A merciless beast attacks my Dad. With the determination of a Jehovah’s Witness, I begin my quest once more to save him. I descend the creaky wooden steps, entering the darkness of the basement. Dad resides in the southwest corner, his rump fused to a chair behind his desk. The glow of the computer screen illuminates a heavy-set man of nearly sixty, with a face framed by business-savvy glasses and a dark, tidy beard. A senile tabby cat nests on the corner of the desk. The beast joins them, manifesting itself as towering stacks of car magazines, an abandoned ten-gallon fishtank, heaps of office supplies, haphazard electronic equipment, dust-cloaked trophies, moth-eaten clothes, and other mysterious items buried below the chaotic surface. The piece of furniture formerly referred to as his desk no longer exists, for the beast litters it with bills, model car parts, expired bottles of vitamins, computer software, cleaning supplies and an endless array of rubbish. And the beast grows daily. My Dad spends nearly all of his time in this cluttered cave, held hostage by decades of junk.
I pause in front of his desk. He hasn’t seemed to notice me yet; his headphones are on and he’s playing Solitaire while listening to CNN and tinkering with the next model car project.
“Dad.” He twists his head like an owl, and the stormy-grey eyes peer at me through the lenses, studying me for a second. The headphones come off.
“Lauren.” Goofy grin as usual.
“All we need is a day, and Mom and I can help – we’ll really clean this place up.” His eyes squint, the corners of his mouth twitch into a frown.
“I don’t need any help.”
“Dad, it looks like you’re sitting in the middle of a landfill. I would go mental if I spent as much time down here as you do – how do you find anything?”
“I manage.” Clickety click. Solitaire takes priority. So does pride.
“I’ve thought about seeing if we can get on one of those shows where they come out and clean the house.” Silence. Sometimes you have to ignore Jehovah’s Witness people like myself.
The other dumpsite lies in the garage. A 1976 Triumph TR-7 rests in the center, with glorious potential. Cold, rusty and lonesome, the TR-7 begs for attention with only empty promises of being restored. You wouldn’t actually notice a car in the garage upon first glance. Thoroughly neglected, it suffocates under mounds of worthless crap such as forgotten tools, yellowed newspapers, soiled rags, grimy containers, and racecar memorabilia from Dad’s racing days. Shelves, camping equipment, cords and gardening materials surround the car. Three ancient bicycles hang from the ceiling along with a damaged canoe and a few ladders. A household with four cars could really use a one-car garage, but the beast inhabits this one.
After searching for Mom I return to the basement with her, where we make one more attempt.
“We could just go through all this stuff together on a weekend, Al, and it won’t take up too much of your time. We’ll help you decide what to keep and what to throw away. We could even start with those storage units you waste hundreds of dollars on every year. We like organizing. Come on,” my Mom pleads. Dad ignores her and continues playing solitaire on the computer.
“I can take care of that Mr. Beer Home Brewery if you’re not going to use it…” I suggest nonchalantly.
“No chance,” Dad replies, a smirk hinting on his lips.
The beast did not stop at my Father, but sneakily turned its attention toward me during the past several years. Moving into a studio apartment became one of the biggest challenges of my life. Finding a space for all the junk I carried proved to be a gargantuan task. I sat for days amidst all the boxes and felt completely overwhelmed. One week later, after sorting through most everything, huge piles of stuff remained that did not have a home in my new place yet. Jammed with clothes, my nightmare of a closet became a source of stress as I wracked my brain every morning, unable to pick out something to wear. The beast encouraged me to keep everything. Your best friend gave you that ugly shirt, you should keep it or you’ll feel bad. You paid a lot of money for that one-of-a-kind dress, you don’t want to just give it away for nothing. Don’t throw that toaster away, you might want to toast something in your lifetime even though you hate toast.
I did my best, battling the beast daily until twenty garbage sacks later, my living space looked drastically different. I’ve made further progress since then but to this day I am not one-hundred percent satisfied. The beast still lurks, preying on every weakness. And I am currently drawing up plans for another quest to Dad’s lair. This time I’m taking extra weapons and preparing verbal artillery in order to pry deep into Dad’s mind. I intend to slay the psychological beast whose claws have anchored.