We all allow our minds to wander to “what could have been.” Sometimes there’s “what should have been or would have been” as well.
I tend to do this in dreams. Wandering from one course of action to another. Dreaming about another outcome, not knowing really if one was better than the other.
“History is a novel that has been lived, a novel is history that could have been.” ~ Edmond de Goncourt
I consciously thought more about this kind of thing when I was young and there was all the time in the world to change tracks. Now that I’m older, I have been winding down this road I’m on for quite some time.
But there were chapters in my life where nothing at all was written in stone. My whole life was ahead of me.
For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: “It might have been.” – John Greenleaf Whittier
So now when I have these dreams and wake up, I realize that my mind tricked me into thinking, just for a bit of time while I slept, that I took that other road.
Funny thing is, we can’t know what that other road would have been like.
One such experience happened after an accident I had. It changed the path I was walking on and swept me over to another. Much like a tornado that picks up entire houses and moves them a block away, still mostly intact.
At the time it seemed completely innocuous. It seemed ordinary and probably for the best. It seemed like the answer.
But like that mirage of water in the desert when you’re extremely thirsty, it morphed into something completely different.
When you’re young you look at people a certain way. A certain segment of the population seems safer than another, simply by virtue of their station in life.
This particular experience was with a minister and his family. I figured they’d be upstanding citizens. Good people. And to judge that, I guess it depends on what you’re hoping for.
Looks can be mighty deceiving. And to go further, I’ll say that you should never judge a book by its cover. These people; they were completely the opposite of who I thought they’d be.
Their home was always a filthy mess. My job was to take care of their two sons. And clean up their filth. I’ve never seen people who could tear up things and accumulate filth as fast as they could.
Trying not to breathe through my nose because my pregnant state made me a bit nauseous, I always went about putting things to order. Cleaning food off plates that had sat for days while I visited a relative.
They lived next door to the husband’s church.
You see I just could not understand how you could look so well put together and still live in the midst of filth.
I couldn’t see why you wouldn’t wash a few dishes before you had a completely noxious kitchen on your hands. It just didn’t make sense to me. Especially since I was the one who would be tasked with cleaning it all up.
This place had seemed like a peaceful haven at the beginning. From the outside I saw a nice house that would have a little room for me to sleep in. It looked safe and comfortable. Until you opened the door and went inside.
After living in that pig sty, having just lived in another one when an English teacher took me in when I was 15, I didn’t think anything else could shock me.
When you go to live with someone sight unseen, you don’t know what to expect. You get what you get. And if you’re underage, there’s not a lot you can do about it.
Because of who they are, a beloved teacher, well thought of minister, your brain selectively puts them into a box all tied up with a bow. Only to find out that the reality is much, much different.
Those were two of the filthiest families I ever came into contact with. And let me tell you, I knew right then that I’d never be like that.
I’m one of those people who constantly cleans while I cook so that when the meal is served, there’s little left to do afterwards. Doesn’t that seem like the easiest and most forthright path to take?
I’ve kind of gotten off topic, but did you know there are commonalities with hoarders:
From Psychology Today:
- Age: While severe hoarding is most common in middle-aged adults around the age of 50, their hoarding tendencies began around ages 11 to 15. During these early teenage years, they typically saved broken toys, outdated school papers, and pencil nubs.
- Personality: Oftentimes hoarders struggle with severe indecisiveness and anxiety.
- Genetics: Although hoarding is not an entirely genetic disorder, there is some genetic predisposition involved in the disorder.
- Trauma: Many hoarders experienced a stressful or traumatic event that propels them to hoard has a coping mechanism.
- Social Isolation: Hoarders are often socially withdrawn and isolated, causing them to hoard as a way to find comfort.
Those two families I ended up living with for a time as a teen could have fallen under this criteria. They hoarded filth.
They thoughtlessly left plates of congealed food wherever they happened to eat. Disgusting.
In the earlier instance with the school teacher when I was 15, there was a ridiculous amount of cats living under her roof. And they were eating out of pots cooking on the stove. Who wants to eat the meal after seeing that?
There are so many reasons why we become who we ultimately become. As listed above, there is personality and genetics and often trauma intertwined to shape us.
But living like that for a few years of my earlier life instilled a whole different pathway I knew I’d follow. I would always keep things clean and tidy. I would organize and decorate and create a cozy home.
With those experiences in my rear view mirror, it was easy to see why creating a cozy home was so important to me. Because you see, I sometimes had little control over where I had to live for segments of time.
And so I think that’s why I am how I am today. It doesn’t matter if I have a broken down trailer with mice in the cabinets or live in a beautiful turn of the century home full of great architecture. I’ve lived in both.
Both were as cozy as I could make them with what I had to work with. It doesn’t always amount to how much money is in your checking account. Sometimes it’s just how you put the simplest of things together and the thought you put into arranging it.
As soon as I was married at age 20, I taught myself to sew simple curtains and put bookshelves up on the wall. I used color to evoke certain moods. I learned to sew quilts to layer at the end of the bed.
All these things were vitally important to me. Because I could look back in my rear view mirror to those two houses of filth and know that those experiences helped form me.
I might not yet have known what I wanted to be. But I surely knew what I didn’t want to be.
Well, I completely ended up writing about something that wasn’t even on my mind. I often do that. Start down one road and diverge onto another.
I suppose the moral of the story, if there is one, is that your early life experiences have much to do with who you become. Or not become, in my case.
I needed order and comfort around me. Simple things. A mug full of sharp pencils at the ready. Groupings of bottles or jars. A stack of books on my bedside table.
So live in peace with old memories but stay grounded in that place you call home.
“Mr. Meant-to has a friend, his name is Didn’t-Do. Have you met them? They live together in a house called Never-Win. And I am told that it is haunted by the Ghost of Might-have-Been.” – Marva Collins