Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Swamp of Sadness

When I was a child, the most secret, most off-limits part of our house was the master bedroom where my dad slept.  My mother hadn't slept in that room since before I was born -- she sometimes slept in the lower bunk bed of Dante's room, but she usually set up camp on the living room couch -- and her instinct seemed to be to hoard up Dad's areas first.  My dad's room was large and had two twin beds pushed together, one in which he slept and an adjacent one full of his self-care-related medical supplies, such as gauze and catheters and chux disposable underpads, the smaller items stored in tackle boxes and the rest simply strewn about the bed.

The master bedroom was large, with one wall taken up entirely by closet and another wall hosting a heavy armoire, stuffed to bursting with old clothes no one had worn in my lifetime.  The bedroom had French doors leading out to the backyard patio, but I cannot remember ever seeing those French doors in use.  Aside from a wheelchair-width stretch of floor that led from the bed to the door to the bathroom, the rest of the room was covered in four to five feet deep of gym mats, cardboard boxes, and random detritus.  My dad had dubbed it "The Swamp of Sadness" in homage to that miserable quicksandy place where the horse sank in "The Neverending Story."  It probably started out as a joke, but for as long as I can remember, that was it's real name.  I didn't even know it was a movie reference.  We called that part of the house "The Swamp of Sadness" like normal people might refer to "Dad's office" or "the den."  

I remember getting into trouble once when, as a young child, I had asked a visiting friend, "Wanna see something crazy?" and cracked the door to let her peer into my dad's bedroom.  My mother had caught me to our mutual horror, but if there was a punishment, it was a forgettable one, probably because she was too embarrassed to do much about it.  In hindsight, I don't know why she wasn't more embarrassed of the entire house.  None of the rooms were "visitor ready" in the strictest sense of the term.

I remember once or twice in my childhood, when I was feeling particularly daring, going on a Frodo-and-Sam-style adventure with Dante over the Swamp.  He moved the gym mats and egg mattresses to the top layer to make it like mountain climbing, and we stepped across them precariously, nearly touching the ceiling, never knowing when a cardboard box would collapse beneath us or a sinkhole would form and claim us for the hoard.  I remember making a tragic misstep and sinking into the mess and Dante having to lift me out to safety.  It was scary but thrilling at the same time.  Our mother got mad whenever she caught us playing near the Swamp of Sadness, but she got mad at lots of things.  It also seemed it wasn't such a big deal as long as Dante had been doing it too.

My dad eventually cleaned out the contents of the Swamp in the late '90s to make room for his new electric wheelchair.  It was the second time I realized his paraplegia didn't actually prevent him from cleaning up; he had just always opted not to bother.

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