Squalor Survivors logo

Fivecat's story

Once upon a time, there was a coddled and helpless young princess who, like most princesses, could afford the luxury of being scared of the little insignificant things in life. She was the kind who'd go running through the house if she even saw something as harmless as a mouse, arms flailing, jumping on top of chairs, just like in the cartoons. Those days are long gone for the princess now, though. You see, in the ignorance of her youth, the coddled young princess who thought she'd have everything, who fully expected a life of happily ever after, fell in love and married. Unfortunately, it didn't take long before the prince turned into a toad, and a cruel, evil one at that. After that, her life turned hard and she could no longer afford the silliness of her youth. She found herself confronted with the harsh reality that life wasn't really a fairy tail at all. She found that there was no happily ever after outside of fairy tales, that no one had the time or patience for princesses, and that if she was going to survive, she had to grow up and get a grip.

I was that young princess and this is my story.

Twenty plus years ago, my toad and I bought a run down, over grown farm with a dilapidated house. We lived there 3 years, until we separated, with me living there the last three months by myself. During this time, I had to get over things like being scared of mice. Not by choice, but out of necessity. You see, in the course of that 3 years and in his pitiful attempts at home improvement, the toad had opened up so many breaches to the outside it was like a literal open door invitation to the little buggers. We were overrun and it was awful. All I wanted to do was to wilt and have a perpetual "Oh, woe is me" party. However, this was the situation I had to deal with and somehow I figured out a pity party just wasn't going to help. Life was sucking and even though I didn't want to, somehow, I had to find a way to suck it up.

I remember this one time, I was lying asleep on the couch, and three mice were playing together so hard on the rug beside me that they actually woke me up. Most every morning when I got up, there was a mouse in the bathtub that had gotten in and couldn't get out. I'd scoop them up with a toilet brush into a plastic pitcher I kept in there and flushed them down the toilet. One weekend, right before I moved out, I trapped 36 in 24 hours. It was gross and I was scared out of my wits, but I was on my own and knew I couldn't afford to be a hysterical little princess anymore and certainly, there was no one there to coddle me.

The only way I got through it was I figured out early on, probably when I found the first one trapped in the tub, that I was going to have to change my way of thinking. I couldn't afford to keep telling myself that they were filthy and disgusting little vermin. I had to start telling myself they were just little furry creatures, God's creations, looking for a nice shelter and a bite to eat, same as me. I told myself that they were harmless, just like the gerbils, hamsters, and white mice that people have as pets and that while I really didn't want to share my particular home with them, they really pose no danger to me. I told myself that I CAN catch these mice, I CAN get rid of them and I CAN survive. And that's exactly what I did.

Was it easy? No. Was it scary? You bet. Did I want to give up? More times than you can imagine. But even so, I got through it. In fact, not only did get though it, I came out stronger and better for it. It was a good thing, too, because little did I know there were going to be times ahead when I was going to need all the strength I could get.

A few years later, I met a man who actually did turn out to be a prince and who amazingly remains one to this day. We've been married almost twenty years now, and instead of either of us expecting to sail blissfully into happily ever after, we'd learned from our past experiences that it's better to just try to take things one day at a time. It's a good thing, too, because even though we've been happy with each other, life has certainly not been without obstacles and almost never easy. If either of us had still been expecting happily ever after, I don't think we could have made it. You see, we've spent a season in hell over the last few years that made most of our past troubles look like a cakewalk. It all started like this.

Almost ten years ago and even though it needed a rehab, we thought we'd found our own little corner of paradise when we got out of our little city apartment and bought a big old house in the country. Little did we know we'd only jumped from the frying pan into the fire. Unfortunately, paradise to a bona fide prince and a has been princess don't quite look the same and it ended up that my husband and I weren't quite on the same page. While I saw us working together in our spare time to redo the house, he saw us blissfully spending our time together in front of the TV. But I was excited and determined, so alone, I managed to very successfully deconstruct almost every basic necessity in the house before I finally gave up and succumbed to life with him in front of the TV. I think that's really when it all began.

I've never been much of a housekeeper, almost always having dishes and laundry piled up as well as general disarray all over, but life was tolerable. Then because I'd deconstructed everything, we managed to descend into a level of squalor, the depths of which I would have never imagined myself living in. The sheer magnitude of it made sinks stacked full of unwashed dishes, clutter, and dirty laundry piled up look clean. For more than five years, our home was nothing more than literal and total hovel. Pigs in sties lived better than we did.

