Old Lady + Grocery Bags = Anecdote
April 29, 2013 § Leave a comment
A while ago I was on a rare solitary walk, and on my way home I came across an old woman who was having trouble carrying her groceries from her car up the steps to her home. I offered to help her, being the nice Girl Scout that I am, and she was very grateful. She said she had recently injured her hip and was in a lot of pain. She went ahead of me up to the door, slowly, gripping the banister, and I followed her with the grocery bags. While she opened the door, I ran down and got the remaining ones out of her car.
When I came back up, I stepped just inside the door, and was immediately hit with the smell of… old soup? Thanksgiving leftovers from the 70’s? It was a savory, homey, oniony smell gone horribly bad, like something that was originally delicious but was now decomposing. The inside of her house was quite dark, but in the patches of incoming daylight I could see that this was a place unlike anywhere I had been before. It was a total and devastating mess. There was just STUFF. EVERYWHERE. I couldn’t even see the floor. There appeared to be couches and a table, but I could not actually see them either– I just guessed they were there because the stuff reached higher peaks in those spots. Everything looked dusty, like it had been sitting there for a very long time, but as I looked more (stealing quick glances so she wouldn’t be offended), I noticed that there was a unifying color scheme of red, green, silver, and gold. It was CHRISTMAS stuff. Cookie tins, Santa statues, wreaths, garlands, reindeer, angels, stockings, paper napkins, oh my god, it was all just sitting there, stacked up and acquiring dirt in this smelly little house. What was this lady’s DEAL?!? I pretended so hard not to notice at all. I stood there holding the bags until she said I could put them down where I was.
She thanked me for helping her, and said that life had become much more difficult since her injury and since her daughter had grown up and left home. Her daughter was deaf, she said, and she had raised her on her own, becoming an activist for deaf rights in the process of advocating for her daughter at every turn. She was also a real estate agent, but said that the market was dead right now, so she wasn’t really working anymore. She jokingly asked me if I wanted to buy a house. Or sell a house. I said no. And I said sorry. I am always saying sorry.
I didn’t ask her about the Christmas stuff. The weird thing was, she herself did not look around at it once while I was there. When people come over to my house, I always look around to see what it looks like through their eyes– usually it’s messier than I feel like it should be so I apologize for how messy it is in an attempt to convince them that it is usually in some other, better state, which is totally not the case– it is usually way WAY worse and I have usually scrambled around before the person came over just to make it presentable and then once they are here I realize that it is still pretty bad, oh well. But my worst mess is nothing compared to this woman’s surroundings, yet she seemed entirely unconcerned with it. It was like she couldn’t even see it.
I stood there breathing in this gross smell, hoping it wasn’t attaching itself to my hair and clothes, and trying not to stare at the insanity around me while she told me the medical details of her hip problem and the level of financial fuckedness she was currently facing (my wording, not hers. Although that would have been awesome). I made sympathetic facial expressions but I felt like there should be more. I wanted to offer something. I had the urge to blurt out that I would come by one afternoon a week and help her with stuff, and/or do her shopping for her, and/or help her out with home organization. I thought that maybe I could lie and say that I happened to be kind of an expert at organizing and that it was one of my hobbies, to make her feel like she was doing ME a favor by letting me tackle such an exciting project… say, “I couldn’t help but notice your fabulous collection of Christmas decorations! I would just ADORE sorting through it all and working out a way for it to be displayed so you could really SEE all the great stuff you HAVE here!” Bullshit like that.
But I didn’t. For a few reasons I guess. 1. I have no time. I am with my daughter almost constantly, and I would not want to bring a three year-old into that home with me. No way no how. 2. I’m not actually an expert at organizing. I am actually kind of an expert at disorganizing. I am fascinated by hoarders partly because I recognize something of myself in them. I worry that I would not really be able to help her, and that maybe her hoarding behaviors would rub off on me and I would become a crazy Christmas lady too. Crazy Christmas Lady (TM). From the makers of Crazy Cat Lady (TM) and Crazy Lady Who Gets A Hyper-Realistic Baby Doll and Treats it Like a Real Baby (TM). 3. I’m afraid of becoming entangled. Enmeshed. In other people’s lives. Afraid of making things MY problem. Because I can’t do that for everyone. I happened to come across this particular lady, and my heart kind of went out to her, but I can’t go around constantly volunteering myself to every needy person I encounter. Right? So I have to choose none. It’s only fair. I’m not Mother Theresa or Jesus. There are limits to my capacity for loving kindness. I wish there weren’t, but actually there kind of have to be. Right? Boundaries and whatnot? I have to be reasonable. I have to say “NO”. I have to walk home knowing that that was my one glimpse into the house of the Crazy Christmas Lady (TM) and I will never get another. I helped her with her groceries, I could try to muster up some self-congratulations for that, right? But I can’t. Because I feel like I should have done more. She’s going to need to go grocery shopping again in the near future I’m sure, and what if no one is walking by when she needs help getting the bags into her house? And what about all the other stuff she needs to do on a daily basis that is painful or hard for her, plus the loneliness. She seemed incredibly lonely to me. Is it really fine of me to reduce her to a little anecdote on my blog and get on with my life?
The weirdest thing is, I have tried to find her house again, and I don’t know where it is. I thought I knew at the time what street I was on, but when I go back there I can’t find any houses that have the steps and door that I remember. What would I do if I did find it? Stop by for a visit? Leave her a note with my phone number? Maybe it’s better that I can’t find it. Maybe my subconscious is purposely hiding the information from me to protect me from getting too bizarre with my life. But I can’t help feeling like, by sheltering myself from entanglements, I get only anecdotes where I could have had novels.