How to Do Laundry
Start by dumping the small but overflowing laundry basket on the carpet that stretches from the queen sized bed on one side of the room to the bar stools and table on the other side. The room transforms from bedroom to living room to dining room based on where you sit and what you are doing. The mound of laundry covering the majority of the open floor space means you are currently in the laundry room. There were times when your apartment had more than one room. Then again, there were times when your apartment had more than one person.
Sort the clothes into two piles on either side of where you have plopped yourself on the floor. On one side, the old, broken-in light colors. These are the underwear, the socks, the t-shirts worn to bed, the tank tops worn as undershirts. These are the comfortable, safe clothes. It was Mike, using his title of boyfriend to constantly point out what you didn’t know, who taught you that the light load colors didn’t necessarily have to be white. “It’s the clothes that have been washed lots of times,” he told you. “The broken-in clothes.” That was five years ago.
In the other pile, the dark colors. These are the shirts worn to work and the jeans that you rarely wash to avoid the stiff, tight, uncomfortable feel of just-dried denim. You look at both piles and are forced to make a choice. Last month, you did laundry for two, as two. Together, you would lug four loads of laundry at a time down to the basement. Now you are on your own and the closest laundromat is a seven minute walk down the street. You only have the strength for one load at a time.
Assess both piles, the pros and cons, and make a choice. Choose darks. Choose to make your jeans a little more uncomfortable for the time being. Choose to live in a small apartment alone with only your stuffed animals for company. Place the load of lights back in the laundry basket. You’ll get back to those.
At the laundromat, plan to make the best of what comes next. Realize that in an ideal world, you wouldn’t have to wash the clothes. In an ideal world, the jeans would never get dirty. They would stay comfortable and cozy forever. Remember why the jeans need to be washed. Remember how you spilled soup on yourself in the middle of a restaurant, eating alone. Notice the little things. Notice the specks of dirt on the hem and the hips stretched from too much wear. Notice the things too small for anyone else to see but you.
Remember how Mike told you he didn’t like hanging out with you anymore. Remember how that hurt worse than when he said he wasn’t sure if he loved you anymore. Remember how you agreed with him both times, still unsure if it was because you did agree or because you were too hurt to defend yourself. Wonder why you feel so guilty for ending it. Wonder if you should have given him another chance. You look down at the stained jeans and remember that even if there were no soup stain, they needed to be washed.
Choose a top-loading machine, since you are most familiar with those. Find a machine near the set of chairs you will sit in. Get one as close to the dryers as possible. Once you have planned and over-analyzed your situation, begin the process. Add your detergent to the machine first. It’s the detergent your Mom uses, not the detergent Mike used. Wonder when you get to have your own detergent.
Load the jeans and shirts into the machine. Do not overfill. Close the lid. Insert 9 quarters. Be outraged that it costs 9 quarters for one load. Press the button for colors and put into motion a series of events that you cannot undo. Mourn the loss of your comfortable jeans. Realize that you cannot have both. You cannot have comfort and clean. You cannot have cozy and a fresh start.
Sit in the laundromat as your clothes get clean. One load takes 28 minutes. It is not enough time to run any errands, and yet it is enough time to completely change the comfort level of your jeans. Bring a book to read and your phone to text. Talk with the middle-aged laundromat employee, who quickly befriends you, about the cats he has has just adopted. He’s looking to keep occupied as he washes the clothes other people drop off to be cleaned. Be jealous of those who just leave their dirty laundry for other people to deal with.
Wish that time would go faster. Wish that you could wake up 28 minutes from now and have it all be over. Wish that someone else would go through all of this waiting for you. Remind yourself that sitting in the laundromat is better than sitting at home alone. Remind yourself that as a reward for completing tonight’s goal of laundry, you will return home to eat ice cream and watch the shows Mike hated without feeling guilty. You can’t remember how you got through the evenings alone without these mini-goals and mini-rewards.
Wish that time would go faster. Wish that it was a year from now and you were over the break up. Remind yourself that it is the getting over the break up that will help you grow the most. “The only cure for a hangover,” they say, “is time.” Wish you had a hangover so it would only take a day to get over. Wait.
