the sh*t we leave behind

Photo of a backpack, a small broom, and a box of large trash bags sitting in a car seat.
getting ready to clean house

Not sure if this post needs a trigger warning… It might get rough.

Rough thoughts about family relationships and obligations, especially related to my parents and their ignorance and denial about my Autism and Mental Health. And tough words about someone who isn’t here to defend herself – my Mom.

So here’s a spacer, where we can both catch our breath.







Photo of a stack of full storage tubs sitting on the floor in an apartment. Behind the tubs are books and art supplies.

My son and I spent a few days at the beach last week.

About an hour ago, I figured out why, four days later, I hadn’t left my home, and the tubs of camping gear, dirty clothes, and meds languished in the car.

And why, concurrently, I’ve been in the mood to meticulously clean, organize and clear parts of my home that I didn’t pay much attention to before.

It’s complicated. I’m not depressed. I crave to spread out my watercolor pads, canvases, paints, and inks, and dive into a flurry of self-expression.

But it’s not time yet. There’s some sh*t I need to release and remove from my space and consciousness , before I can let myself take a deep breath and start to splatter and smear joy.

I knew I was processing in the background. I just couldn’t tell what. Sometimes it takes a while for my repressed emotional stuff to surface. As if it’s making sure the room is safe before it peeks out of the shadows.

At the root of it all is my late Mom’s penchant for accumulating things and saving every scrap of her writing. Her need to have everything she wanted, and to have it maintained “just right.”

Mom passed last November. She had a lot of stuff. I’ve just within the past few weeks consolidated everything that was in four storage spaces, down to one space. And now it feels like a third of my personal storage space – intended for my art inventory and supplies, and a bunch of my books and clothes – still holds her clothes, tchatchkas, and several file containers of her writing and research.

These things meant a lot to her. They held her memories, dreams, and ambitions.

Perhaps most daughters would shed tears and tenderly find space to preserve these mementoes. I’ve tried to do that for the past several months.

I no longer have the space – physical, emotional, or mental.

Mom’s anxiety and self-absorption lay behind what I experienced as emotional neglect and psychological abuse, so painful to unearth and acknowledge over the years.

She yearned for creativity and recognition. She was creative.

But apparently there wasn’t room in our family for anyone else to be creative. She and I constantly struggled; in all of the endeavors she and I both enjoyed, my work almost always turned out better. She hated that. She openly joked about being jealous of me. I never understood it.

I don’t think she had any idea how deeply it wounded me.

So I learned, from a young age, to work hard at hiding or restraining my talent and skills. I only shared in ways that didn’t lead her to feel “less than.” I was parentified, in a way – put in charge of making sure that I didn’t overstep, so Mom could feel good about herself.

Now that she’s gone, I can finally be my self. And paint what I want to reveal, write what I want to say. This is a precious time for me, that I truly feared I would never experience. I don’t mean to waste it.

Here’s what I’ve processed this afternoon, my tangled self-conversation about what I need to do before I can relax, paint, and draw:

Oh, it’s gonna feel so good to spread out and paint!

But the apartment’s too cluttered…

If I shift things out of the closet and into storage, I can move and breathe here in my space, so I can create.

But storage is full; there’s no room for the closet stuff. It’s been unusable since you brought Mom’s stuff in…

And I can’t get to my supplies in storage…

If not for all of Mom’s paintings and clothes and household things, you could get storage sorted, and fit the closet stuff in…

But there are so many expensive things… I might use them someday… And I don’t have the energy to sell them.

It can go to charity. It no longer has value.

But what about her manuscripts and notes…?

Nobody else in the family wanted them, remember?

But I told her I’d take care of them. And maybe finish her novels and publish them… That was what she wanted…

Fvck that.

I’m gonna just dump all those papers? Why not reach out to the family again before I destroy it…

Nobody else wanted it. Remember? Remember?

Really? Toss years of her work? Not publish Let It Rain, and Dollarhyde? I told her I would…

Fvck that. What are you thinking?

What am I thinking? Yeah, you’re right. I tried to help her organize LIR; I proofread and edited it for her. And when she realized I didn’t think it was already perfect, she dropped it.


But I told her I would…

That’s because she trained you to comply on every front. She demonstrated to you that your own work had little value. She and Dad denied you the freedom to choose your education, and therefore your profession and career.

You really gonna let her ghost keep runnin’ your life? You’ve spread those ashes.

But I may regret it…

Fvck that. You’ve already got enough regrets. Let it go. Live. Revive your spirit, and fly.

As I sit here eating dinner and tapping on my phone, I’m almost ready to close this thought loop and move on.

I’m gonna go sweep out the detritus, fill those trash bags, and clear myself some space.

I don’t have to be “Hefty Ultra Strong” anymore. I’ll be Ultra Me instead.


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