Love, under a microscope, is just tiny shells and fragments of sea glass. There’s a name for organisms that live in found shells like I do, organisms with soft bodies. Some might call me parasitic, but I mean no harm. I’m only looking for a home.
I never really nested or decorated, and maybe that’s why all this started. My husband and I lived in a split-level ranch outside the city limits. He worked at the paper mill, I worked at the florist, and by all accounts we were blissfully happy. But lurking in the shadows of happiness is the black undercurrent of doubt that nags at the thoughts on a daily basis, doubts that remind you that because of your happiness the universe has its sights on you; it can only go down from here. When my husband started bringing home things he bought at the flea market, fear joined the chorus of doubts and anxiety about our happiness. They were little things at first but in large quantities. Seven trucker caps. Six feathered dreamcatchers. A hammock full of stuffed animals. He stashed the things in corners and closets and in his locked armoire in the bedroom. I said nothing. Then he began to buy curios and glass-front display chests to hold his finds from the yard sales he frequented. The basement became a showroom for antique carnival glassware, ceiling-high stacks of the county paper, the cast-off tchotchkes and knick-knacks salvaged from other people’s refuse. And still I said nothing. Believed it was only stress from work, that his buying sprees would end and things would go back to normal.
But soon I would enter the living room to find him wedging a large dresser into the corner, saying it was only temporary. He said this same thing about the sleek cherry armoire and the oak writing desk that he pushed up against our couch. Before long, our home disintegrated into a mere series of paths between log jams of furniture. His truck filled up completely on the passenger side with our unopened mail. I went out once to clean it all up for him. I raked the piles into garbage bags and hauled them to the kitchen table to begin the awful task of opening months’ worth of overdue bills. He got out of the shower and discovered what I’d done. He was implacable. His face turned bright red, foamy spittle soared from his mouth as he berated me, told me never to enter his truck or touch his things again. From that day forward he kept his truck locked. I did not have a key.
And then I spoke. But by then it was too late. The antique art-deco dry bar with the elephant motif had moved permanently into the living room. I issued an ultimatum: get rid of this shit or I’m gone. When I surrendered the key to the house that had housed my marriage bed for twenty-five years, it was as if my very ribcage had been unlatched and the lock to my heart changed.
In the year that followed, I built a cabin on my parents’ property with the divorce money and watched from afar as my ex-husband spiraled into worsening mental health. He was mocked all over town for his hoarding, which spilled out of his house and onto his front lawn. I started grocery shopping in the next town over to avoid the pitying glances. He faltered at work, lost his job, and eventually, his house was condemned.
I see him walking along the highway along some evenings on my way home from work—his truck by now certainly too filled for driving—his arms full of junk he has procured along the way, no doubt readying it to live with him forever in whichever new rat hole he has burrowed out for himself. I keep driving.
Tamara Burross Grisanti’s fiction and poetry have appeared in New World Writing, Chicago Literati, and Eunoia Review. She is the editor of Coffin Bell Journal and the associate editor of ELJ (Elm Leaves Journal). She tweets at @TamaraGrisanti and you can visit her site at www.tamaraburrossgrisanti.com.