I think that most of us have never seen a truly messy room. I don’t mean stacks of old pizza boxes and piles of socks that date back to the Carter administration messy. It is possible for a room to become so cluttered with stuff that it transcends the status of Messy Room and elevates into Archaeological Ruins. Most people never really run into this until, say, an older relative dies, and you have to sort through the vestiges of their twilight years, when the part of their brain that allowed them to throw stuff out had long since atrophied.
My father in law had been living in that variety of twilight for some time when he had a stroke and had to move to a nursing home. And I’m pretty sure the part of his brain that let him throw stuff out just never developed. I think it was smothered in utero by the part of his brain that would later grow up to collect 8 copies of the same edition of the dictionary. It’s in this particular Archaeological Wasteland that I am currently trying to excavate. Those dictionaries are one of the two shelves in that room that house collections of dictionaries. There are also more dictionaries scattered throughout the room on various bookshelves and various surfaces. Oh, and the other collection of dictionaries is on another shelf downstairs, in the living room.
He has been in the nursing home for five years now. We’ve been living here for 8. We’ve used that room, the Den, for keeping kittens in, for playing games, I used to use it for Hermetic rituals, and I currently use it for exercise. It is terrible for all of these things. It is just too damn cluttered. There is a roll-top desk, and a couch. Neither of these are flush against their respective walls because behind them are piles of books and filing boxes and luggage and stacks of old Northwest Regional Cadillac Club member renewal forms from 1992. And dictionaries. There are plenty of dictionaries.
It’s time to take that room back. So I am going on a grand purge. The worst kind of clutter is that kind that developed organically. Once the bookshelves and the cabinets were full, they started to stuff things wherever they would fit. This room transforms that kind of clutter to an art form, if an art form can also be an infectious disease.
I am throwing out old files and magazines, even though it’s painful to do so. What if we need to look up something that happened in Astronomy in 1979? Now that opportunity is lost forever! And I find it difficult to throw out anything with handwriting on. For all I know my father in law had a secret lover during World War 2, who was on the side of the Nazis, and he wished to come be with him but he couldn’t betray his country no matter what it was turning into. And I’m throwing out the only evidence of their love!
You know, actually maybe its better that no one find out about that one. Although if his wife found out he was secretly gay she’d probably like him better. She has a thing.
It’s difficult to purge like this. It isn’t my stuff. But that room has been a calcified memorial for far too long. It’s unlikely he is ever getting out of that nursing home. Plus, he had a problem. Today I threw out piles of unopened mail that was almost as old as I was. They moved to this house in the early 90s. That means some of that mail came with him from the previous house. And he still never opened it. Maybe he got it from Pandora. I should probably check before I open one and let out some evils or something.
I found a lot of old candy and snacks. In one cardboard box, among the desiccated chocolate coins and rock hard candy orange slices, were two bags of lemon drops. One of them had dried out completely and fused into a single entity full of white powdery cracks. The other had gotten warm and melted into a single, semi-translucent entity. Within that one box were two different demonstrations of the horrors that time can inflict on this one variety of candy. So now I know.
In the desk I found several different Texas Instrument calculators. My father in law was an early adopter, and these seven chronicle the lifespan of this technology over several decades. I didn’t throw those out. In a tiny box nearby I found at least five medals of various sorts he must have earned while he was in the Navy. I didn’t throw those out either.
The biggest surprise from yesterday was that behind the roll-top desk, among the books and boxes of books, was an entire 5 foot high wooden filing cabinet. There had been no evidence that it was there before that.
Today I excavated behind and around that filing cabinet so I could move it. On the floor, I found was looked to be a small pile of those black rubber tips that go on the ends of things. It was weird that there were so many of them in the corner of this room, but it wasn’t the strangest thing I’d found. It was dark in that corner, so I pulled out my phone’s flashlight.
They were bugs. Except, were they? They weren’t moving. And they didn’t appear to have legs or anything. It turned out that they were bugs. Emphasis on the word “were.” What I saw was the remains of some kind of black beetle. They had died so long ago that all of their soft tissues were nowhere to be seen. I bent down to get a closer look. There were more of them in the corner.
On the corpse. At first I though it was a bird. Then I realized it was the wrong shape, and it was probably a squirrel. Now let me ask you, have you ever looked at either a bird or a squirrel and been confused as to which of the two you were looking at? That should give you an idea of the state this thing was in. It was mummified to the point that when I worked up my nerve to deal with the mess it was surprisingly okay. I have a thing about bugs. But these weren’t really bugs. They were fossils.
It does make me wonder how the corpse of an animal could have been in the corner of this room for what must have been several decades without anyone knowing. My father in law spend a lot of in this room. Wouldn’t he have noticed a smell? Or bugs crawling around?
I’ve given the matter some thought, and I’ve come to a conclusion. That corpse was so old and so well preserved that I don’t think random chance can account for it. I think, in fact, that it was from the old house.
Like the mail.