They left behind things. A hodgepodge of things. A helter-skelter of things. Things we wondered about. An unopened ten pound bag of rice. A pruning saw. A little red ceramic pitcher half-filled with pennies.
They left behind a $500 electric bill and a shutoff notice.
They left behind a stack of papers and empty food boxes a good four feet high just carelessly tossed in the small pantry in the kitchen. School papers, old bills, court papers. Photos of the kids.
They left behind two battered tennis rackets, a flat soccer ball, old shoes, broken toys, and three cell phones, one of which blinked a message that the owner needed to deposit more money in order to retrieve any messages.
They left behind empty prescription bottles for meds I know are prescribed for mental health problems and not physical ones.
Dad, mom, and I were cleaning out the things they had left behind when they abruptly vacated the apartment on the heels of an eviction notice for two months unpaid rent. The apartment is one of three in a rundown little rental my brother - the one who recently broke his leg - owns in a down-at-the-heels town about an hour from here.
My mom did not understand why they had left the apartment in such disorder. Her questions peppered the day.
"How could you live like this?"
"Have you ever seen such a mess?"
"How can people live with this kind of filth? I can't imagine, can you?"
After an hour, I ran out of answers. They live like this because…because what?
They live like this because they ran out of options a long time ago.
They live like this because depression, mental illness, and not enough resources will do that to you.
They live like this because these are people who never had a break in their lives.
I filled garbage bag after garbage bag with the papers in the pantry. The eviction notice for an apartment in a town 15 miles that way. The eviction notice for another apartment in another town 14 miles the other way. The court services plans filed by different agencies in different counties for the protection of neglected, dependent children.
My dad and I knelt and ripped up the carpet - stained, dirty, reeking - and carried it to the truck, along with the tennis rackets, the bills, the dirty dishes, and the court services plans. We threw the two different box springs - stained, broken, reeking - on top, cinched the whole thing down, and then drove slowly to the community landfill.
The rental is not a nice one in a good part of town. It is one you would move into if you are just scraping by, or down on your luck, or just fell from "making it each month" to "gotta cut back because my hours got cut." The house is clean and cared for, but it's shabby. My brother, a blue collar guy himself, bought this house with three units in it just before the housing market collapsed in Ohio. He had hoped to work hard at it and make a decent return on his investment, but even before he broke his leg, it was starting to pull him under. His tenants sometimes have to pay the rent in installments, as their unemployment checks come in. Some don't pay at all for as long as they can. With his busted leg, my brother can't get to the house to make the repairs - the broken windows, the new carpet, the scrubbing and cleaning - on this unit, so my parents (and Warren and I when we can) are trying to get it fixed up for him to rent.
The current hard times in this country gnaw at me. I write about them from time to time. The Census Bureau just confirmed what so many of us have known for a long time: the number of poor in this country keeps rising. One in seven adults now lives in poverty. One in five children lives in poverty.
I just cleaned up the detritus of two of those adults and three of those children.
At day's end, I brought home the pruning saw, the rice, and the little red pitcher. The pennies from it went in our loose coins jar. The rice went into canisters.
The little red jug is now sitting on my desk, waiting for better days for us all.