Dan always had a lot of possessions. Even in his early Beat Pad days, he had tons of records, wooden crates stacked with decades of Life Magazines, huge speakers and lots of stereo sound equipment, band equipment and instruments, oil paintings, clothes a plenty, furniture, appliances, etc. When we moved to New York, we hauled it all up six flights of stairs to our sublet on Avenue B in the Lower East Side,.
Once we returned to Georgia and owned a three bedroom home with closets, an attic, a garage, a utility room, and a basement, Dan would accumulate even more. He worked in construction and came across things all the time that were cool or had some value or purpose, and he would drag them home. If something broke, it did not have to fear the trash heap. It would end up in our basement, saved to be repaired even though Dan had never in his life spent a Saturday repairing anything. His connection with music and former bands brought in more items to store such as towers, wooden risers, carpet, drape, recording equipment, most of it obsolete.
Everyone has stuff, right? But gradually, over the twenty years we lived in our house, Dan’s accumulating reached critical mass. Seriously. He even wanted to store equipment towers and unwanted tables in Max’s room. Why Max’s room in a home with a garage and a utility room? Because everywhere else was too stuffed with stuff!
Our home, I realize, was like that of a, if not a hoarder, a pre-hoarder. Was Dan filling a need, a gap in his life or just weighing himself down in dirt and clutter?
Was he hoarding out of unhappiness? I know he was unhappy with his limited success in music. During our last years together, he no longer had his own band. He played in a cover band; he liked it and his band mates, but it was not a vibrant creative outlet for him. As for his personal life, his life with Max and me, was he really all that unhappy? His mother has told me that she does not think he was. I don’t think he was either. I remember, for example, after a particularly good meal that I had cooked, and as we had sat there with Max talking, he said, “I love my family!” And he looked around at me and Max and meant it. He would tell me of guys at work who were married to women they described as “psycho bitches from hell” and tell me how glad he was I was not like that.
Hindsight analysis to the side, he had, over the years of our marriage, filled our house top to bottom with junk. That was the setting, as he and the Instagirl spent the months preceding Crack-up Summer flirting their way into an online affection.
Once he had reached an understanding with her and she had agreed to fly to America to visit him, he needed a place for her to visit, he needed his own apartment. Fate smiled on him; he immediately found an affordable efficiency in an in town neighborhood. All very nice for love nest purposes, but note, I said efficiency. Dan the pack rat could not pack much into an efficiency.
And sure enough on Crack-up night when he told Max and me that he was leaving and in minutes was out the door for the last time, he took very little. In the weeks prior to that night, he had secretly supplied his new apartment from our basement with camping pots and pans and household things left over from a yard sale. And, of course, he had culled through his closet and dresser drawers for the summer clothing he wanted and taken a few toilet articles. But much, much was left.
His announcement to me and Max that he was leaving came on a Thursday. Two days later was the Dylan concert that we strangely attended together, and the next day was Sunday when he had arranged to borrow a pick-up truck and his best friend Mark had agreed to come over and help him move. They took Dan’s L-shaped computer desk which was large, a chest of drawers and bed frame from the basement, and, and…. I don’t know what they took because I was in the middle bedroom, my studio, as I called it, sitting in a chair suffering and waiting for it to be over.
When it was finally over and Dan and Mark had driven away in the truck, I slowly emerged reclaiming the interior space of my home, and saw that in the middle of the living room floor there was a pile of Dan’s things. Not enough room in the truck? These things did not fit? I circled them. Stared at them. Dan’s things had such a presence for me. Now there was a pile of them in our living room the other end of which was our dining room where I ate most of my meals. How would I ever be able to stand this?
And still his closet, the hall closet, the foyer closet, the attic, the basement, etc., etc., were full, full, full of him, him, him. He was gone, but his stuff, tons of it, still remained.
Gradually, I began to add to the pile that he had left in the middle of the living room. If something of his was out and caught my eye and I thought he might want it, I added it to pile in the living room. From the kitchen, I added dishes that he had used more than me, like the Boonton Melmac serving dish that he used for corn chips with his cheese dip. Our cupboards were full; I added to his pile cans of beans and rice packets that he liked. I don’t remember all that I added or why I added certain things to the pile. If ever I was demented, it was in those days.