As if what I'd deconstructed and abandoned wasn't bad enough, the ravages of nature, time, and a lack of resources managed to disable much of the rest. Major roof problems developed and leaks were everywhere. Money had always been tight, so there was no extra for repairs and water often streamed in by the buckets full when it rained. Our heating system, two ancient gas space heaters that came with the house, gave out as well as our water heater, which was just about as ancient. Then to make matters worse, our pipes froze and burst. For more than six months our home was practically uninhabitable except for sleeping and during the winter, that could only be tolerated thanks to an electric blanket. We did manage to get our cold water line repaired after a while, but only to the tub. That meant that the only way to flush the toilet was to draw water from it into a bucket and pour it down the bowl. For awhile, we couldn't even get it from the tub. Until we got the cold water fixed, we actually had to go outside in the snow and ice, move a hundred pound slab of concrete, and drop the bucket into our cistern (a man made well) and haul it up by hand.

Since it was winter, I took to riding with my husband on his delivery route, just so I'd have a way to stay warm and have access to working bathrooms. Every other day we'd drive to a truck stop 40 miles the opposite way, just so we could use their showers and until we got the cold water back, I'd use their coin machines to wash just enough clothes for us to get by. Everything else wearable just remained piled up and dirty. No dusting or sweeping was even possible during this time, as construction supplies were everywhere along with deconstruction debris, leaving us only paths to walk through.

Sawdust was everywhere, along with grit from ripped out plaster and lathes. Clapboards outside could be seen from the inside and the wintertime wind cut cold between their slits, sharper than a razor knife. One winter, the temp never got over 45 degrees in the house. If we weren't in bed, we were wearing heavy coats, just like we were outside. Gaping holes in the floor left from attempts to repair termite damage left us open for more cold. Even worse, creepy crawly things came in exodus from the dark, dank bowels below. We were infested with big, brown wolf spiders, many of which were pregnant. When you tried to squash or spray one, zillions of miniscule babies would disperse from the mother in every direction, like ripples from a pond after you throw in a rock. In the summer, the spiders diminished, but were replaced by a flea infestation so bad it almost killed one of our cats. We actually had to wear Deep Woods Off just to keep them off of us and more often than not, that wasn't even enough. It was a good thing I'd overcome my fear of mice, too, because we had them year round. Now they were not merely waking me by playing on a rug at my side. They would actually run up on my pillow to taunt me as I slept. I caught more than one by the tail that way, some of them no bigger than my thumbnail.

Heavy layers of dust, dirt, and muck completely coated every surface of the house, and it was made even more despicable by the gooey residue emitted from the kerosene heaters that replaced our defunct heating system. Add to that the nicotine from the cigarettes we both chained smoked and it made for a coating so thick, it could actually be scraped with a putty knife in a lot of places. Woodwork once white was now almost solid brown. Cat puke from our five cats was everywhere, litter boxes over flowed for weeks, even months on end before they were tended and eventually, there was even pee from me everywhere. We had no running water in the kitchen, not that we had a sink for it to come through or even cabinets for the sink to sit in since I'd ripped them all off the walls. We barely had a working bathroom, even though we did manage to get all the water back on in there after almost a year.

Then the health problems started setting in. Four years ago, my husband threw a clot to his colon and ended in the hospital for a week with ischemic colitis. Thankfully it was his colon because if the clot had gone to his heart, lungs, or brain, it probably would have killed him. As scary as that was, that episode actually ended up being the least of our worries. Shortly after that, I started having gyn problems and ended up in awfully bad shape. I started flooding almost nonstop and passing clots as big as a piece of liver and I stayed that way for almost 2 solid years. At the same time, I'd become terribly incontinent and was for all practical purposes a shut in because I couldn't flinch without emptying the entire contents of my bladder wherever I was, right then and there. During that same time, I was suffering incredible pain, the kind that makes you think you're going to lose your mind, because a bad dentist failed to diagnose a tooth that was decayed into the root, exposing the nerve. At the same time, my only son, a marine reservist, had been called to active duty and sent to Iraq.

This was my life. I lived my days surrounded by a sea of squalor, sick, suffering, and on the edge of a razor blade, filled with terror that at any moment, I might have a visit from the death squad to tell me my beloved only child was never coming home. This place was a nightmare, our lives were a nightmare, and even though I was physically, mentally, and emotionally unable to do anything whatsoever about it, my beloved prince did even less. And the more I asked, begged, demanded, commanded him to help, the less he did. It was like I was just driving him away with my request. It was all very demoralizing and disheartening.

Thankfully, my son came home from the war, alive and in one piece. Two years ago I manage to have a hysterectomy and bladder repair and then began slowly getting rid of all my bad teeth. While all that helped, it didn't take care of all my problems. I was diagnosed with diabetes shortly afterward. I also have chronic muscle and back pain that's developed over the years to the point it now prevents me from standing/working for more than a few minutes at a time. I also suffer from complicated and chronic sleeping disorders, COPD from the smoking, and what they now think is congestive heart failure. I was not then, nor am I now in the best of shape, but in spite of all that, I got us out of squalor. Notice I said "I".