When the washing machine comes to a stop, grab one of the ten metal laundry carts scattered throughout the place. Pull it close to the machine to leave the least possible space for any rogue shirt to fall to the ground. Grab your wet, mangled laundry and drop it into the cart. Jean legs and shirtsleeves become tangled together, clinging onto one another as they leave the machine. The laundry is now worse than when it went into the machine. Before it was dirty and not ideal, but now it is unwearable.
Push the cart over to the wall of dryers and start lifting the heavier, wetter, grosser clothes into the second machine of the evening. Feel proud of what you can accomplish without Mike. There was the 140-pound bed frame that you and a co-worker moved up to your new 4th floor apartment. And the 78-pound kitchen table that you carried piece by piece from the vestibule up the stairs since there was no one around to help you. You never had to do these things on your on before. Feel proud of how you have grown. Feel your upper arms ache from the consequences of your strength.
After unloading the cart, deposit 6 quarters into the machine, choose high heat, and hit start. Push the laundry cart out of the way and return to your book. Feel the muscles in your arms relax. The heavy lifting is over.
Read your book and relish in the calm that comes from sensing the end. Get lost in the soft rock coming from the wall-mounted speakers. Mike would have hated this music. Respond to the text message waiting on your phone. Mike never texted you. Rest your book on your lap and start observing what else is going on. Your jumble of clothes is confined in the dryer, repeating the the process of being carried up the side of the machine and then falling to the bottom. The laundry continues to spin. All you see are the clothes in chaos, tumbling, rolling and being tossed around.
A woman your age sits down next to you, opens a magazine, laughs out loud and then shows you a not-that-funny kitty litter advertisement. Wonder if you should get a cat. A young couple is over by the much more complicated front-loading washing machines, unloading three trash bags full of dirty clothes into them. Feel sorry for them, not jealous of them. Think about how doing one load of laundry for an hour once a week seems so much easier than doing four loads at once.
Remember when you moved in with Mike a year and a half ago, and you promised each other this was a step forward and there would be no steps back. You became an us. You were on your way up. And then, the bottom fell out. You flopped down to the bottom of the dryer. He got cold feet. You got insecure. Your us became a you again.
The laundry continues to spin, getting pushed back up every time it falls.
When the cycle ends, empty the clothes from the dryer into the mesh bag, sling it over your shoulder and head home. Climb the three flights of stairs, taking each step with purpose, remember everything else you have carried up them. You share these memories with no one else. Enjoy that. Enter your apartment and dump the clothes on the bed. Turn on your TV.
Fold the shirts and separate into piles based on length of sleeve and appropriate use. Take comfort in knowing every shirt is in the correct pile. You never understood what piles to put Mike’s clothes into, and always assumed you were doing it wrong. He never said as much, but the piles you made always got rearranged. Look at the imperfect folding job and realize that there is no one else who will care how the clothes are folded. He always smoothed out those flawed edges, making you feel flawed, too. Now, the clothes are perfect enough.
Shake the wrinkles out of the jeans and place them on a hanger in the closet. They are slightly wrinkled and worn at the bottom where they drag on the ground. They are stiffer than when they went in the wash and you can tell just by looking that they are going to be too tight when you next put them on. They are fresh, though, and ready for their next adventure.
Take the piles of somewhat-perfectly folded shirts and return them to the proper dresser drawer. Be happy for them to be reunited with the rest of your clean wardrobe. Hope that there are no hard feelings. Realize life isn’t always like that.
Return to your former apartment to pick up the things left behind in your rushed move out. Look through the box Mike put together for you. He can barely look you in the face. Comb through the kitchen cabinet to collect Fluff and white chocolate chips, your favorite foods that he would never eat, as he washes the dishes with his back to you. Ask if he wants to keep in touch, or if he wants time to process the situation. Sigh when he says both. You still cannot figure out how to please him. Turn away and walk out the door.
Don’t cry on the way home. Think about the new furniture waiting to be built—furniture you chose on your own. Think about how proud you are of yourself. Think of how the only person you have to please is yourself. Think about how nice it is to not have to worry about someone else’s dirty laundry.
Rebecca Merrill is the human companion to Henry Owen, a cat of exquisite lineage and generally excellent taste. She does not spend enough time at home petting him.