Garbage

With the start of a new year, it’s always good to purge the garbage from your life. This short sci-fi story was written a) when I was experimenting with my style, and b) when I started therapy. Inspired by Contest #51 of ReedsyPrompts, this story was brought to life by the prompt “Write about someone who returns as an adult to a place they last visited as a child.” So, please enjoy my garbage.

I’m not really sure why I thought this was a good idea. I don’t know what I expected to get out of this experience. Maybe some sort of closure? It’s not like I ever believed that coming here would be a good idea in the first place.

My husband was the one who told me to get therapy. I thought I had been doing fine before, but apparently not. Don’t get me wrong, I always knew I wasn’t quite right in the head, but I thought I was doing a good job of working through my issues. When I first realized that I probably hadn’t gotten over my childhood traumas, I got medication from my doctor. Then I started meditating every day. I was making improvements, but that was never quite enough.

Self-help books came next. I’ve just finished my third one. There was one for anxiety, one for depression, and one for the extra special shit I had to deal with from growing up with a narcissist and a psychopath for a father. I really thought I was doing alright. I thought everything was okay.

Turn’s out, my brain was just one dad-related incident away from a total meltdown. He reached out to me again. He’s tried every single year of the ten years I’ve gone without talking to him. Seeing that call come through was too much. I ignored it, like I always do, but ignoring him wasn’t enough this time. I lost it. I barely remember the tears that came afterwards. But what I do remember, thanks to my meditation and self-help books, that I was able to calm myself down faster than I normally would have been able to. I was proud of myself. That is, until my husband chimed in with his opinion on how my little meltdown had gone.

He insisted that I talk to someone. A professional. Clearly, I still had not gotten over the worst of my childhood trauma. I didn’t want to agree with him. I felt like I would only be able to truly fix my mental health problems if I did it on my own. But my husband and I love each other and, in the end, I decided our relationship was more valuable to me than my pride. I set up an appointment with a therapist.

I suppose it’s been going well. I don’t know. I feel better about my progress when I’m doing it on my own. Sure, some of the exercises she’s given me have been helpful, but I still don’t like the idea of opening up like that to a stranger. Despite all we’ve been though in the past few weeks, and despite her knowing all of my secrets, this woman has yet to earn my trust. But even though I can’t bring myself to trust her, I also can’t bring myself to leave her. No matter what I feel about her, she’s helping me sift through my emotional garbage. She helped me find some things in my mental junk yard that I didn’t even know were there. I’m not sure I can afford to remove her from my life.

I wanted to vomit when she suggested this trip. I mentioned to her that I would be travelling for work and, somehow, she managed to figure out that I would end up being close to my childhood home. Maybe I had mentioned it to her in one of our sessions, and maybe she had simply made a lucky guess. I was a little uncomfortable with the fact that she knew where I grew up. Maybe part of that was because of the stigma surrounding that place. It had been deemed unlivable, after all.

She didn’t judge me, though. She mentioned having other patients who came from the same place and who had to leave for the same reasons my family did. Although her face didn’t show it, I imagined she got excited when I implied that our leaving home was the catalyst for my parents’ divorce. I cursed myself the moment I mentioned it. Of course, she wanted me to talk about it then.

So, after that session where I poured my heart out about my parents’ separation and what the family went through when we had to leave home, she encouraged me to at least consider visiting the area where I had grown up. My next mistake was mentioning this to my husband. He thought it was a great idea and immediately jumped in head-first, offering to do whatever it took so that I would take the extra time during my work travels to swing by my old house. I gave in.

I was frustrated by how easy it was to book a day off work right in the middle of my work trip. I felt as if the whole universe was against me on this one. No matter how much I cried about it, everyone around me was determined to make sure I made the trip to that house.

So.

Here I am.

And I’m having a panic attack.

The house is right in front of me, and it’s worse than I remember. There’s garbage, literal garbage, everywhere. We had always worked so hard to keep it clean. But now the wind, and any stragglers who may have stayed behind, have made sure that the house is almost buried. I can’t see the lawn anymore, and the door is almost covered. There’s just garbage everywhere, over every square inch of the neighbourhood. And I’m sure the other neighbourhoods are all just as bad.

Between the unbelievable amounts of waste, and the fact that the panic attack has left me short of breath, it’s a struggle to even get to the front door. But I get there, and the door isn’t even locked. I mean, why would it be? When we got the call to evacuate, everything happened so fast. I’m sure locking the door was the last thing on my parents’ minds.