On day five after Crack-up announcement night, Dan finally got around to telling his parents. He called me saying he would stop by here after he saw them. I dreaded it. He had begun to act so strange and cold toward me. Once he arrived, we sat at the fateful dining room table and discussed some of the business of breaking up our marriage. He told me that his parents had been wonderful and very understanding. To be honest, that surprised me. They had always seemed to be people who valued the family above all else and what’s more to be people who knew right from wrong and tried to live accordingly. To think that they were OK with what he was doing was one more disappointment and blow to bear. They had always been kind to me. I loved them. But, of course, Dan was their son. They would side with him. I realized that here was one more Crack-up cost for me. I would lose my place with Dan’s family, a place I had held and enjoyed for thirty years.
After a few minutes of tragic, marriage tear down talk, Dan went to the bathroom and gathered a few more toiletries. He packed the pile from the middle of the living room floor into his car and once again was gone.
But still there were so many of his personal things left here in this house, surrounding me, over my head in the attic, under my feet in the basement, on his dresser, and in his closet in my bedroom. He even had stuff stuffed under the bed, the very bed I slept in every night. I talked to a few other teachers at work, my friends, my confidants. Of these, the ones who had been though a Crack-up were quick with what to do with stuff left by a “no good two-timer.” They said, with great emphasis,” I’d tell him, ‘Yo stuff is on the street. If you want it, you better get over here right quick and get it ‘fore someone else does!’ ”
Somehow, I just never was able to take that sound advice. But I did begin some symbolic shifting of Dan’s things, moving them, if not off the property, at least farther and farther away from my own most personal space. These shifts often occurred in the middle of a particularly sleep-spared night. One night, trying to see through the crystal blur of tears, I cleared all the many dusty things from the top of his dresser and put them into his dresser drawers. A few nights later, I took those same dusty possessions and the socks, underwear, t-shirts from the drawers, all his second-tier clothing that had not made the first cut and been taken with him when he left, and bagged and boxed it all, beginning a new pile in the living room. This time not in the middle of the floor, more over to the side where his desk stood.
On another noxious night while lying in the bed, I became acutely aware of all that was underneath it. I got up and began to pull his things from under our bed. So much of it was pure junk. There was even a bag of what could only be described as trash: unopened junk mail, used tissues, old bank statements. Creepy! Who puts a bag of trash under the bed like that? I knew what had happened. On a day when Dan needed to clean off the top of his desk, rather than go through and deal with things properly, he had stuffed them in a bag and then stuffed the bag under our bed. Voila! Clean desk! But under our bed—trash, actual garbage. Strange. Sick strange.
One day when I knew he was coming by to take me to the cable and gas companies to switch service into my name, I bagged all his dirty laundry from the hall closet, and his vitamins, cold remedies, shampoo, mouthwash, and whatever else from the bathroom. This was all by the front door, and he took it at the end of the visit along with some things from the pile in the living room. But still there was so much, so much.
For one thing, there were all his clothes, a huge closet full, and the foyer closet was full as well. One night, I laid a sheet down along the wall in the living room where his computer had been and made trip after trip with his clothes in my arms. When I had removed everything of his from both closets, the pile along in the living room wall reached waist high and was ten to twelve feet in length. I covered the pile with a white sheet. It had a funereal appearance, like a draped coffin. The dining room table where Max and I ate was on the other end of this room. Soon I could no longer cope with this coffin of Dan’s clothes, and I transferred the pile to a side wall of the garage. I failed to cover the pile, and the next day when I pulled into the garage after work, right at eye level on the top of the pile was a dark green print shirt that I remembered him wearing the previous Thanksgiving. That shirt tore my heart. I burst into tears and went in search of a sheet to cover the pile. I could not look at Dan’s clothes. They made me so sad.
Gradually, night by sleepless night, I transferred as much of his stuff as I could first to the living room, then from there to the garage or basement. There were still some items of furniture in the house that were his and I knew he wanted, there were hundreds of record albums, books, video tapes. The bedroom and the bathroom were cleared of his things, but the garage and the basement were now more packed than ever, and there was still the attic and the utility room. I was constantly surrounded by so many reminders that could bring tears like the Thanksgiving shirt had done. There was so much presence, and weight, and volume to so much stuff. It was hard to breath in the midst of it all. How could I ever begin to feel free of him, to begin to sever my life from his, as I would have to do, if I was completely surrounded by his possessions?
