Mental breakdowns manifest themselves in all sorts of colorful ways. Some people become suicidal. Some people stop cleaning their homes or start hording newspapers or live animals. Some people buy 60-pound bags of dog food and spread them all over someone else's home.
Oh, yes, they do.
About 17 years ago or so, my mom's health took a decidedly unhealthy turn. Already a two-time cancer survivor and diabetic, the fiercely independent woman found her vision fading rapidly. She could no longer drive her car and keeping up with house work was growing beyond her abilities. A friend of one of my sisters was in need of some extra income, and she agreed to come in and help my mom with tasks around the house. I don't know the details of the arrangement. I do know that I wasn't really comfortable with the whole shebang when I heard about it. I was living in Russia then, so there was little I could do to be of immediate help to my mom, and I was frustrated. My whole life, except for my crappy stereo (which I still have today), my CDs, some of my clothes, and my autographed photo of Harrison Ford (circa 1977, in full Han Solo regalia), was stored in my mother's attic. I didn't know this woman well, and she gave me the willies the few times I'd met her previously. Something just wasn't quite right.
Apparently, my Spidey Sense was working overtime.
During the time Unstable Mabel was working for mom, she had some sort of mental break. And, one day, in what I'm sure made perfect sense to her at the time, she dragged a shitload of dog food up the attic stairs and decided to redecorate. Specifically, she chose to spread kibble throughout my boxes of belongings. My clothes. My Star Wars memorabilia. My Thomas Dolby rarities collection. All my college papers. All my correspondence. Bam. It was Purina-rama.
Now, in a house with a firmer roof, perhaps the damage would have been minimal. But, you see, my mom's house needed a little work. And the scent of pounds and pounds of Ken-L Ration tossed around under the eaves is too strong a pull for hungry critters, especially wily ones like squirrels and raccoons. By the time I'd returned from Moscow, the damage was well beyond done. My clothing was a total loss. Most of my Star Wars collection was thrashed, and my papers were... well, let's just say they were fouled. Nasty business. My treasured posters were largely gnawed into an unrecognizable pulp. Dental records couldn't have helped here.
I remember one of my sisters stopping me before I went up into the attic the first time after The Kibblefest. She looked at me with a gravity usually reserved for family members about to identify a body.
"Look, it's not good. You need to be prepared. I'm just warning you. And... I'm so sorry."
I remember crying, sitting in that hot, cramped attic, stinking of dog food and squirrel pee. I also remember swearing a whole lot as I loaded trashbags with rubber-gloved hands. Treasured things lost forever. Other things not quite lost, but in need of a mercy killing. It was painful to see the small portion of goodies that had survived, in comparison to those that perished in a liver, beef 'n' chicken rodent feeding frenzy. One of my favorite items left from college was an enormous poster of Thomas Dolby - just his handsome, talented head, wrapped with a headset mic (not too far off from what I just saw him wearing earlier this month.) The poster, dubbed "The Giant Head" by my roommate at the Russian House, had delighted me and terrified her one night when she was high. The poster fell off the wall that night - blu-tack sliding straight down in some drooling palsy - and onto her head. I remember her waking up screaming, "GIANT HEAD! GIANT HEAD!" I shouldn't have laughed quite so hard, but I did.
Yes, the giant head of Dolby had survived thrashing roomies and the ham-handed care of a college student, but it couldn't withstand the frantic chewing of those damn fuzzy rats. Dammit!
Aliens may have eaten my Buick, but hungry squirrels ate Dolby's head.
In the end, I was so sad about how much had been lost, I sold the remnants of my Star Wars stuff in order to finance my move to DC (except, of course, for my autographed Harrison Ford photo.) I donated much of my vinyl collection to the local library, in the hopes that another geeky kid like me might check out the tunes and get hooked on some really good stuff. (Of course, that was right as vinyl was becoming obsolete to most folks, other than club DJs. Oh well. Road to Hell. Good intentions. All that stuff...) As for the clothing lost - well, that was probably a fortunate thing. It was 1992, after all, and with the exception of my red Chuck Taylors, most of my 80s gear - bad Gitano jeans and too-tight Izod polos - should have been burned or buried deep in the bowels of the earth. Sometimes, I still do miss that damn teal Esprit jacket, though...
I had a small-scale plumbing disaster in my apartment last week. A foul rain of gunk flooded not only my bathroom, but part of the storage room in the basement, as well, where I have a number of boxes. This time, it was a dorky neighbor flushing diapers down the john, and not squirrels and nutty women, that did the damage to my stuff. I guess I'm a little more mellow about it such things now than I was back in '92. (That whole "axe murder" thing tends to put life experiences in perspective for me. Axe murder accusation = very bad. Losing crap to sewage = not so bad.) In the end, it's just stuff. I can remember things fondly and, after a bit of consternation, shrug it off.
I can remember it all as The Best Junk Ever, and memories take up less space than the actual stuff.
But I do wish those freaking squirrels hadn't eaten my Thinking Cap Rebel Forces hat.
(And if you know what I'm talking about, honey, you're just as big a geek as I am. And I love you for it.)