets me. When I was younger, I tried and tried to help her get the house clean. But her hoarding brain takes over and gets in the way. I might need this someday/it's still perfectly good/I'm keeping it to read later/my mother gave it to me/I don't know what to do with it, so I'll just move it into this pile over here -- her inability to make decisions about letting things go gets in the way of making any progress. Add to that her anger and recrimination over my attempts to help (how could you do this to me/you're just like your father/you love everyone else more than you love me/I never should have had kids) and I ended up in a situation that was very damaging to me. To both of us, really. So I got really pissed off and quit trying to parent her, which also pissed her off.

Over the years, I've gotten less angry and more sad about the way she's choosing to live. (In case you were wondering, she's still on the angry wagon, albeit in a passive aggressive kind of way.) I wish I could help her, and sometimes that wistful, wishful thinking starts to steer me down the wrong path. I understand that she has a mental illness (well, at least two of them, by last count) and that it's not her own doing. That's where the guilt gets to me, a bit. I know that she's sick and that I would never wish her illness on my worst enemy. Maybe I should be a better daughter, I think. And then I remember. It's not her fault that she's mentally ill, but it is her fault that she refuses to seek help for her illness. It is her fault that she uses it as an excuse to be nasty and verbally abusive. It has nothing to do with me. The guilt here isn't even a little bit mine. It's all hers.