The Vegetable Drawer Story
By Julianne Victoria
The vegetable drawer in the refrigerator had never been used. The white plastic was as bright as it was when it was new, nearly thirty years ago. Unless you opened up the drawer, you wouldn’t know it. There were food stains from defrosting meat, jams and jellies, mayo, and who-knows-what all over inside the fridge, and outside it.
The kitchen was filthy too, except for the vegetable drawer. It seemed to spread out into the rest of the house from there, not the food mess, but the mess left behind from the lacklustre melancholy of her life-long self-loathing.
Some people thought that her father had been sexually abusive. Her older sisters seemed to have left home the second they had graduated from high school. They rarely, if ever, came back to visit.
For Claire, though, it was quite the opposite. She had never left her childhood home. She used men’s doting on her as validation for her self-worth, and it began with her father. With her parent’s relationship distant at best, Claire’s father channelled his love, aggression, frustrations, and desires toward his daughters. Claire liked the attention; she needed the attention. She could not leave.
She would have made a Freudian psychoanalyst very happy if she had ever admitted to needing any psychological help. Her need to be the much desired and pampered princess was reinforced by husbands who, like her father, did everything to buy her and give her whatever she wanted. But then that wasn’t even enough. She’d rack up credit card debt and empty the bank accounts to buy more stuff – jewelry, shoes, make-up, clothes – most of which she’d only end up hiding to keep her problem secret.
She hated her daughters like she did her sisters. They were just more women to take the attention of the men in the family away from her. Claire’s jealousy and insecurity drove her to neglect their needs and play emotionally abusive games with them. Her sons, though, were her darlings, little men, she could mould to think she was the greatest thing on the planet.
After her father passed away, and her husband left once they discovered all her lies and secrets and would no longer take her abuse, she had her little men to dote on her.
Eventually, they all moved on with their lives. Sisters, ex-husbands, and daughters were never to be heard from. Her sons would call occasionally, but she had begun to mistreat them too. It began when they started to date and from then on only continued to worsen. Her behaviour became unbearable when her sons got married. They wanted to believe their mother was the wonderful person she had told them she was, but they knew the truth. No one wanted to be around her. She had driven them all away. Nobody could give her what she wanted.
Claire couldn’t see that though. Nobody could give her what she wanted, because what she wanted, she’d have to find inside of herself. It was hopeless though. She never sought help, and she had never taken anyone’s advice. Her insecurity was so great, any admission that she might need therapy was too much for her to bear. Instead of letting her pains out, she stuffed them deeper and deeper inside. Her mind was littered with old decaying debris, clutter, and filth kept since her childhood.
That’s how her home looked when the officers showed up. A neighbour had gotten concerned and called the police. It had been weeks since Claire had opened up her front door to get the morning paper.
The pile of newspapers on the lawn looked like many of the piles they found on every possible surface and in every nook and cranny in her house: piles of papers, piles of dust, piles of clothes (dirty, clean, who knew?), piles of food, a pile of pictures, piles, piles, piles! The clutter made it difficult to move around, but they found a path to the one clear spot where Claire sat at the kitchen table.
She sat there, slightly rocking back and forth and mumbling to herself. It sounded like barely audible gibberish to the officers as they tried to get her attention. But Claire was lost in the darkness of her mind. She seemed to neither see nor hear them.
It was only when one of the officers touched her shoulder that she turned to look at them. Her face was expressionless and her eyes were empty. She turned back to face the wall, but now her mumbling gibberish became clearer and louder as she told these strangers a story from her childhood:
“When I was very young, my sisters and I would spend the summers on my grandparents’ farm. They grew nearly everything they needed to eat on that little farm. There were a couple of cows and chickens too. My grandparents showed us how to milk the cows, collect the eggs, and when plant the seeds and harvest the fruits and vegetables. Those summers were the best times of my life. I felt like I was one with nature and nurtured by nature. Everyone worked together and we had all we needed… warm sunshine, a river to cool off in, animals to care for, and what seemed like an endless supply of fresh nutritious food. If you needed something, you just went out into the garden and picked it. Everything was always so fresh, the vegetable drawer in the refrigerator had never been used.”
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