At one point, just a couple of months after my surgery, I was vegetating in my recliner one day, lamenting the fact that I was living with debilitating health problems in overwhelming squalor with no one to help, when the gravity of that thought hit me. The reality really started to sink in then that even though I was married to a prince and not alone, the fact remained I was on my own. I HAD NO ONE TO HELP. With that revelation, I realized the only thing left to figure out was what was I going to do about it. Then the fog lifted and it became amazingly clear. If I was ever going to get out of this nightmare, I had to stop all the waiting and whining, wanting and lamenting, and find a way do it myself, just like I did with the mice when I was married to the toad. Even though I was happy with the prince I had now, I had to face the fact that our lives sucked and somehow, someway, I was just going to have to suck it up and the only one who was going to help me do that was me.

It was slow and hard in the beginning and very overwhelming. I think the only thing I was able to do at first was empty my overflowing ashtray, which was like knocking a piss ant off an elephant, but at least it was something. After that, I started picking up trash 30 seconds at a time, all within arm's reach of my recliner. Then I put a trashcan beside my chair so I had someplace to put the debris that always seemed to collect around it. Since I managed to created a little oasis of clean there, I moved on to my computer desk, all the while making sure I maintained what I'd already done. After that, it began to get easier and I was able to create more little pockets of order, just by nibbling away at it, bit by bit. Eventually, those little pockets started to meet up and I found I had whole areas that were beginning to come together. Over the course of the last two years, I managed to move tons of building materials, rebuild my kitchen, including totally recreating, refinishing, and reinstalling my cabinets and sink. I moved tons of boxes and furniture, and in the process, cleared and cleaned out tons of useless clutter. I scrubbed every wall and surface of the thick grime built up from the years of neglect and I did it all just a few minutes at a time.

At some point, my prince got on the bandwagon and started to help. I can only assume it was because my efforts inspired him because for a long time, I never said a word to him about what I was doing, I just started doing it. After a while, we started working a lot as a team, which was great, but even then, it really didn't matter. His helping was just a bonus. What had to be done, had to be done, and it was up to me to do it. That single epiphany has made all the difference in the world. I learned, and hopefully for the last time, I can not wait for somebody else to do for me. I have to plan to eat my own elephants, no matter how gargantuan they are, all by myself.

Today, with the exception of replacing the heat and updating our electricity, all the major repairs to our home have been made. A new roof was put on over a year ago and all the breaches in the walls and floors have long ago been fixed. Everything left to do now is purely incidental and/or decorative. Our down stairs living quarters are squalor free and have been that way for more than a year. Dishes are kept washed and put away, same as the laundry. The bathroom is clean and respectable, ready for use by any body at any time. Floors are swept regularly, our bed is made daily, trash is in cans only and taken out weekly. The cat boxes are maintained, and there's nary an iota of cat puke anywhere in our house. These days, I can open the door of my home to anyone at anytime without panic and fear, because I know what they will see is nothing but normal. I even dust from time to time.

In the course of my life, I've learned that while there is joy and happiness, it does have a yin for its yang. Sometimes, life just sucks. It's a simple and incontrovertible fact. It's even a fact that this fact sucks in and of its self, but knowing that doesn't change anything. Things happen. Crap occurs. Mice and spiders, cats and fleas, roofs and leaks, cold and wind, grit and grime, pee and poop, they all just suck. Princes turn into toads, paradises turn into perdition, loved ones get sick or hurt, some even die, and that all profoundly sucks. We can even be in our own greatest hour of need, surrounded by people who love us and yet, still be left to fend for ourselves and that sucks, too. Sometimes, we can be completely and utterly alone, desperately needing help and no one will be there, no one will care, and perhaps that sucks most of all, but all the lamenting or wishing in the world won't change the situation one iota. That's just the way it is. But even then there is still hope, because while knowing that life sucks may not change anything, accepting that it is inescapably so can, because it changes what we do about it.

I've learned that once we relinquish ourselves to acceptance, we are no longer victims of our own false hopes. It stops us from wasting our time and energy for naught. No longer do we find ourselves waiting, whining, wanting, or lamenting. We stop wilting and having perpetual "Oh, woe is me" parties. We get up, move on, and just do what needs to be done. Acceptance empowers us because we stop wishing for happily ever after and stop feeling cheated because it never comes. With acceptance, we stop having unrealistic expectations of others and stop begrudging them for falling short. With acceptance, we learn to live and do and cope for ourselves. Then we know we are the ones we can depend on most. Through acceptance, we can even learn to love ourselves, despite our flaws and in the end, isn't that what counts the most?

No one wants life to suck, and no one ever wants to have to suck it up, but I've decided that even the circumstances which force us to have to do that are something to be thankful for. It seems like it's only through the fires of turmoil and trial, struggle and hardship, are we forged to become stronger and better people, and that curses are actually blessings in disguise. I know without them, I would have remained coddled and helpless, just like the young princess I started out to be. Is it possible that life actually sucks just so we'll have the opportunity to suck it up? Even if it isn't, I do know this. Life is going to suck sometimes, whether I want it to or not. Because of that..

I'm so glad I'm not a princess anymore.