It is hard to imagine such disarray, but even harder to be an un-messy person and have to exist in such squalor...such is the fate of one of my Little Sisters.
I am a Big Sister to two Littles, through the Big Brother/Big Sister Program, a nation wide organization that matches adults with kids who could use a buddy. Five years ago, I was matched with a 9 year old, and as time went on, it was clear her cousin "A" had to be part of the deal. And fortunately for me, "A" is a smart, wonderful, awesome young lady and I love spending time with her.
As for "A's" story, it's a very sad one; a father who she will never meet, (life in prison for murder, which I know but she doesn't) and a mother who gave her and her older brother up about a year ago after their house was condemned.
She could have done the kids a favor and given them up earlier, since she was turning tricks and using all day on the second floor, which everyone knew. This went on even when the kids were around. Sometimes she simply locked them out of the house, and they wandered around the corner to their aunt's house. Other times, she disappeared for days, and "A"told me it was actually easier to have her gone....this from a 7th grader....
The living situation for "A" has become a bit more stable, in the sense that she knows where her clothes are, she knows where she will be sleeping (either at her Grandmother's or her Aunt's place), she knows she will always have a meal, and she knows her cat Smokey is in a safe, if not thoroughly chaotic, home.
Chaotic is the only way I can describe the Aunt's place. Under a very narrow roof live a 7 year old, 4 teenagers, 2 adults and the Smokey the cat who tries desperately to find a little peace and quiet. There isn't one surface of furniture that isn't covered with trash, clothing(dirty and clean), video games, cigarette and hooch butts, beer cans, broken toys, food containers, Xmas decorations....and now, fleas.
The girls started complaining about flea bites a few months ago. I talked to my Little Sister's Mom, who said she was going to get those flea bombs, but since she doesn't read, I asked her to please have someone explain it to her, because they are so toxic. I also found them an exterminator, but when no one works, dollar bills are stretched to the limit and an exterminator is costly. In this case, a luxury.
Today the girls and I took Smokey over for her annual shots, and even though I told the Vet she had fleas before he began checking her coat, he looked at me as if to say," You've got to be joking, right? This cat is infested!" His flea comb was covered with the traces of fleas.
But my Vet knows the situation, and turned to the girls to patiently explain how they were to get rid of the fleas, treating Smokey once a month and using the spray he was going to send home with them. He talked about the cycle of flea eggs, hatchlings and full grown fleas laying more eggs as they moved in on any warm host body, including humans. My Little Sister laughed and made some comment about being itchy (of course she has flea bites), while her cousin, realizing the difficulty of the situation, just looked at the floor and nodded her head. I know "A" was feeling terribly embarrassed, and when the Vet said, "Well, aside from the fleas, it's clear Smokey is very well taken care of", I could have kissed him!
Not her fault that she has landed in the midst of poverty, squalor and filth. This young lady is always pulled together, neat and wide awake, and gets straight A s in the local High School. She has been chosen for a community Young Leaders Program, and has every expectation of graduating with honors. She has people around her who recognize her intelligence and practicality, and has been nurtured along the way by any number of people who would love to see her blast out of the challenging conditions in which she finds herself.
But if and when she blasts out, who will be there to love and support her? She is, after all, loved and supported already by a family that does the very best they can. Her Grandmother (younger than me by several years) is immesly proud of her grand daughter, and tells her so all the time. Her cousins adore her, she has true friends (thank the goddess no boy friend yet), and I suspect she has many "Moms" at the High School.
But this is the life she understands, and this is the life that makes her comfortable.
Meanwhile, the fleas keep biting and laying eggs.
I suggest that my Little Sister's Mom just spray one room at a time, the room where Smokey spends most of her time. I explain that the room has to be thoroughly cleaned and vacced, the bedding needs to be washed and dried and the room needs to be sealed up until the carpet is no longer damp.
Yet another obstacle presents itself--no laundry detergent.
And no money for a trip to the corner store to get some. No cash until next week.
We decide we can wash everything in hot water, that should work, but as I look around the darkened dining room, I realize the enormous lump in the corner is an over flowing laundry basket, just a mountain of filthy laundry, and how will she ever get to it all with no detergent and a second mountain of bedding?
Wondering all this, which takes only a few seconds, I hear the back door open and close and realize the 2nd adult, the live-in boy friend is home, with a case of Bud tucked under his arm. He looks at me and grins.
In an instant, the hell relhm of the situation saturates my senses.
Over the years that I've known this family, there have been many instances of reaching this saturation point, followed by the crushing urge to just sit down and wail, or to jump up and race away, or to confront the adults, or find a more useful way to "save" their lives, or pick up a trash bag and begin throwing shit away, or to shower the girls with everything they could possibly dream of, or...or what?
What else is there?
Today, feeling all those aversions and compulsions and conflicting urges of disgust and pity and love, I simply stopped talking and looked. I didn't blink.
I took in the unemployed teenagers who were prowling around the empty cupboards. I took in my Little Sister, who said, "But Brookie, I don't know how to vacuum!" I took in the cat, who was perched on the stairs with half closed eyes, and the 7 year old who was about to pull her tail. The case of beer, the Indy 500 video game that had just been popped into the enormous television, the mother who was clearly at her wits end, but who was also preparing to strip the beds and wash everything without laundry detergent.
Take it in and simply breath.
Later, when my Little Sister called to say that one of the blankets could only go in cold water, I said that's okay. Then she said, "And we have something that can't go in the wash, it's too big."
I said, "Hang it outside for the day on the laundry line."
She said, "We don't have a laundry line."
"So get some rope", I said, "and tie it between the fences, then just hang it out for the day."
"Brookie!" she said, exasperated, "I've got some string, no rope. I don't think the string will work."
And she laughed.