Day sixteen: Imagine a job in which you had to sift through forgotten or lost belongings. I’m back with hopefully more inspiration. So sorry for being late on the Writing 101 posts, I’m catching up now!
I was going to do a third installment on the how the flood affected my family and I’s life, but I didn’t like the direction it was taking and it started to fizzle out. Surprisingly, day 16’s prompt reminded me of a time where I actually had to sift through someone’s belongings.
Years ago, I used to work for an individual that owned several rental properties around the town I lived in. Due to his lack of time, he often didn’t have time to conduct in depth interviews and background checks of this tennants. Because of this, he was often left with renters that didn’t pay rent on time or trashed his properties. Whenever he had a tenant turnover, it was my job to clean the place to that it would be ready for the new occupant. He had one particular delinquent tenant at his rental close to my own house, and though I don’t know the details, they were more or less forced out of the home from services that took children away from unfit parents.
It was a sad house, when I first arrived. The air was dank. Dishes were still in the sink, food left on the counter. It appeared as though they were forcibly removed from the house in the middle of dinner. A coffee filter with grounds still in it was left on the edge of the sink and had hardened leaving a circular stain. In the master bedroom, there was a double mattress on the floor, old coke cans everywhere and cigarette butts sprinkled all over the floor. There was a child’s room down the hall, crayon photos taped to the walls. Old stuffed animals with the stuffing coming out. One single bathroom, a spare room filled with anonymous things that didn’t have a place. The basement was worse. An entire room filled from floor to the ceiling with old toys, clothes and camping items. You couldn’t even walk on the floor from all the loose stuff.
The first task was to throw everything away. A dumpster arrived and was placed on the driveway. I spent a full day throwing items into trash bags and hauling them out to the dumpster. I found myself sitting in the middle of the living room floor, going through an entire lives worth of items. Old photos with the corners torn, birth certificate of their child, pay stubs, christmas cards. A family’s entire existence filtering through my fingers and into the trash. From all the paperwork, I deduced where the mother had worked. I wondered what had became of them. Where did they end up? Where was the child? From the room it appeared it was a little boy. Did he hurt? Was he lonely? The questions rattled around my brain and left me nauseous. I set aside a few things I didn’t have the heart to toss. The birth certificate, a couple of photos of the family, a small toy. I kept them, unsure of what I was going to do with them.
The landlord wanted to strip the house and renovate it completely. After dragging all the items, clothes, toys, kitchen appliances into the trash, I was tasked with removing tiles, stripping hardwood and removing cupboards. It didn’t last very long. If anyone knows me, they know I’m not so good with the manual labor. The task of stripping was contracted out to a crew of men, and I was left alone with these few belongings that weren’t mine. They weighed heavy in my hands. What was I to do with them?
I drove to the mothers work. I sat in my car and stared at the photos I had set aside. A picture of an older lady, I assumed a grandmother. Maybe this was the only photo left of her? Another picture of what I was assuming was the mother and a little child, strung around her hip. Mother smiling at son. Gathering the things, I walked to the door with a heavy heart. I asked for the mother by name, but the lady behind the counter told me that she wasn’t in until a few hours later. Better, I thought. I couldn’t answer any questions. I pulled aside the lady behind the counter, and quietly asked if she could return these items to the rightful owner. She looked at me with defensive eyes.
“Where did you get these?” she accused, almost angry that I had come to have them in my possession. I told her that I was sorry, and that I couldn’t say how I got them.
“I just thought it was important that she have them,” I stammered, looking down as I placed them into her hands. Turning around, I walked out of the store and back to my car. A little lighter, somewhat disheartened and still wondering what had become of them.