The front hall is much like I remember it, except the tiles on the floor are all cracked and the door to the coat closet is barely hanging on. I start to turn left, into the dining room, but I have only just realized that the windows are broken and garbage has poured through the opening over the years. It’s not even worth trying to go that way. So, I turn right instead and enter the living room.

All of the good memories happened here. No one ever seemed to fight in this room. Afterall, we had a computer and a tv in the living room. It’s not like we came in here to interact with others. I try to remember the good times with my dad. But the problem with revisiting this kind of trauma as an adult is that it taints even the best memories. As a child, I had no idea how bad things really were in my family. I simply enjoyed the good moments. Now that I’m older and I know better, I look back on those moments and think: He was only nice to me when it benefited him in some way.

As I walk through to the back of the house, I pass by the door to the basement. I open the door just a crack, not really planning on going down. It looks like it might be flooded. I don’t particularly want to find out if that’s true or not. This house probably isn’t a safe place to be right now and I don’t want to test my luck. Besides, that’s where my dad’s home office used to be. I move on to the kitchen instead.

Our kitchen table is still there, as is the rest of the furniture we left behind in the house. The couches in the living room had been left behind but I didn’t notice them as much because they don’t hold any particularly strong memories. The kitchen is different. This is the room where I spent the most time with my mom. This is where she taught me how to cook. But the kitchen table is something I associate with my dad. That is where he used to yell at me the most. That is where he hit me. He only ever hit me the once. It never happened again. Most of the abuse was psychological.

I peek through the worn and broken blinds into the backyard. It used to be the nicest backyard in the neighbourhood because it backs onto a little hill. It used to be covered in trees. Now the whole thing is trash. Other people’s long forgotten waste has cascaded down the side of the hill and filled the once beautiful backyard almost to the brim. I doubt I would even be able to get out the back door even if I wanted to.

Once I double check the safety of the stairs, I quickly check out the bedrooms. I’m half expecting the house to collapse, so I don’t want to stay upstairs too long. That, and I know the memories up there will be painful.

I start by peeking in to what was supposed to be a guest bedroom. Over the years, it turned into a playroom when my sister and I were young children, and then an office when my mother tried going back to work. She wanted to be able to earn her own money so that she wasn’t at the mercy of my father.

Next, I stop in my old room. I have no desire to stay there long. I got over leaving all of my things behind ages ago and those are old wounds I do not want to re-open. I skip the bathroom because I’m sure it must be growing mold or something by now. My little sister’s room is next. It’s dustier than I remember, but it has barely changed and that makes me happy in a weird sort of way.

The final room is my parents’ room. I hesitate before venturing in. Their room is right above the dining room, so the windows in here are broken too. Luckily, since it is on the second floor, it is not entirely overrun by trash. Yet.

I feel uncomfortable in here. There’s the bed they shared for so many years, even though my mom was so unhappy. And the walk-in closet is on the other side of the room. Mom wasn’t allowed to wear what she wanted to. Dad always picked out her clothes. Personally, I always thought she dressed better after she left him. She even looked happier after she left him. It was as if her freedom had made her ten years younger.

After some time spent mulling over the memories, I decide I’ve had enough. I leave the house and look back only once before getting in to my shuttle. I don’t break down to cry until I’m in orbit around the planet. I let all of the emotions wash through me and I don’t try to stop them.

Once I’ve calmed down, I just sit there looking at the Earth. It’s nothing like the old pictures I’ve seen. It’s dingy-looking and uninhabitable. It almost looks worse than the last time I saw it. I was a teenager then, evacuating the planet with my family. It was the last time all four of us were together. People knew long before I was born that the evacuation was bound to happen. The Mars colonies were already flourishing when the call was made to abandon the Earth. The planet was just filled with too much garbage and it was no longer safe to live there.

That was an eye-opening moment for my mom. She had known early on in her marriage that she was not happy. And then, one day, she realized her life was filled with too much garbage too. It just wasn’t safe to keep living there. After we had all been safely evacuated, she told my dad she was leaving him. I have never been prouder of her than I was that day.

I sit in orbit for a little while longer, thinking about my own situation. My company has been hired to try to clean up some of the garbage on the planet and salvage what we can. Maybe… Maybe that’s what my husband wants for me. He knows that I’m slowly being smothered by the weight of my own emotional garbage and that some day my mind will no longer be capable of supporting life. I guess he hopes that my therapist will help me to clean things up and salvage what I can before it’s too late.

I decide right then that when I get back home to Mars, I’m going to schedule another appointment with my therapist. I’m going to start trusting her.

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