Two and a half months ago, shortly after I started my private, password protected blog on Wordpress for a place to vent, I received a comment to a post I had written about Karen's "lifestyle," my concerns for her health and my motivations to help. She wrote in part:
"The problem is Karen. You are allowing her to live YOUR life....you need to live your own life. You can't help someone who does not see anything wrong with what they are doing to themselves or those around them."I knew that was so true. It was a realization or awakening of sorts for me, and later in the comment, she wrote:
"...you and Tom pick up HER pieces. Before that, Robert probably did. After you, there will be someone or something else that continues this task. This is the path she has chosen and continues to take."Indeed. I wasn't surprised as much as I was a little envious of Tom's predictive skills.
"How did you know?" I asked.
"How did I know what?"
"How did you know that she would catch a bus back to Las Vegas or California?" The evening Karen left, we were discussing what possibilities Karen had and Tom predicted (and wanted to bet me) she would just wind up hopping a Greyhound bus back to Las Vegas or California. Why? "Because that's what she does," was his rationale.
I continued. "I was reviewing our new cell phone bill. Karen made a one minute call to Kathy's house the evening of the 10th and then a seven minute call on the 11th to Greyhound Baggage at the San Diego depot. I'm guessing that the one minute call to Kathy was to say I'm here, pick me up and the seven minute call to the bus depot baggage department the next afternoon was to ask where's my stuff? I think she's in San Diego at Kathy's."
"Told you," he said.
So let me back up. Karen walked out of our house for the last time Wednesday, July 6th. For two days, I cleaned the room where she and her cat lived for five months.
Neither of them ventured out of the room very often. Karen would come out to eat, watch a little tv in the evening, go outside to smoke a cigarette or walk the block and a half to the grocery store for yet another prescription refill...and, of course, the nibbles (cheetos, fudge and the like) she'd keep in her room that she didn't want anyone to see.
For fear of invading her privacy that she so closely guarded, I rarely ventured into Karen's room. Once when she needed me to take some things to her when she was in the hospital and another time to vacuum her room at the same time I was vacuuming the rest of the house. The third time was when she was in hospital in March.
Her cat only really began venturing out of the bedroom the last month or so they were here and only at night when there was little chance of encountering a living breathing person besides Karen. Initially, we had the cat's litter box in the laundry room. In the morning, Karen would feed the cat in the laundry room and, a couple of times a day, she would carry her cat into the laundry room and make her stay there until she used the litter box. Otherwise, the cat was in the bedroom, generally hiding under the bed covers. But in March, when Karen was rushed to the hospital the first time, her cat refused to come out of her room. We wanted everything to be clean and neat when Karen arrived home, so while she was in the hospital, Tom and I stripped her bed to wash her bed linens and dusted and vacuumed the room. I folded the bedspread and laid it on the floor while I washed the sheets, pillow cases and mattress pad. When the linens were clean and dry and we attempted to make the bed, we found the cat had crawled into the bedspread and peed and pooped inside the folds. So, while I washed and sanitized the bedspread, Tom moved the litter box and food and water dishes into the bedroom. The litter box remained there until the day Karen left.
The morning after Karen's departure, I filled a bucket with hot water and heavy duty cleaner. I added water and deodorizer to the water basin/dust collector reservoir on my Rainbow vacuum and set the vacuum in the corner out of the way. Tom had thrown the litter box and food dishes in the trash the night before, so I started by throwing away trash, electronic cords, envelopes, anything and everything she left behind. The smell in the room was horrible and made me a little nauseous. It reminded me of those episodes of "Hoarders", not so much because of the accumulation of stuff as the unhealthy grime and uncleanliness underneath it all and the odor that develops from it. When I finished discarding all the trash, I started wiping down the ceiling fan, removing 5 months of accumulated dust and cat hair, rinsing the rag in the bucket at least twice, sometimes three times, for each blade. I was about half way through the task and reached up to wipe another, when the edge of the rag fell off the top side of the blade and, as it did, dislodged a mass of dust and cat hair that fell on to my face. I dropped the rag into the bucket, stepped down from the footstool and went into the bathroom to wipe the stuff from my hair, face and eyes. I went into the dining room and stepped out the back door for a second to catch my breath. My chest was congested and hurt. I decided I needed a dust mask, so I headed back into the house, through the kitchen, den and laundry room into the garage. Tom uses a heavy duty mask when he's sanding and luckily he had left one on the shelf next to the paint brushes. I grabbed it and on my way back into the house, I pulled out my rubber gloves from underneath the sink in the laundry room. I retrieved the bucket from the bedroom, emptied and refilled it with fresh hot water and cleaner. I donned the mask and my rubber gloves and I was ready to tackle the room again.
