Mom's Decay

We entered her house and the smell of ammonia that only occurs when litter boxes are so full that they're almost non-existent, when the entire house becomes a breeding ground of piss and shit for cats and kittens -- it hit and stung. Perhaps this should have induced tears, but it didn't. I just needed to cover my nose and mouth, take periodic breaks to go outside, inhale fresh air. Much of my life with mom was spent this way. I braced, covered, and ran to get something fresh. The slow permeation of her fuckedupness enshrouded every inch and molecule of your life. It was pervasive and hard to define in her presence -- never sure what was happening, but you knew it was all consuming and that it would take years or longer to unravel.

We walked in and there it was -- nothing but decay, chaos. I'd seen enough of those shows about hoarding to know that I had just walked into my mother's own version of it. Her bedroom most striking, awful. The clothes she wore dirty, cat pissed, shat and puked on, smelly, food caked, moldy. Piles of them scattered around the room in cardboard boxes, around the floor, on the shell of her bed. We walked in -- our intention to clean and prepare the house for sale, but it was apparent the house would not sell and if it did, there would be no way to make the original mortgage. The damage -- fire scorched walls and layers of filth placed it far below market value. The worst of it were the holes in her mattress -- food discarded or forgotten about and ignored in the room, never made it to a garbage can. The room was the garbage can. Food everywhere among the dirty clothes, shit stained bedpan, the mattress... The holes in the mattress and box spring gnawed at by mice and rats or maybe just many mice, holes that took time. There are things I did not want to believe could be possible. I imagined these mice eating through her flesh, engorging themselves on the open wound from surgery-number-infinity, her decaying body -- she unable to move. I cannot imagine how she could lie there and not be affected by what occurred day after day in wreckage and filth and the dead of continuous numbing, but then again, she never bathed and would lie in her own shit, surrounded by the droppings of cats and mice and rotten food. Everything created from waste -- a waste. How does this line get crossed? She killed herself by not living. She remained still. A stagnating avalanche.

Walking into her house in this condition was only the second time I'd ever seen it so bad. She did a good job concealing her inner pain, when the daughter who "made it" would return home for holidays, the mess was mostly cleaned up. There would still be signs that cleaning didn't occur often like a thick, dusty, no longer used cobweb in the upper recesses of the bathtub or a pile of dust and pet hair under one of Alex's stuffed animals. The most obvious sign would be a dog hair or more in the holiday dinner or fudge made only for special occasions. But this wasn't a return home for Christmas or Thanksgiving -- this was for the final stage of her death.


Doctors didn't expect a woman to suffer from a typical ailment common to men, probably why they diagnosed her with bursitis of the hip. Never mind the facts of her hard living, 40+ hours a week, 3 packs of cigarettes a day (in her defense, they were light 100's -- do they even make those anymore?), a weekend warrior of the disco lounge at the Pasadena Holiday Inn, conveniently located next to the ice rink behind the civic auditorium on Green Street where I spent much of my weekend skating, learning the foundation moves for more elaborate spins and jumps. During those hours and days, my sister would be somewhere else -- I still don't know where, and my mom at the bar, gin and tonic in hand, Winston Light 100 dangling from the other, the beginning stages or perhaps further along than I understood, of self-destruction in a woman who still had a spark and kindness in her heart, to the woman who died. Her death, a thirty plus year process of pretend living, of masks and smiles and booze and hospital visits, of life altering sickness, of becoming a walking corpse. Her visible decay began when I was ten, when nothing was sure and when the illusion unhinged. She began an innocuous canceling of plans and simple breaking of promises. She began to withdraw.