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WARNING: This post is more of a mature nature than my typical writing and could be emotionally disturbing to some. It addresses mental disease, distress and suicide.

I've known folks who have collected items to extreme amounts or who have been less than organized with their belongings but I think I've only ever had one true brush with legit hoarding.

In 2010 my buddy Steve asked me to go to Wisconsin with him. A long time friend of his had sadly suffered from depression and had taken his own life. Wanting to visit his grave to pay his respects and to meet with his friends mom he asked me to tag along. Valuing my friendship naturally I accepted. We made it a long weekend of sorts driving up late on a Thursday crashing an hour or two from his hometown of East Troy.

That morning we stopped by the cemetery and hunted down his friends plot. We weren't able to drive up for the service that was held earlier that week and it was too recent for the headstone to be laid. Luckily the graveyard was small enough we found the only fresh mound after a few minutes of looking. He took some time to say his piece and then we drove over to his old friends boyhood home to pay his respect to his mother.

Screen grab from an episode of Hoarders

She met us in the driveway moments after we parked. An elderly woman with ragged grey hair you could tell she was smiling through her pain. Her clothes were older and showed signs of wear but as this was a rural area nothing seemed too out of place with her appearance. Steve had been in touch with her so she was expecting us and she wasted no time recanting the horror she felt when she came home and saw the dangling body of her son secured to the tree next to the house just a few feet from where we stood. Holding back tears she told us how she instinctively ran over and lifted his limp body to take the tension off the noose but without anyone around to help and being unable to hold him for too long (he weighed more than she did) she eventually resigned and let go to go call 911. I observed her glancing over at the tree from time to time eyeing it as though it was a dangerous animal she needed to be weary of that could strike at moments notice.

Standing there horrified but not wanting to be insensitive we tried to console her. After awhile she invited us inside and we graciously accepted not knowing what laid ahead for us. Although we were closer to two other doors she led us down the driveway and around to the front of the house. She opened the door just a couple of feet, barely enough to allow her to slide through sideways. Steve and I glanced at each other quizzically before he slid in behind her scrapping his stomachs on the door handle as he went.

I followed in turn with the same experience and found myself standing in the living room (or at least I think it was) only to discover the room was filled floor to ceiling with stacks of random items. A quick scan revealed furniture, boxes, paper goods, clothes and assorted... I guess I can only describe it as "junk". She acted as if nothing was out of the norm and proceeded to work her way through the piles following small footpaths leaping through tiny clearings to get to the next room. Steve and I glanced at each other again as we saw a cat climb out of a pile, scurry across the path and disappear again into another mound. I asked about her cat and she corrected me "catS" adding that she lets them do as they please and she just throws down a bag of food from time to time.

Pretty close to how her kitchen looked

She gave us a tour explaining this area was "organized" to include her "collection" of Franklin Mint collector plates and that was her John F Kennedy shrine, on and on with obscure references to her various interests. We passed the kitchen and saw that she had filled both sides of her sink with dirt and had planted flowers in them. Seeing me look in that direction she shared, "it makes them easy to water".

Her son had the only computer in the house and she did not know the password so she asked us to take a look at it. Still somewhat stunned by all the sites we simply nodded and she led us downstairs. The wall along the stairway was modified to include shelves allowing canned goods to be stacked nearly to the ceiling and extended down into the basement and all the way to the far wall, easily 40' of floor to ceiling canned goods. As I was last in the line I picked up a can of Fruit Cocktail stacked in front with an older looking label and discovered it had been expired more than a decade.

In the back corner there was a single lightbulb dangling from the ceiling over a dingy stain covered mattress that was lopsided (I presume because it was pilled on top of trash). The laptop laid on it and she powered it on and handed it to Steve who in turn handed it to me. Feeling creeped out and trying not to think about how much this scene looked like the lair of a serial killer I looked for a place to sit in vain. She offered me a spot on the bed but I smiled and declined. I took a quick look at the laptop but in this environment I would have no way to access it and after a few minutes handed it back advising she take it to a geek squad equivalent somewhere in town.

The land of junk from the Labyrinth movie (could have been based on her home)

I stood there quietly trying not to stare while Steve spoke to her. Eventually they agreed to go back up stairs but as her house wasn't really in a state to receive guests we quickly found our way back out to the front porch. I really wanted to take some pictures but didn't want to offend this woman who despite her obvious mental health issues was grieving. It's been more than a decade but I can still clearly remember that experience and the dread I felt tip toeing through junk, cat poop and JKF memorabilia.


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