Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Straight out of an Episode of Hoarders

Shortly after Christmas I received a free one month preview from one of the cable providers in my area. This preview introduced me to the A&E show Hoarders and I quickly became fascinated and slightly obsessed. For those who haven't heard of this show, the website describes it as a "fascinating look inside the lives of two different people whose inability to part with their belongings is so out of control that they are on the verge of a personal crisis." A lot of these crisis are quite serious - everything from losing their kids, evictions, and having their house condemned to adult protective services stepping in if they're seniors and taking them into custody. It's tragic and depressing to watch, while occasionally being down right disgusting to see what conditions people actually live in.

The show is a train wreck but I couldn't avert my eyes. It reminded me of a couple of incidents and behaviours I had experienced in previous relationships. I had all but forgotten a lot of it but I remember that at the time I couldn't understand why they did certain things. I chalked a lot of it up to being males and naturally predisposed to living in unkempt conditions. Their places went beyond just a little messy though and fell more towards the downright disgusting and unsanitary. It was more than apathy and laziness that was causing them to not clean up after themselves.

More than their sheer laziness and filthy homes I remembered my behaviour when confronted with these things. I was left wondering what on earth possessed me to do the things I did, especially considering I didn't really like either of the guys. I was with them, but I didn't consider myself to be dating them. It was a strange time in my life when I was what I defined as the "un-girlfriend". I was the girl they thought they were dating, however I didn't exactly treat them well or act like they were legitimate boyfriends. The Jock never even knew where I lived, never met any of my friends and definitely was not introduced to my family. Candidate #2 knew where I lived, but never stayed over and only made it inside the door twice in the year we were seeing each other. The only reason he was inside my home was because he was picking me up and the second time he had stopped over with flowers in a desperate bid to keep me when he knew I was fed up and wanted out.

In both cases I remember doing their dishes on a number of occasions when I was so fed up with the filth. In Candidate #2's case it happened a lot because he hated dishes and lived alone so there was no one else around to complain. He would leave food and random plate scraps in the sink along with his dishes for days and days. I would hazard a guess that some of the pots and pans could spend weeks sitting in the sink and he would turn a blind eye to it all. He also had the nasty habit of leaving leftovers in the fridge to die. Generally it was just easier to throw out the tupperware than to try to empty its noxious contents and wash it for reuse.

I also remember showing up one afternoon when the Jock was at work to clean out his room. It wasn't the biggest room in the student rental and it was made even smaller by the fact that there was garbage, paperwork, clothes and random detritus all over the floor and piled up in random areas. There was a small path from the door to the bed that was sort of clear and enough room to open the bedroom door, but that was about it. I remember spending an afternoon in there with a couple of garbage bags sifting through the garbage and bringing some order to the chaos. I remember that I was so tired of the mess and so desperate to spend one night there in a some what clean bedroom.

This cleaning up behaviour on my part seemed to escalate over time because over a year later I was with Candidate #2 and doing the same thing. I remember cleaning up an entire 2 bedroom townhouse this time around. I couldn't stand the cigarette butts piled over top the ashtray and onto the coffee table, random bits of ash on all kinds of surfaces. The small mountain of pop cans and empty water bottles scattered throughout the house, the stupid pot paraphernalia littered about, the balled up socks discarded in the living room and the mountains of dirty laundry in the basement with matching cousins in the bedroom. I remember one day in particular I had reached my limit and kind of cracked.

I had been avoiding staying over night for a while because he hadn't washed his extremely dirty sheets in a couple of weeks. I couldn't handle the situation and needed to find order in the chaos, both in that house and in my head. Over the course of the day I washed somewhere in the neighbourhood of 12 or 13 loads of laundry, finding shorts from our June camping trip on the bottom of the pile - it was November. I threw out a couple of cases worth of empty water bottles and nearly as many in empty diet coke. Old newspapers, pizza boxes, junk fliers, candy wrappers, McDonald's bags - it all got tossed in the dumpster. I'm not even sure how many garbage bags I took out that day. I stopped short of cleaning the bathroom or vacuuming, but everything else was fair game. I'm not really sure why I bothered. I think I wanted out of the relationship, but instead of dealing with the abstract reality of that I could only cope with the physical reality in front of me.

Watching episode after episode of Hoarders brought up all those old feelings and memories. It wasn't the proudest time in my life, nor one of the easiest. I don't like that I reverted into a maternal figure and cleaned up after them. I don't like that I settled for men at the time that I was ashamed of and didn't really like. I don't like that I was in such a head space that I was kind of ok with hanging out in a place that looked like it belonged on an episode of Hoarders. Eventually I was so overloaded by the show that I stopped watching. I can't handle watching another episode of Hoarders because it makes my skin crawl and it makes me feel like I'm right back there in the living room of the Jock's house or Candidate #2's. It's a feeling and a time I'd rather forget about right now.

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