Dee and I became friends around the time my father passed away in ’96. She has been taking in strays since then.
I wasn’t a stray back then, but her kind nature and fun personality drew me to her. So much so we became roommates. During that time, she worked as a bartender in Little Italy, where we lived. I worked for Club Monaco on the verge of my starting fashion career.
Dee and I both recently separated from partners. She is now back to being single, which I have come to understand now was easier for me than her. While I was moving on from my divorce, Dee was sinking deeper and deeper into a depression. Seeing her, after all these years, broke my heart.
The next day, I woke up with energy to spare. I took Paloma for a walk and went to The Drake to enjoy a much-needed cafe latte while Dee slept-in. By mid-afternoon, I had bought groceries, called T-mobile to extend my cell phone coverage, and spoken to all my family members. During these Covid days, all these tasks took a lot longer than usual. Dee continued to sleep.
On day two, Dee explained to me that she suffers from manic depression. It was also clear to me she was an addict. Considering she was a bartender her whole life, I assumed she was always a functioning alcoholic. She could drink anyone under any table. Now it was clear to me she couldn’t function at all.
Last year, two people close to her committed suicide. Both were middle-aged men, both were buddies from the bar, and both deaths pushed her closer to the edge. It also didn’t help that her ex had his first child. Dee, who’s 45th birthday loomed around the corner, seemed not to have the courage in her to pull herself out of her dark hole on her own.
My nurturing qualities were expressed by cooking for her. I prepared her delicious pasta, made soup from scratch, whipped up fresh-crispy salads –but nothing sparked her appetite. Every day she would wake up around the time General Hospital would air. She’s sit up and pour herself a glass of wine from the box and shush me not to interrupt.
The bathroom was lined with newspaper for Paloma, who spent most days on Dee’s sofa or under a sun patch by the balcony. Dee let me sleep in her room, and told me she usually just crashes on the couch anyway. When she got up, I noticed the couch which four years ago was brand now had a huge nest like whole where she laid night after night.
While I was in her bedroom, I tried to peek into her closet. Normally, I’m not that nosey, but I was curious. I pushed it open and piles of garbage bag forced the door closed. Relentless, I pushed back, and I began cleaning out these black bags full of stuff that she wasn’t using.
By day 3, I tried to encourage decluttering starting with the kitchen, then moving on to her clothes, and linens. Anyone who a hoarder will agree, just the world ‘declutter’ can trigger them emotionally. She freaked out when I tossed out her late grandmother’s chachkas, broken teapots, and aluminum coffee cups she had clearly been using as flasks. I pulled out fully tagged Christmas presents and put them all in a bag. I ended up making three bags of these old gifts. One was filled with useful items; the other was gifts to re-gifting; another was lame x-mas gifts ready for donation.
I also divided tops, bottoms, short-shorts, dresses, and sweaters – each in their own bag. Yes, she has that many short shorts. I tried to suggest she throw them away entirely considering she was turning 45 in 3 weeks. This just prompted her to pour herself a drink and stare at the tv screen with a glazed eye.
Dee fought me tooth and nail, objecting to all my tossing-out choices. Did she need the platform boots that had no more life in them left and were seasons old? No! Did she need leggings that had holes in the crotch? Not to mention that she had another pair – exactly the same, but brand new – with tags? NO! I didn’t want to play the part of a pushy Marie Kondo to her grumpy old lady, but she didn’t have internet. I felt compelled to help her the only way I knew how. Besides, decluttering always helped me inch my way out of the blues.