I first met Marilyn Berzeny at Second Baptist in Houston.  I was a member of a singles group and Marilyn had joined our group for fellowship at a local restaurant following Saturday night services.  Marilyn was older than I but that did not deter our friendship.  She was as unique as a sunset and a terrific person. She would give you the shirt off her back if she could find it.   Marilyn was also a hoarder.

There was no television program regarding Hoarding at that time so the term was not in our social conscious.  I knew Marilyn had a problem with keeping everything but she was so much fun and such a free spirit – I over looked that aspect of her personality.  She was what she was and she proved to a good friend more than once.

Marilyn was a para-legal and a darn good one.  She was Italian, attractive and had a love of life which propelled her to become a certified scuba diver after she was 60.  She also loved to dance.  It didn’t matter she was usually a beat off – she danced her heart away, joy often etched on her face.  My Marilyn stories are often funny so I will share a few.

One day she called me – wanted me to meet her at her office building.  She had been helping me with some litigation which necessitated the meeting.  I arrived at the appointed time but did not see Marilyn.  Then I heard her screech up to the entrance in her red SUV – her hair in curlers.  She had been at her hair dresser’s and left before her hair was ready.  She encouraged me to follow her to the shop which I did.  Once her hair was combed – she looked gorgeous.  We opted for lunch.  She was hard to resist.

Another time I invited Marilyn to a financial meeting at a high end hotel in the Galleria area.  I often received invites to such events as my address was a River Oaks zip code.  Needless to say I was not River Oaks but whose to tell?  Marilyn arrived late and proceeded to join me at the dining table.  A number of folks did not attend so plates piled high with yummy cuisine sat unattended.  Next thing I know – Marilyn walked from one vacant plate to the next – stored away food for her dog.  The attendees were amused but Marilyn did not seem to care.  Fido would get a good meal.  

Marilyn went to bat for me more than once.  When my apartment building was destroyed to make way for high end townhomes Marilyn took a tour of the new lodgings and informed the sales person how badly we were treated – the tenants.  She wanted the company to know what their greed had done.  

Another time she called a surly neighbor of my former boss and read him the riot act.  He was rude but Marilyn stood her ground.  Good for you Marilyn.

As I have already stated Marilyn was a hoarder.  Her car was a walking advertisement for clutter.  She would open the door and magazines, newspapers, cartons, coke bottles, an odd shoe, you name it would fall out.  She would blush and state she knew she needed to do better.  Her home was worse – by her own admission.  I never went inside but could tell by the way she entered the back door – dodging stacks of newspapers it had to be bad.  One of her children even helped her clean up the home – and loaded four big garbage bins.  The daughter told Marilyn she did not intend to help her again.  I did not chide her as I was not exactly the neatest person.

When I moved from Houston Marilyn and I kept in touch.  She would call me ever now and then – telling me of her new boyfriend she had met via a dating service.  He was younger than she was but that was ok with her.  The last time we spoke was Christmas 2005.  She was her usual cheerful self.  She had wanted to retire but could not live off social security alone.  Had her late husband lived she could have.  She said his name wistfully and with a note of sadness.  It was the last time we spoke.  

The next year – September – I could not sleep one night and I checked the Houston Chronicle obits.  There was Marilyn’s name.  I was shocked and could glean nothing from  the announcement as to what could have happened?  I was to learn the horrible truth in November when I visited Houston.  

I stopped by her home and before I arrived the smell of smoke filled my nostrils.  Police tape was still around the home and the cozy dwelling I knew from numerous visits was a blackened, ash heap.  A few walls stood but the house was a loss.  I asked neighbors what had happened?

Around 3 AM 30th of August the front window exploded and the home was fully engaged.  By the time the fire department arrived the house was a loss and my friend was dead.  She was found at the back door.  Apparently she could not find the key and died trapped and scared.  I can not imagine.  The hoarding which she could not let go of had been the cause of her death as the endless rubble fueled an inferno.  Marilyn’s dog had been outside else he too would have died.

As I drove away that day I felt such a loss.  I began to shake and did so until I arrived at my destination.  Marilyn – that bright star in the sky was gone – and in her place – memories and a warning to all of us that hoarding can be deadly.  It is also a disease.  Had I know this at the time I knew Marilyn I would have encouraged her to seek help.  She needed it.  Would she have accepted it?  I don’t know?  She might have giggled and promised to do so – then put that suggestion aside for another day.  

I toast Marilyn – ten years after she died.  I salute all free spirits!!!




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