Emily Lund: Stuff and Things

As Kelly assessed the current situation, she forced herself to think that maybe there were a few things that she could throw out.  “Focus on this corner of this room.  Just throw out 3 things.  Remember what Kendra said…find three items you can get rid of and put them in a box. Then, close the box and don’t look at it for a few days.  Then throw the box away after you see if you can live without those three things.”

Truthfully, she didn’t really feel that there was one item, much less three items that she could get rid of. This had been her problem since the age of 10.  She could not throw anything away, ever.  She looked at the pile and tried to find one item she could live without.  A pink furry teddy bear from a fair or a carnival was resting on his side next to the pile.  He was missing his right eye and the seams of his sides were stretched and about to spill his white fluffy innards onto the floor.  She’d like to search back through her memories and remember when her favorite old boyfriend won this for her at the carnival and how romantic and exciting that time of her life had been.  She wanted to be able to justify why she needed to keep this item…to preserve the memory of a happier time. The truth was this was someone else’s memory.

She had picked the bear up off the side of road while driving home from work one day.  A flash of bright pink caught her eye.  She felt so sorry for him and wanted to save him and save someone else’s memory from being tossed away.  She liked to imagine the life this bear had lived, how happy he had made someone.  All of her own memories were of being beaten by her drunk father or neglected by her depressed mother.  She’d been picked on and never popular or dated because of all of her awkward social ticks and her inherent fear of men.  This bear was the next best thing to a new set of memories and it kept her thoughts on happy things and not past abuse and heartache. This set of memories included a happy childhood, a dreamy boyfriend and a loving father.  This bear and these memories would not be thrown out today or tomorrow or ever.  He would not be put in a box as a test to see if she could live without him.  She knew she couldn’t.

What else?  She spotted three plastic bags crumpled together on top of the pile.  Now, these, she could get rid of.  They didn’t hold any memories (hers or otherwise); they weren’t holding any actual items and she wasn’t having any strong feelings of happiness or better times as she looked at them.  This she could do.  Three crumpled plastic bags would be directly disposed of today…unless, well, there was a possibility she might need them for something. She might want a plastic bag later on and not have one.  Maybe she should keep one of the three just in case there was an immediate need for a plastic bag.  Her mind started racing…what would happen if she needed a plastic bag and there were none to be found?  She’d feel terrible.

“Now stop it!” she thought, “You know there is another whole mass of crumpled plastic bags in the next room and probably in the kitchen and definitely in the basement.”  She moved towards the pile, stepped on a few mounds of clothes and other items, and grabbed the three plastic bags.  As she climbed back over her “stuff” she felt a sense of accomplishment.  She was definitely throwing these bags out.

She pushed the back door open and headed for the garbage can.  As she threw the bags away, something caught her eye.  She noticed her neighbor had thrown away a perfectly good plant.  It still had some leaves on it and it probably just needed some love and attention.  It was clear that plant needed her.  How sad that it had just been thrown away as nothing.  Just like Kelly was thrown away by her mother, never protected, never nurtured, discarded and ignored, this plant was  also abandoned by people who were supposed to love it and care for it. What joy that plant could have brought to someone, if just given a chance.  How could anyone throw it away so easily and carelessly?  How could anyone throw her away?

She was sure her neighbor wouldn’t mind.  He’d caught her going through his garbage before and never said a thing.  She walked around the side fence to her neighbor’s garbage cans and snagged the plant from the top of the garbage bags it was resting on.  She wondered what Kendra would say.  Kendra was a certified professional organizer that she had hired to help her put her life and things in order.  Kendra hadn’t been terribly successful, as she was unwilling to understand the importance of each of the items in the house.  Kendra would be proud that three items were thrown out today but probably not too thrilled to see another item coming in.

“Now Kelly, you know you don’t have any room for that plant!  Logically, you know that plant is dead and should be thrown away?  You do know that don’t you?” Kendra was such a contrast to Kelly in every way.  Kendra was tall, thin, with never a piece of hair or a speck of makeup out of place.  Kelly was short and fat with the most unkempt curly hair she’d ever witnessed and she had no idea how to even apply makeup (although, she did have boxes of Mary Kay products stashed all around the house). Kendra did not understand Kelly and Kelly didn’t understand Kendra.  They both had really given up on the whole process but Kendra still came once a week to see what progress had been made and to help Kelly through her issues.  She didn’t have any real issues.  Kendra assumed she did.

