At least once a day I think about it. I can hear the boxes shifting like dusty sirens in some cardboard sea.
I should be over there with him on my lunch break, on weekends, sifting through boxed walls like I was in some ancient library buried beneath the earth. He has built these fortresses of spider-skin and grime to keep him upright, like crutches of memory were the only thing to keep him walking out the the front door into the world.
My father is a hoarder.
It’s not a surprise. He freely admits it. He grew up in extreme poverty. He has been working since he was 10 to buy bread so his family wouldn’t starve. He talks about not knowing whether the wind was blowing, or his stomach was growling. When I lived with my folks both as a child and adult, he would go through my trash to see if I was throwing anything away of value. He’d clean it off, haul it into my room, and ask why I was abandoning it. I felt like I was under the eye of Sauron. The wasteland wasn’t full of waste to him. New studies are emerging about the profound effect poverty has on our brain chemistry. Often times you cannot leave the mindset that starvation is awaiting you on the other side of the morning.
In my parent’s house, three garages and one large backroom have been clustered, junked, assembled, dissembled, broken, packed, and compacted with every type of item imaginable. Bikes, books, toys, tools, lumber, shelves, televisions, auto parts, couches, chairs, tables, storage containers, cans, shingles, ceiling tiles, games, and two spare furnaces. The air inside these rooms reeks of trapped time, like a vault from Fallout were just opened.
None of these mountains scare me. These tides of piled nostalgia are nothing compared to what lurks in the garage next to an overstuffed shelf of paint with a chipmunk living between the worn away labels. The star of all this rubble. The great king of this cardboard realm. The top celebrity marching down the rows of stacked pallets could only be the cast iron bathtub.
My father is a carpenter. He specializes in ceiling tile installation. He not only wouldn’t let us throw anything away, but he’d also go through dumpsters in construction areas. The bathtub isn’t a claw-foot. like you’d see in a ghost palace chasing some spirit-world forensic investigator. It’s an installation tub, so you need a custom bathroom to handle this 400 lb white weight. The bathtub is tilted up against the wall like some lonesome monster. I’m not sure how my father even managed to get it into the garage in the first place. I’ve asked him before, but he just changes the subject.
I look at it.
I look at it, and I think it’ll never move.
At various times in my life, I’ve moved back in with my parents, and taken the boxes from failed relationships, roommates, and friends with me, and put them among the memories of my father. He bristles like a bear sleeping in a cave. He tells me to get rid of my stuff. To move it out of there once I find a new place to live. He’s irrational about it. I know it’s not about adding more boxes to the pile, to building new towers for mice to hide. He doesn’t me want to be like him.
He doesn’t want me to have a soul of old photographs.
I love my father. He’s a good man, and he has my ultimate respect. When he’s gone from this world, and his hordes remain, I’ll be left to collapse his cast iron star into the boxed void.
And I can do it, father.
But, I think, even if you’re deep below the ground, or scattered in ashes across an empty farmland when I drag that bathtub free, I’ll still be pulling your heart out.