And it wasn’t just the suffocation problem. There was the realization that if he was leaving this stuff here for weeks and months after the Crack-up, it must not mean that much to him. He had cherry picked around the house for the things he most wanted and needed. Those cherished items had gone with him to the apartment that he was prepping for the arrival of the Instagirl. What he had left was the unwanted, the, in a sense, disposable trash. Since Max and I had been left, we were in that category, too.
But wanted or not, I needed his stuff to be gone. He was gone. His possessions needed to go. In August he messaged that he wanted to come by to leave me a check for his half of the divorce lawyer fee and to pick up a few things. It troubled me just to hear from him, but to get a check and to be rid of some of his things were incentives to agree. I was at work. The plan was for Max to let him in. Here’s what happened.
Max was in his room on his computer about an hour after the time when Dan was supposed to arrive. He said he looked up and was startled to see his dad suddenly standing in the room right beside him! He said to Dan, “Didn’t you want to ring the doorbell to let me know you were here?”
Dan said to him in a voice that Max described as creepy, “I still own this house.”
Max told me, “Mom, it was like your dreams.”
What dreams did he mean? Soon after the Crack-up, I had begun to have these dreams where I would be in the kitchen and hear someone come in the door. At first I would be very afraid, but I would look up and see that it was Dan. I would feel a sense of relief. But then, I would look at him, and he would look at me with the Eyes of a Stranger! A chill, a killing chill would run right though me, and I would try to wake myself from the dream to escape the horror.
When Dan suddenly appeared beside Max in his room that day, Max felt the same horror. A stranger suddenly stood in his room. A stranger dad.
Dan did not leave a check, of course, He later offered an excuse that blamed Max. He said he forgot to leave the check because Max was giving him the evil eye. What he wanted was our camping equipment from the basement. He had been telling us and his family that he was going on a solo camping trip on the Appalachian Trail. Although by this time, we all knew of the Instagirl, he was still denying her existence, thus his emphasis on a solo camping trip.
Max let Dan into the basement to get our camping equipment, but instead of taking one of the small tents, Dan took our large family trip. Maybe Max was watching to see if he would do it. Max told me that what he said was “So this is what you are going to commit the adultery in!” Dan’s response was to disconnect which is what he would do whenever anyone confronted him. He just did not answer. Talking to him was like talking to a misfiring robot in those days. He did take the family-sized tent and the rest of our camping equipment. Once again he went away with just the few things that would serve him in his affair with the Instagirl.
There was a real insult imbedded in his taking just the things that would furnish his efficiency apartment, readied for the visit of the Instagirl, and our camping equipment for the trip he planned to take with her, while Max and I were supposed to cooperatively and foolishly store and stare at all the rest of his mountain of possessions.
I reached a point of actually begging him to come get his things. I said, “You know you have to get this stuff eventually, why not rent a storage unit, get a couple of friends, and in a day or two you could have it all moved.” I did this one fateful day in front of Max and Dan’s father. I did it with tears, begging, pleading, saying, “This is breaking me down. I cannot stand to have this stuff here Any Longer! Please!!!” But Nothing I could say cut ice. By that time the Instagirl was in the country. He was not going to give me even a minute’s time or a half-thought of consideration.
I could drown in a sea of his castoff, unwanted piles and piles of stuff, and he just really did not care. He made that perfectly clear. He made it perfectly clear to me and since Max was there, he made it eternally clear to Max, too. Our interests, our life and death struggle, a small relief that could have meant the world to us, meant nothing, nothing at all to him.
He left us, and not only that, he left us to live, die, survive, or not, in the midst of all his things, his records, his clothes, his furniture, his empty boxes in the attic, and beat-up band equipment in the basement.
I was crazy enough to beg him to come get them, to help lighten my load, to free me from the detritus that was drowning me. He turned a deaf ear to all my requests, all my suffering. He, who had been my friend, my lover, my husband for thirty years turned and looked at me, and for a minute I may have felt relief. “He may not love me now, but he used to love me. Surely, he will help me. He will free me from being suffocated by his things, by all this that I cannot, cannot bear. He will finally move out and take his things away, he will have pity on me, and then Max and I can breathe and begin to build our new lives.”
But when I pleaded with hope and faith for him to still have some goodness, some care for me based on the old times, Dan turned and looked at me with the cold, cruel, chilling eyes of a stranger.