6:00 A.M. Prompt
: restoration after decay, lapse, or dilapidation
At night, he couldn’t sleep. Not in here. He remembers this, looking around, horrified. For the first time in his life, he is truly horrified. Because he’s better now, and can fully comprehend that what he had been living had not been a life. Nowhere close, not at all.
He couldn’t sleep in here at night because he could always hear the crinkling, crackling, creepy noises that the rodents and insects made as they foraged through his broken down, disgusting home as if it were their very own. Indeed, it was. He’d given them lease to share his space with him because of his refusal to keep the place inhabitable for a human being rather than a pest. He had decided long ago that he wasn’t good enough for his own home, let alone his own skin, his own body, his own miserable life. Too coward to end it all in any way that would be considered brutally selfish by those that still claimed to love him, he simply waited to die under the conditions that he had meticulously fashioned for himself inside these rapidly deteriorating walls.
He moves silently from room to room, eyes glistening and vision blurry, seeing and not seeing through tears he can’t shed for his old self. His old existence. Filth, and dilapidation. It’s everywhere he looks.
The stuff he bought to keep the hurt and demons at bay stopped making him feel good the moment he got it into his house, but he could never do anything about any of it. Sometimes, if he found whatever it was some time later among the piles and piles of trash and things, it might give him a surprising jolt of pleasure when he picked it up, rediscovering. But then it would get lost again. He would forget, and go out to buy more.
More of the same, or not at all, none of it really mattered in the end. He couldn’t clean it up, or get rid of it because he would think “What if? What if I find it again and it makes me feel better?” The ‘it’ was an interchangeable, almost corporeal nothing in particular. Something of this mess made him feel surrounded, almost protected from whatever hurt he felt haunted him. Dogged him. But then the loneliness would increase tenfold because he couldn’t let anyone into this; couldn’t let them see. They stopped asking. Stopped coming. Disappointment, and their own version of hurt shown in their eyes. Hurt and confusion that he had put there.
He glances at the ceilings, crumbling and dotted with rotting holes. He couldn’t get repairs on anything. The stuff crowded everyone and everything out. No one could come and look at a thing. One by one, all the things that made him a person with a home began systematically to fail. Amenities. Running water. Electricity. Shelter. Warmth in the winter and cool in the summer. Nothing kept the outside riff-raff from invading and making themselves at home. Stray animals at first. He welcomed them almost as friends. Harmless cats. A raccoon who wasn’t too bad. They were bodies with beating hearts other than his own. He fed them — the cats at least. From his dirty kitchen where he could no longer cook himself a hot meal.
They bred somewhere in the house and the kittens got lost or trapped and died. At night he’d hear them mewling loudly until nights later they went quiet. The cats stopped coming around, understanding the danger. They left the stink of their rotting offspring and urine and feces behind. His stuff became contaminated by more than just dust and stale, recycled air.
He now goes into the kitchen and looks at the destruction. Food didn’t keep with no refrigeration and no gas to cook what he did manage to preserve. He’d buy things he could eat cold or straight up, but again, it was always too much for one man. With no other humans or even the strays to feed, things started to rot. Especially in the summer. It got bad for him around then. So many summers — too many — where the rot piled up and the flies and the maggots and the roaches and then the rodents came and went as they pleased. A never ending cycle that would taper off somewhat when the weather turned cold. The rats and the mice always stole his food before he could think to eat it. He always heard them. In the beginning, he rarely saw them. Especially in the winter months. They tended to stay hidden — nested in his walls and out amongst his stuff for flimsy insulation against the cold. In the later years, during summer, they showed themselves without any fear of him. They had the numbers and this was no longer his house.
Their shit droplets and dirty yellow piss stains littered almost every surface of his home, but especially his kitchen. The counter and stove tops were the worst offenders. He didn’t open his fridge. When the electricity went, the food in there went bad after a while, but he’d never emptied it. The critters had made themselves quite the home in there. He’d never cared or dared to examine how.
Now, as he moves from sad room to sad room, crying quietly for the waste it all represents, he doesn’t spend time asking those questions of himself. None of it matters anymore. He’d hated himself then. So he thought it was all he deserved. To waste away with the waste. To lay awake at night listening to the rustlings of the true owners of this house move about all the stuff he’d stuffed it with, counting the minutes until he’d had to begin living through yet another day. Wondering when one of them would turn out to be his last.
As he comes to the last room in the house he ever wanted to see again, the bathroom, his tears fall down his face in earnest.
Near the end, because there was no running water, he’d had to rely on bottles for everything. Big jugs of water to wash off and rinse his mouth out. Empty jugs to piss and scoop his shitty toilet water into if he didn’t have enough left over from drinking to pour down the ill-used commode.
He had had to send his mind to another place in order to exist this way without truly going insane. Perhaps, that is the very definition of insanity. Dressing shit up as a bed of roses without thorns in order to continue to smell it without dying. Or until you do.
The bathroom is the worst room in the house. Even worse than the kitchen. Instead of rodent and pest feces, it’s his own that permeates the very foundation of this room. Body fluids and garbage are all he knows of the life he is so desperate to leave behind. He feels as if he will retch. His stomach is unsettled enough to force him to turn away from the ugly, blackened sight.
He sees a woman in a hazmat suit identical to his own approaching him. He can tell from the crinkles gathered around her eyes that she is smiling politely behind her face mask. She has done that with him ever since they’d agreed to walk him through the place one last time. Showing compassion, pity, or both. Her normally soft, kind voice is strong and boisterous, though muffled when she speaks. “Your family is waiting outside. I’m sorry, they didn’t want to see the rest of it. Did you want to look upstairs? The foundation is a little shaky, so we’ll have to be careful.”
He’d forgotten there was a second floor to the house he’d purchased in the 70s to move his now ex-wife and grown, scattered children into when he was a much younger, much more present person. He hadn’t been up there in almost a decade. He vaguely remembered bedrooms. A master where he’d made love to his wife. Two smaller bedrooms where his daughters had slept, happily at one time. He’d been a good father then. They hadn’t hated him. Hadn’t accused him of caring about the junk he purchased and piled at their feet so they couldn’t move more than he cared about them. Hadn’t been embarrassed to bring their friends over. Hadn’t yet begun to sneak away and stay away because they felt claustrophobic and panicked in this packed house full of nothing but stuff he couldn’t stop buying and buying and buying. His wife hadn’t yet begun cornering him in the master bedroom with the door closed as if the kids couldn’t tell they were screaming at one another about the bills he didn’t pay and the debt he racked up and the neglect he hurt her with. She was too good for him. He knew it. But she didn’t want the useless gifts he’d tried to buy her loyalty and love with.
They’d gathered together after ages in a show of support, but they couldn’t stand to look at the damage he’d inflicted on what had once been their home.
“You okay?” The kind, short-statured woman in the pristine white suit asked loud enough for him to hear and understand the question through her perpetual mask. She’d never remove it to carry on a conversation. Not in here.
He nods but doesn’t speak. He doesn’t want to open his mouth in here. Not even behind a mask.
“Do you want to go upstairs?” She repeats, perhaps sensing his desire to only respond to yes or no questions.
He shakes his head.
“Okay, fair enough,” she pauses, looking around with a resigned sigh. He’s not sure if she’s addressing him or herself when she finally continues: “The instauration of a home like this will cost quite a bit, I won’t lie about that. But we have a ton of help. So, I think — I hope it will go more smoothly than it seems like it should, given the damage.”
He looks around too. They are in a hallway, so there’s nothing much to look at but walls. It already cost me everything, he thinks but doesn’t say.