I’d Hit Bottom

I’d hit bottom. Literally. Where the stench was beyond that of rancid milk gone sour in a broken over-heated refrigerator.

This was the stench of flesh rotting in an airtight satin-lined coffin six-feet under.
And I’m not bad-scent sensitive; I don’t hang vanilla scented trees in my car, or plug in air fresheners to disguise a-not-so-fresh salmon steak baking in the oven. I don’t light a match before exiting a bathroom.
My mother had lost a brand new pill bottle, and our theory was that it had fallen off her bedside table into her scrap basket, in amongst junk mail and cat hair from when she’d clean the cat’s brush.
A basket which her cleaning lady then dumped into the enormous trash barrel – the “Tipster.” 98-gallon capacity!  Free when you sign up for twelve months of garbage pick up! With a clever latch to keep out even the keenest of raccoons:

That’s not me. I wasn’t smiling.  But  this photo, courtesy of Norsic, Long Island’s Sanitation Professionals, at http://www.norsic.com/garbage.html , gives you a sense of scale.

And the beauty of the Tipster is that my mother can co-mingle her recyclables, one less thing for her to worry about, to be magically separated after the barrel has been emptied onto the adorable “mini packer” gabage truck.
Supposedly however, this Tipster is manufactured out of odor-resistant polyurethane. I guess all depends on how odor-resistant one needs a garbage pail to be, if you’re not actually climbing into it. I had the Tipster on its side, having already pulled out the top layer: bags of wet garbage I’d only just disposed of that morning, of the boys’ uneaten soggy Lucky Charms, except for the marshmallows, my mother’s egg shells, banana peels and the skins of my own peaches. Fresh and unstinky.
Then there was the second layer: a bit more stinky, with used kitty litter bags, but also a reprieve of odorless debris, empty tissue and toothpaste boxes, plastic containers from precooked chickens, newspapers, and a torn up old cat scratching post.
My mother’s cleaning lady last came about a week earlier  – my mother’s garbage pickup is only every other week. So the bag I was seeking had to be at the bottom. Where it was stinky. Where chicken carcasses, banana peels, broken eggs, and moldy bread combinations had begun the real process of rotting. It smelled as her refrigerator had when it died during the 90-degree week she’d been away with us in New Hampshire. All contents not only had spoiled, but begun to ooze and meld. The stench had been just this, of what I imagine rotting flesh would smell like. Inside a coffin. Six feet under.
My gagging reflex set in as it had when, even with a mask on, I’d had to wipe up the melted refrigerator mess, so congealed, the original foods were unrecognizable.
Somewhere outside the Tipster, in the sunlight, in the fresh, breathable air, came my son’s voice.
 I don’t always answer to a beck and call from one of my boys. But I needed to breathe. I backed out of the barrel.
It was 90-plus degrees.  Just like the day when I had to clean out the deceased refrigerator.
It was Ryan. “I need a band-aid.”
“It’s not bleeding.” That was the new rule. We were going bankrupt on buying band-aids. There had to be blood.
“It’s a splinter,” he said, holding up his thumb. “It’s not bleeding, but you have to put that stuff on and a band-aid to loosen it up.”

