Weeping With Strangers

I don’t really talk much about what I do when out. My friends know, sure, but I don’t have a t-shirt that reads “Ask Me About Professional Organizing!” But I’ve noticed that if anybody gets wind of what I do, the questions come thick and fast. There’s the “Oh! Like in Hoarders!” Well, yes but no. There’s the “I bet your place is SO ORGANIZED!” Again, yes…but honestly no. There’s a bit of morbid curiosity that they want to be scratched, asking about people. I tend to turn it on myself, explaining in what ways I’m disorganized, then turn it on them. We all have stuff, the difference is in how we deal with it. Sometimes, it opens up conversation with a wider group of strangers. (especially in a bar, where inhibitions are softened) Other times, it opens up a door in an individual, and deeper things come tumbling out.

I was at a pub, quite happy manning the corner seat and watching the crowd when an older man talks to me. It’s small talk, mostly because the place was packed to sideways shuffle and we found ourselves jammed into close proximity. We have a wide ranging conversation about the BART strike, about the rapid change in San Francisco due to the current boom, hair, safer bicycle practices, when we veer into why I don’t wear rings, and by extension, what I do for a living. The questions came tumbling out, but they were phrased different. It wasn’t inquiry, it was searching for confirmation. “Isn’t it true that…” “I remember that…” I don’t probe, and I don’t lay out any absolutes, but keep talking with him.

So let’s go back to last month, when I went to ICD national conference. (a truly excellent and informative conference, and I recommend it highly) One of the sessions was Dr. Suzanne Chabaud, talking about children of hoarders. She talked about studies surrounding them, their habits, how they develop once on their own and out of the home of a hoarder. Towards the end of her talk, she brought out Elizabeth Nelson, who is an adult child of hoarders. The topic is amazing, and the stories and research around it really fascinate me.

In talking with the gentleman at the pub, it dawns on me that while the studies and attention are focused on the children of hoarders, there are spouses that in many cases suffer from a complimentary but unique suite of issues. His ex was a hoarder, and it was the reason they separated, and our conversation brought all of that back. As we talked and the pub crowd thinned out, our voices got quieter, his sighs became deeper, and tears started to flow. I sat with him and let him work through his feelings, offering up reassurance but mostly listening. It was pretty intense and led to some fast and deep intimacy, and by the time our husbands rejoined us, we were laughing like old friends.

I did not expect that interaction, let alone the reaction he gave me. The four of us talked a little longer, commenting on the crowd, finishing our beers. Before we parted company, he touched my arm, “You love what you do?” I turned around, “Yeah, I think I do.”

And we headed our respective ways into the night.