I had no concept of my parent’s financial situation when I was little. The scarcity of furniture transformed our small apartment into a vast carpeted land for me to roam and imagine. Pizza Fridays felt like a special night and not an attempt to save money after a long week. When I began to understand the constructs of wealth and class it didn’t extend past my own experience. It took me even longer to understand that the little we did have was so much more than what my mother ever had growing up. Like many who are privileged enough to not want for the basics in life, I tend to idolize minimal aesthetics, decluttered spaces, the relief of spring cleaning. Inherent within that privilege is the confidence and means to obtain or replace an object if it’s current evaluation doesn’t inspire happiness. For my mother, who spent her formative years in Puerto Rico without that confidence, the question posed to her objects wasn’t if they sparked joy but rather would it be necessary for survival. In Miami, that obsession transformed into a love of all items, whether or not they had financial or emotional value.
My mom became sick in 2012 with what the doctors later diagnosed as neurosarcoidosis, an auto-immune disease in which the immune system attacks the central nervous system. The attacks caused inflammation. Each episode of inflammation scarred her brain or her cervical spine causing her to become increasingly debilitated, and dependent on others. Only high doses of steroids brought her out of her mental haze but the steroids also lead to a host of other issues: diabetes, hypertension, neuropathy in her legs, depression. Loss of independence led her to seek control in other aspects of her life, particularly her things. Her inability to throw anything out stopped being a cute family joke and became a point of contention. Closets filled up with broken, forgotten, dust covered tchotchkes. Surfaces became stacked with notebooks, recipes, and seed packets for her garden. The refridgerator burst with week old leftovers, rotting fruit and molding bread.
When I spoke about my mother to friends I would laughingly admit that she was “a bit of a hoarder,” shame creeping in as I made light of the situation. A situation that would maybe be a disorder without the watchful eye of my father and sister and my secret purges when she was in the hospital. My mom, Ermelinda Flores, passed away September 3, 2019 and now all we have are the things she left behind. Suddenly, those things we classified as valueless have so much weight and meaning. Each time I document and add one of her objects into the archive, a portrait of who she was becomes more and more clear.