dirty laundry…


It’s time for me to go on an expedition. A laundry expedition, into my past, to uncover why it is that laundry presents such an undue challenge in my life.

This despite the fact that I know that it is a gift it to have a washer and a dryer right in my very home. Right next to my bedroom, in fact, conveniently tucked inside the upstairs bathroom.

And despite the luxury of so many outfits to wear when my own mother went through high school with a single dress.

And despite the fact that some people, like Cheryl Strayed in Wild have to wear the same dirty clothes day in and day out, even after a shower.

Where is my perspective?

I try to be “one” with the laundry, you know, hang the clothes while I hang the clothes.

I say to myself:

Just this. Just this.

I listen to something pleasant, like classical music or an audio book, while putting socks away.

I press the “easy” button when I’m finished.

Nothing changes.

Dread. Resistance. Suffering.

Flash back: Our laundry room when I was a teenager. In the basement. Piles of dirty clothes belonging to a family of 8, and later (after the fall) to a family of 10.

My mother once offered to buy my girlfriends and I a magnum of Rose in exchange for doing a day’s worth of it. Otherwise, she did it all herself. Day after day. Night after night. Month after month. Year after year after year. Until she couldn’t any more. And my father finally noticed her, and woke me at 6 am on the first day of summer, proclaiming that it was time to help.

I had been helping with the kids, his kids, all of my life, and I told him that none of the laundry piling up on the cellar floor belonged to me. That I’d started taking mine to the laundromat a year earlier. I was losing too many socks down there.

He insisted that I get out of bed and help: “Now.”

I explained: “I can’t this morning because I had to be at work.” (At his office.) Then I asked him why he never helped.

He fired me.

Fast forward to the chair of my hairdresser. 1990. Both of us recently married. Discussing vacations. She complaining about packing for her husband. I reply that I couldn’t imagine it that I don’t even know where his socks and underwear are stashed.

Her hands freeze, scissors suspended, and she asks: “Who does his laundry, then?” (As if it was inconceivable that someone with a penis do his own laundry.)

Both of my sons did their own, by the age of 5.

So now you know.
All this resistance to laundry each week and I only do my own.
One load. A week.
And still, I suffer.

Maybe if I had helped out with the laundry at home, my mother wouldn’t drink.
Maybe my father wouldn’t fire me. (I really liked that job with him.)
Maybe my family wouldn’t have fallen apart.

What about the fire when I was a kid?
When a sash from the freshly laundered matching Christmas dresses dipped into the furnace on the night after we all went to church together for the first time?

What about the time my husband and I were forced to approach strangers on the street outside a Laundromat in Interlaken, asking for change in a language we didn’t speak.

What about…

There is nothing really. Nothing to explain the suffering, and nothing to release the unbearable hold that laundry has on me.

It must be that I’m just lazy, spoiled and ungrateful. I write these things and then go searching for an image for this post, only to discover that each pile of another’s neglected laundry creates a weight of shame inside of me. (Even while my own laundry sits tidily inside baskets.)

And then I hear what I couldn’t tell my father, and didn’t know myself:

I can’ face all that laundry.
I can’t bear the pain and loneliness that it represents inside my mother.
I can’ set foot into that cellar.
I don’t dare see the underbelly of all that is going wrong beneath us; all that has carelessly ignored for too long.

There in the dank, dark crevices of our lives, one might lose not only a sock, but a family, forever.


(addendum: the next morning i faced the laundry on the line; and only later realized that had i put it all away without an ounce of suffering.)

April 19th

Little by little, and also in great leaps,

life happened to me…


Chocolates on my pillow, Santiago

Once considered a “world” traveler, I’ve been homebound for close to twenty years now–rooted on a dirt road in rural Vermont with two boys and a husband.

Imagine my surprise when I found a family-friendly, part-time job with an “international” organization in the small town just down the road.

Within months, this new position extracted me from snow and mud and motherhood, and transported me over the Andes into the vivid metropolis of Santiago, Chile–on the opposite side of the globe–where south is cold and spring is fall.

Within days of immersing myself in work and a foreign culture, I was completely taken aback by the appearance of a 10 year old boy on SKYPE who called me: “Mom.”

Behind this child stood a kitchen sink and an entire household which once had been my familiar.

My new life was made up of twin beds, a simple desk, a closet safe, and my own bathroom–in addition to 40 new friends from around the world, and extended lunches with bottles of local wine.

Like the tectonic activity of Chile, a week later, my reality shifted once again, as I abandoned the 4 star hotel, the 5 course meals, and the 16 hour work days to explore Santiago on my own.

Pablo’s Bed, by Kelly Salasin

I slept on a futon, ate on the street, and walked until I had blisters–even on the bottoms of my feet.

Each morning as I closed the gate on the small apartment lent to me by a new friend, I turned toward the Andes and made the mile-long walk out of this quiet neighborhood to Santiago’s safe and speedy subway.

Often cloaked by fog, and other times obscured by the tunneled vision of a traveler with map in hand, I was caught by surprise by the reappearance of looming mountainous beasts, who soon became my friends.

At night, in the cool mountain air, I drifted into sleep, alone, comforted by the full moon rising in the East, just as it would over my bed in Vermont–5,000 miles away.

Each day I was treated to new delights of sight and taste and texture…

It would be in poor taste to mention the dogs first; but I must. They were everywhere. On their own. Not bothering a soul.

I envied their independence when I thought about their fellow stateside “pets,” stuck behind fences, harnessed by leashes, and eating out of a bowl.