As she walked back inside, she looked around and tried to find some open spot to place her new treasure.  There wasn’t room in the kitchen and the water wasn’t turned on anymore in there anyway.  She would have to water the plant from the bathroom…which is where she washed all of her dishes, showered and did anything else that required tap water.

She set the plant on top of a pile and realized what she had done.  Dread started to burrow a hole in her mind.  Every now and then she would step back and look at things and nearly pass out from the panic.  She lived in a three bedroom home.  Two bedrooms were not passable as the doors were blocked with piles all the way to the ceiling.  The third bedroom had a very small passageway from the door to a pile of pillows and blankets where she slept.  Next to her “bed” was a small refrigerator where she stored a few items of food and cans of soda. The kitchen was not usable, the water was disconnected, the refrigerator unplugged and the gas for the stove had also been turned off.  She only had running water in the bathroom and the outside hose.  The living room was more passable than the bedrooms but only by walking on tops of piles and physically climbing over a particularly high mountain of clothes.

When she looked at it all, it was too much.  She could never fix this.  She could never clear out all of this.  It was simply too much.  She would drown in her stuff and no one would care or even notice.  She was truly alone and although she was comforted by her many possessions, standing there at that moment, she was completely and utterly isolated from the world in every way. She had used things to give her comfort and company.  She had used things to console her and talk with her during particularly difficult times, but these things weren’t people, they didn’t have feelings or conversations.  She was alone.  She was so much more than alone; she didn’t exist.

She couldn’t bear the thought of Kendra stopping in tomorrow with her look of disappointment.  It was the same look her father gave her after a drunken episode.  He was so disappointed with what his life had become and Kelly was his constant reminder of what was “dragging him down” and keeping him from so much more. Her mother pretended Kelly didn’t exist at all, as she thought that would please her drunken father.   Kelly  was the disregarded house plant or the stuffed animal on the side of the road.  She had been cast away from the world by the world.  Her things couldn’t save her and she just wanted it all to be over.  She wanted to be swallowed up with her things.

She remembered Kendra joke that a flame thrower might be a good option for cleaning up her house. Maybe that wasn’t such a bad idea.  She was sure if she poured a little gasoline around some of the piles, the whole house would go up in flames in a matter of moments.  There was so much of everything and a lot of it newspapers and magazines; those would catch fire and burn quickly.   Kendra would  get her wish and Kelly would finally stop feeling anything.

She made her way to the back door and to the yard and picked up one of the 20 plus gas cans she had sitting around.  One had about 2 gallons of gas in it.  She thought that would be sufficient.  She went back in the house and started pouring gasoline on the piles in her living room.  She hummed a happy tune as she poured the last bit on a stack of newspapers on the kitchen floor and went looking for some matches.  She knew she had an entire drawer of matches and matchbooks, but that drawer was blocked by a pile of collectible ornaments.  I Love Lucy Christmas ornaments from years 1990-2015 were stacked in their original Hallmark Ornament boxes and fully blocking the matches drawer. After scanning the overly cluttered counter space, she finally spotted a lighter and lit the newspapers on fire.  They burst into flames almost immediately.

She hurried back to the living room and lit the various piles on fire and then headed for her bedroom.  She sat down on her pile of blankets and pillows and felt content with her decision.  She knew this was the only way to get rid of everything.  All the bad past memories and problems, all of the physical and emotional garbage… it would soon be gone and a sense of relief flooded over her.

She was calm and almost happy.  She let out a small sigh of relief.  Almost immediately, she started feeling the heat and smoke as the fire crept its way into the hallway, closing in on her room.  She took the blanket and pulled it over her face. Although the heat was looming and the smoke was choking the remaining oxygen, she was cool and breathing slowly and methodically; her mind was clear.   Now all she had to do was wait.

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