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.
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.
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.)