These friendly freedom lovers howled late into the night and slept through the mornings, just like the people of Chile.

It was pointless for an early riser like me to venture out before 11 am to find something to eat, just as it was pointless to try to fall asleep before midnight when Chileans were just finishing their evening meal.

However, if it’s something sweet I wanted, I need not try at all. Treats, of all kinds, abound in Santiago. From pastries and candies, cakes and cookies, chocolates and caramel fillings, the Chileans love confection–even in their drinks.

One classic (and confounding) every-day beverage was Mote con Huesillo: a drink of dehydrated peaches with stewed barley served in palm syrup.  This glass of floating debris, did not tempt me, but I did succumb to another infamous beverage of Santiago–the TERREMOTO.

This fermented wine based “cocktail” is accompanied by pineapple ice-cream served in a one-litre cup. It may be the strongest drink I’ve ever had (and I came of age at the Jersey shore.)

Terremoto literally translates as ‘Earthquake’ since you are left “with the ground (and legs) feeling very shaky,” before you’ve finished your first.  From the looks of the bar where it was served, many had indulged in even more.

Indulgence seems to be a Chilean characteristic; and I, for one, will miss the grand meals served with plenty of wine. I will also miss the warm greetings and single kiss on a cheek shared by all. I’ve had to restrain myself from continuing both of these traditions now that I’m back home.

Though I departed on the 18th, I didn’t arrive home until the next day. My husband met me outside of customs, and we made the drive from New York to Vermont alone so that we could enjoy the renewed awareness of each other–without children.

Paradoxically, Casey and I shared another significant journey on this same date, 18 years earlier. That ride home was from a birthing center, an hour and a half away, where I miscarried our first child at the three month mark.

A gorgeously sunny spring morning mocked that unbearable loss in April, while a gloomy overcast day belied the joy we felt in today’s sweet reunion, following two weeks and an equator apart.

On the long drive home from the airport, we stopped along the coast and shared a mid-day meal complete with wine. Over coffee and dessert, my husband wondered if I felt different from being abroad again. I checked inside, and Whitman’s words came to mind…

I am large. I contain multitudes.

At 47 years old (and young), my alternately expanding and contracting sense of self now includes… three backpacking trips to Europe, the love of two men, the loss of two pregnancies, the gift of two sons, a house to call home, and an enamoring trip to yet another side of the globe.

How all these pieces belong in the same story is as curious to me, as how Whitman’s words emerge from time spent in Neruda country–that is, until I discover that Pablo kept a photo of Walt on his desk; and how I, in my last hours of wandering the streets of Santiago, found myself standing in front of Neruda’s house…

Kelly Salasin, April 19, 2011

Previous post in the series: AWE

Follow up post: Palm Sunday

The Beachcomber

I dreamt of a beachcomber–

dragging its rake across the sand,

Removing life’s debris

Exposing jewels

of all colors and shape

Rising out of

breath-filled days.

Renoir, detail, visipix.com

I wake to the delight of this dream, sensing my life’s work in this metaphor as my mind drifts back to a jeweled moment from the sands of time….

I sit in a single booth at the edge of the restaurant from where I make schedules and plan meetings and talk to staff.

My younger sister sits across from me. She is a waitress.  It has been a choppy summer with me as her boss–sinking back into familial roles, shouting back at me across the bayside dining room when I give a direction.

Our lives together have been similarly choppy. There was the time when we shared not only a room, but a bed, and I– at the precipice of puberty– could not tolerate the brush of her skin against mine. At ten years old (or was she nine?) Robin insisted on bringing her entire collection of stuffed animals into our double, crossing the imaginary line I drew between her side and mine. As the family Aquarian, our water bearer, she couldn’t imagine leaving her friends on the floor and so, it is she, who slept there instead, while they shared our bed.

And yet, we spent many a summer evening running our fingers over each others bare backs in a game that made you the “back scratcher” once you succumbed to giggling; and we took turns fetching cool water to pour onto each others pillow; and shared a wet washcloth to press against our foreheads in the heat.

When our family moved from the mountains to the shore, our lives drifted apart–separate schools, separate beds, separate rooms. As the oldest, I thrived in our move, as I was expected to do; and Robin suffered, coming home from school each day crying, until she learned how to navigate the social sail of pre-teen days.

We were both deep into our adolescence when our parents’ marriage began to silently sink. Our interactions turned violent. Heeled shoes flung. Chairs. Even scissors. In retaliation, I dug my nails down her back.  Drew blood.

We were rescued from this drama by distance—I headed off to college while she took over the wheel of what had become a captain-less ship.

When she visited me at school, the bitter winds between us had begun to die down.

When the final blow to our family came, and our mother began drinking again, Robin’s role at home grew impossibly large. For the first time in our lives, she reached out to me–and I finally opened enough to respond.

There were many sobbing calls to my apartment, and finally I placed an ocean between me and my family so that I wouldn’t drown. Robin visited me there too. I forced her to walk the Heath at Hampstead and she forced me to rescue her from the two bobbies she accidently picked  up at the night club in Camden.

But it was that moment in the booth at the edge of the restaurant on the water when our relationship took its final turn.

There at the end of summer –at the end of our innocence–we understood that we were the only ones holding on.

Everyone else had let go…

For the first time in my life, I succumbed to a tidal wave of grief, and it was my little sister who reached across the divide and took my hand in hers.

This is the jeweled moment when all that pained and separated us,

was swept away with the tide,

and what remained

was our shared treasure–

Each gazing into the others tender eyes…



Kelly Salasin