“What shames us, what we most fear to tell, does not set us apart from others; it binds us together if only we can take the risk to speak it.” — Starhawk
When I taught creative writing for 15 years, my students always struggled with what they should write. I often gave the advice, “Write what makes you feel like you are swallowing glass.”
These are the stories that we hide — the true essence of who we are, and how we have become who we are. We draw the blinds on these ugly truths of our existence, shove them under our beds, or even rip them out of our journals for fear of being found out.
But these “glass swallowing stories” are the ones that others need to hear because just as the quote at the beginning of Kimberly Rae Miller’s memoir “Coming Clean” says, they “bind us together.” Taking the risk to speak these truths or write them down for others to read takes bravery. Kimberly Rae Miller’s memoir showcases her courage to emerge from her trash overrun childhood house and her ability to retain a devout love for her parents.
Miller’s father is a hoarder. She lets us into this dirty little secret (which is actually a dirty, big problem) in the first chapter via her reoccurring nightmares that stem from being raised in a hoarder’s pile infested house. Her mother makes excuses and is plagued by medical issues, but she still manages to provide Kim with much needed love and even fights for her daughter to live some semblance of a normal life beyond the stacks of papers, unopened boxes, and rotten food in her home.
I loved this book, and I finished it in a day. I gaped in horror at Kim’s descriptions of the house when it was at its worse (flea infestation, animal feces on the carpets, doors that could not be open, unusable kitchen, no running water), and I cried as she nursed her mother to health, and stood by her parents even when they were unable to stand up for themselves.
I cringed when Kim’s face burned with shame as she employed the help of friends and even her friend’s parents to help dig her parents out when they were moving. Somehow Kim emerged from the filth and the bugs, the stacks and the shame, into a successful blogging icon who others deem an expert on fitness and body image.
What I loved the most about this book was Kim’s loyalty to her parents and her furious love for them. She says, “I do not hate [my mother] or my father. Sure, I remember the dirt and the rats and squalor, but I also remember parents who loved me. Doting, fallible people who gave me everything they had, and a whole lot more.”
The massiveness of the “more” could confound anyone who has ever gaped at the hoarding reality TV shows, who has never loved a hoarder or had a hoarder as a family member, neighbor, or friend. Miller uncovers hoarding and those the disorder smothers in this touching memoir about family bonds and growing up despite the dirty, big secrets behind closed doors and drawn curtains.
Read more from Thiegs at her book review blog, stageoflifebooks.blogspot.com.