On Laundry (last laundry topic for a while)

There has been a change in me since I lost my job, one I don ‘t quite understand. I could offer up “alien inhabitation” with a slight tone of glib smarminess, and make myself feel sincere by checking for a pod by my bed. Yes, I’m giving away my age with that movie reference[1], at least until another remake comes out.

But, truth be told, it’s quite a change, and there have been many of them recently, of the magnitude that make me stop and wonder who’s looking back in the mirror. Unlike a few years ago, when I kept humming the Talking Heads’s refrain and think to myself “this is not my life,” when I did feel alien to my own life and it’s circumstances and surroundings, this time my life is starting to feel quite genuine, and it’s the person living here I don’t recognize.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite fond of the new me, and don’t mind a bit the shock and awe I sometimes feel when I see and hear myself speak passionately and confidently to charlatans masquerading as authorities, when I find myself working hard and loving it, when I feel a surprising sense of peace and belonging in the exact opposite of what I chased my entire life.

Case in point: I love hanging the laundry. When I first discovered this, I thought I was absolutely bonkers, until I read online that there are others out there like me.  I want to be clear: I am not particularly fond of line-hung laundry, though my cousin swears by the smell and feel of line-hung sheets. And while I do advocate its money-saving and environmentally friendly aspects, those aren’t my primary motivations.

It started accidentally, and I can’t take credit for it. The dryer stopped working. Our wonderful, new, shiny, all-the-bells-and-whistles, envy of the in-laws dryer died. Kaput.  I just let the laundry build up and washed what was absolutely necessary, dodging growing piles on the bedroom floor (then the bathroom floor, then the laundry room floor). I figured when the laundry took its own life and invaded the living room, a trip to the laundromat was inevitable. My mother’s caregiver – hardworking, ingenious woman that she is – wasn’t as patient as I and finally put up a laundry line over our deck. Then she started hanging the laundry there – well, that was just showing off. But the woman is a genius and I, for one, will vote for her for president any day. So, remembering the salad days of graduate school, and with a small bit of embarrassment that I hadn’t done this myself, I followed suit. And that was when I fell in love.

Now I look forward to it in the morning, when the air is a tad chilly, and the day is about to warm up. I’ll hang two or three loads a day if I can. I’ll stand on the deck, my wet laundry and me, in the full light of the sun, surrounded by no more than singing crickets, rustling leaves and, on bad days, a few bothersome mosquitoes. If I’m lucky, one day I may see the deer that eat the junipers at the edge of our back yard, or the woodchuck that makes his rounds on our street. Otherwise, I stand, hang my laundry until I can see the red and yellow shirts wave in the breeze like flags, and feel the soft air on my damp, sweaty face. I’ll listen to the wind catch the tops of tall pines and hardwoods and the soft rustle of the leaves as they whisper, then roar, then soften, like the sounds of waves on a beach.  On hot days, the sun beats down on my head, my face and neck, and I squint from the heat and light. I come in damp and even dripping from the heat, but proud and happy from my time in the sun.

I’m a former city girl; not always big cities, but cities all the same.  While this isn’t the country where I live, a suburb only, it’s the furthest I’ve lived from hubbub since college. My entire adult life the song of nighttime sirens and hum of cars up and down the street sang me to sleep.  I thrived in the moonlit streets and basked under the neon glow of restaurants, clubs and theaters. And even to this day it can still get my pulse going a bit. All night diners and 24-hour grocery stores. Anything, anytime, day or night. So, when I married my husband and came to a bedroom community where they literally roll the sidewalks up at nine, it was a bit of an adjustment. I can’t forget the night I drove around town one night after a disagreement with my husband looking for a measly piece of pie at ten o’clock at night. On coming home empty-handed and empty-tummied, I immediately shared my indignant outrage with the Hubs that we should at the very least live in a place civilized enough to have pie after ten.

So, no one could be more surprised than myself at this newfound source of utter bliss. All that excitement, all that stimulation from my youth, it was time of energy and hope long before I scratched below the surface. But as time wore on we all got older. Once natural maturity overtook so many of my youthful cohorts who mellowed and settled into families and careers, I discovered that remaining behind the excitement were troubled people looking for distractions, behind the beauty and glamour where lonely people looking for reassurance, and behind the so-called success were scared little children looking for attention or for power. And about five minutes after I realized all that, I also realized was frighteningly close to being one of them. For years I chased and chased after those things, just so I could know that I was pretty enough, and smart enough, or something else. But enough for whom, for what? Now that I’m away from all that, by circumstance and not by choice I must admit, I stand alone on the deck, hang my laundry and still ask myself: all that work to be enough of what for whom?

If this is the closing where I give some infinitely wise insight to leave you reflective, marveling at the brilliance that is uniquely me, well then we all (mostly myself) are going to be a bit disappointed. I don’t believe that question has a good answer.  I think knowing that the question was there, in the back of my brain, driving me on is the answer. And it’s in those quiet times in the mornings, walking back and forth under the sun from hamper to line that I realize I don’t have to ask it anymore.  

[1] Invasion of the Body Snatchers. NOT the one with Nicole Kidman.