I finished wiping down the ceiling fan and turned it on to circulate the air (thinking back, that probably wasn't the most brilliant idea I've ever had; I probably should have left it off until I was done). Surrounding the spot where the cat's litter box previously sat in the corner of the room was dried cat pee and poop splatters. A drying pool of cat pee lay three feet away at the end of the bed. Clumps of cat hair floated on the surface of the floor around and under the bed, under the dresser, tables and window, in all the corners of the room and in the closet. I vacuumed those up first, then on my hands and knees I started scrubbing the painted cement floor, starting in the "cat box" corner and working my way outward, using a scrub brush. When I finished with the bare floor, I emptied and refilled the bucket again, then wiped down the window blinds, tables, dresser, and finally the head and foot boards of the bed, all of it covered with a thick layer of dust and cat hair and dander.
I moved the chair, foot stool and bucket into the hallway and started to vacuum the carpet. It was so thickly covered in black cat hair that the deep green border around the edge of the 5'X7' carpet looked grey. I made one pass over the surface and when it appeared like I wasn't making any much progress, I checked the water basin/dust collector reservoir. It was completely filled with cat hair and dirt. I emptied it, cleaned the reservoir out with sprayer on the hose outside, added more water and deodorizer and started over again. When I finished with the carpet, I used the upholstery attachment to clean the mattress, and when I was done, the reservoir was full again. I finished day one by spraying the mattress and carpet with Febreeze. The next morning, I vacuumed the whole room one more time and again sprayed it with Febreeze. The odor has slowly dissipated, but the linens we thought might be salvaged could not. Cat hair clung to the pillow cases even after washing and drying and we finally threw them away.
That was just a week ago. I was glad it was over. I felt relieved and ready to move on with my life, vowing to never, ever do it again because it is too darn easy for me to be sucked in and be the only responsible party in the room.
Then I received an email from her last night. She is, in fact, staying at our sister, Kathy's (in the immortal words of Gomer Pyle: Surprise. Surprise. Surprise). Karen took her suitcases with her, but left everything else behind, including four large and small packages of items she ordered online and were delivered here throughout the two days after she left for the "cheap motel" last Wednesday. But, instead of taking responsibility for those packages before she left for California, she would now like me to load those very important packages into my car, drive across town to the single UPS facility that is only open for three evening hours per day, schlep the packages up the ramp to the UPS receiving trailer and have them shipped to her in California. She is, of course, sending me a check for the "shipping and handling charges I paid to the sellers."
Do I seem a little snarky? Well, I am. I'm just a little more than irritated by the arrogant expectation that, once again, her lack of responsibility somehow becomes my responsibility, no matter how large or small the task. I think back to the commenter to whom I referred earlier when she said...
"Have you ever been in a situation where everyone else takes responsibility for you....me either but it sounds heavenly for a while at least, doesn't it??"You know what? I've decided I'm not going to give up one more ounce of energy to anything concerned with Karen that is absolutely NOT my responsibility because when I do, my energy is wasted and I feel resentful. If I say, NO, she becomes responsible and accountable for her decisions and priorities, no matter how big or small, life altering or insignificant they might be.
Karen's packages were delivered and were waiting for her before she left for California. They apparently weren't a priority before she boarded the bus and she chose to do nothing about those packages before she left. I guess she'll just have to put her big girl panties on and figure out how she's going to get them to California without me.