He didn’t seem surprised to find me inside a trash barrel.  Then again, he’s used to my going through our own garbage pails, as I’m constantly throwing out things I shouldn’t, like my husband’s mail left on the counter for a week that suddenly becomes important once I toss it; or a broken toy vehicle that is suddenly missed the day it winds up in the garbage.
There’s something gross on your arm,” Ryan said.
Cat fur!  When Ryan had called me out from the depths of stinky hell I must have hit that precious bedside scrap basket bag!
I crawled back in, eager now.
The bag was there, on the very bottom, filled with the bedside junk mail. Wads of cat hair. I pulled it out.
Ryan watched as I clawed manically through it, tossing out the cat hair.
No pill bottle.
I started to throw all the junk mail back into the bag, to toss back into the marvelous huge- capacity Tipster.  I tried to look at this for what it was, another mini-crisis in the day of a daughter trying to help her elderly mother keep independent. Mostly to find things; credit cards we think are stolen until they’re found in her jewelry drawer. Her medical alert necklace that we had replaced only to find the lost one had slipped into her underwear drawer.
Ryan just stood there. “ You missed some. Fur balls.”
There was a huge wad of cat hair stuck to my arm. I threw it in the bushes.
“Isn’t that littering?”
“Birds like it.”
“Oh, for their nests! We made those mesh things in school, that we filled with bits of yarn and stuff, remember? To hang from trees?”
I didn’t remember.
“ We just didn’t use…well, didn’t think to use cat hair.”
He was just staring at me now, and I knew exactly what I looked like. With my frizzing hair plastered to my cheeks in 90-degree humidity, with cat hair stuck to my arms. And what I smelled like: rotten flesh.
I indulged in a fantasy. I imagined the garbage man coming right then. Taking out his ipod earphones, to better case the situation. Then he would help me put all the garbage back in to the bin like a real gentleman, and the boys would gleefully watch (as they had ever since they were in diapers) as he emptied the Tipster into the Mini-Packer, onto some kind of conveyor belt that seemed magically to sort the stinky from the non-stinky. The embarrassing of used dental floss and Cutips from the less-embarrassing margarine containers.
He wasn’t due until the next day.  There was only Ryan. Staring at me.  I’d reached that pitch I can reach. “How about your trying to help?”
Yuck.” He ran away.
“Go help Gramma find her pills!” I yelled.  We had to leave that day, to drive back home. I had my other life, of our own house, school supplies on sale to be hoarded, and garbage pails that needed emptying.
These were not essential pills that my mother had lost, like her blood pressure of triglyceride-lowering ones. She doesn’t take that many pills actually, besides an enormous number of vitamins.
But these were pills that helped her to sleep. I myself can lose enough sleep to know what it feels like to wake up feeling like crap. I did not know what it felt like to wake up feeling like crap, and also to an aching arthritic body and a stiff artificial hip. And then to have to face getting dressed, a challenge that can seem as arduous and slow as rock climbing.
But Ryan is a good finder. He has found Gramma’s cane every time she misplaced it, and her glasses that usually wind up tangled in her bed. I had high hopes.
And there he was, running back across the yard,  “Mommy, look! “  he cried, waving a pill bottle in the air like a victory flag.
He came running across the lawn, galloping it seemed as if in slow motion, through a brilliant field of daisies, as on those commercials for antidepressants, where, if you haven’t experience the long recitation of hideous side effects, you’re once again serene and carefree.
This is me fictionalizing here.  I wish he had found them.
He didn’t.
My mother tried to assure me that she still had a few left from her last prescription.
Then she called that night to say that bottle now was gone; but she knew where it was. It had fallen off that same bedside table, but rolled under the bed – where she couldn’t reach it, as she can no longer get herself back up once she is down on her knees. Her cleaning lady was due the next morning. She would have to wait until then to get them. So at least for one night, we would both be tossing, sleepless, under the same moonless sky.


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About Sandra

Author;editor of The Woven Tale Press at thewoventalepress.net; mother; weaver
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5 Responses to I’d Hit Bottom

  1. wish I could say I have never been in a similar situation, but lost retainer caused a similar digging through garbage, tho not yet in the bin like that one. Thankfully, my MIL was there to help and through us supporting each other through it, we found it.
    You are a saint, and should be commended for your valiant effort.

  2. Oh my… oh my… Bless you for all your effort! I hope she did get her pills, I DO know what it is like to not sleep well and wake stiff and aching! Oh my….

  3. Anna says:

    Hi! I’m your newest follower from the Thursday hop.

    Oh wow…I hope she was able to get her pills.

  4. Jaydemia says:

    Wow! That’s some commitment. Hands up to you. I hope your mom will find her pills soon. Love the way you wrote by the way. I can’t wait to read your whole blog 🙂

  5. Unfortunately I’ve excavated the garbage too many times to count, for lesser reasons than sleeping pills. My husband is prone to tossing things, especially receipts!

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