Saturday, June 8, 2013

Answering the Call Part 2

This is definitely The middle of my story I originally wrote this in December, 2011. To read the beginning, go to Answering The Call Part 1 But this is a part of the weekend that changed my life. This weekend began the struggle for my will. God was asking me for submission and I was refusing. Some of you have read this one before. But Part 3 is proving more difficult to write than I originally believed. 

On a recent Saturday I discovered, our washing machine was broken. In a household with six people, this is the equivalent of DEFCON 4.

With a load of my daughter's clothes in it this upped the ante to DEFCON 3.

Editorial Side Note:Anal retentive doesn't even come close to describing how I feel about my daughter's clothing. I don't think OCD does it justice either. Let's just say anyone who knows me absolutely knows how I feel about my daughters clothing. I wash her things on cold, everything gets a Shout Color catcher, every stain is treated using a multistage process, although she is one of 6 people who reside in our home her clothes are washed alone, nothing else is allowed in the load. My teenaged boys do most of the family's laundry, but they do not usually touchhers. I do the laundry for the Princess. I spend many hours washing and hanging her clothes, as they do not enter the dryer either, at least not while wet. After they are fully dry I place them in the dryer to fluff and soften them. And anyone who has received either through purchase or gift the hand me downs of the princess knows how these clothes have been babied. In many cases they still look brand new, partly because she has so many she rarely wears something more than 3 times.

So I had to take her soaking wet clothes to the Laundromat and rewash them because the teen responsible for laundry had left them for three days in a broken washer. We have now reached DEFCON 1, nuclear war is imminent.

Before Saturday I'd rather have had root canals than ever go to the Laundromat. But Saturday was the most humbling, frustrating, rewarding, beautiful trip ever. Even getting TO the Laundromat with all my supplies and the 5 rolls of quarters we expected it would take to wash and dry the family's laundry was an epic adventure. But after buying new detergent, stain fighters, fabric softener, and dryer sheets, at the A&P because I left mine at home. And after dropping off the dry cleaning so I would not miss them and be naked later in the week. And stopping at the bank to get the quarters, I finally arrived at the Laundromat.

Then I had to drag --because carrying was not an option-- a basket of dripping wet clothes that weighed probably 85 pounds into the laundromat. This Rubbermaid storage bin that passes for a laundry basket in our home, was about three quarters full of materials including ruffles, taffeta, silk, and corduroy in a rainbow of the little girl colors, pink, white, red, navy, brown and purple. My cross to bear was a bin of dripping wet Gymboree soup. It was a heavy cross, a cross I eagerly fashioned, I purchased every stitch in that bin. I had created the clothes monster that loves every piece of clothing in that bin and I had created an environment in my own home where everyone was afraid to touch her clothing. I thought for sure I was going to die dragging that bin. But I did not, some where I found the strength to haul this unbearable load into a building that can only be described as ewwwww yucky. The floors were dirty, some of the machines were held together with duct tape, the tiles were chipped and broken, and the walls had a film on them that was reminiscent of a New Jersey diner in the 80's. In short no thinking person would assume anything would come to this place to achieve a state of cleanliness. But I was committed at this point, the next nearest Laundromat was half an hour away and I was short on time. So I loaded my dripping wet laundry into the first row of washers, they looked reasonably young, so there was that. They were stainless steel contraptions with chrome and gleaming glass fronts. They looked out of place in this otherwise sad dank dark little room.

Additional Editor’s Note:I'll admit I'm not the most observant of people. My husband calls me (and a couple of my children who are most like me) oblivious. It fits. When I assume something, I rarely verify. If I've always done something one way I assume I'll always do it that way. I'm very much a creature of habit. This causes me to literally trip and fall over things with embarrassing frequency.

All my laundry was loaded in the machines; I had treated my stains, poured in my detergent and added my fabric softener. Break out the quarters, I’m on a roll. Wait a minute, there's a card slot where the quarter slot should be. Huh?Then the realization dawned upon me slowly like the sun sinking in the sky over the ocean late on a summer evening. The machines don't take quarters. Then I finally read the sign, a white sign with green lettering that was the size of a football field hanging on the wall. Please buy a card the washers and dryers no longer operate on quarters. Huh? When did that happen and why didn’t I get the memo? So I trek to the back of the store still holding my 5 rolls of quarters thinking, “oh God how long will it take to put $50 of Quarters into a slot to buy a card?” I arrive at the back of store stand there looking at the card dispensing machine and see no slot for quarters I go out to my car to get my wallet to use my Visa check card, only the make the long embarrassing trek back to the back of the store and wait, there's no Visa swipey thing either. (Yes, the word oblivious DOES indeed fit me, sometimes.)

You have to have cash. So I trek over to the nearest bank, take out another $60 from the ATM, 3 $20 bills. And I trek back to what I’m now calling in my mind the hell hole. Third time's a charm, right? All the way down that shameful path to the card dispensing machine at the back of the store. Press the button to buy a card, machine says, enter a $10 bill. Huh? Look Up and there on the second football field size sign it says, machine takes fives, tens and twenties but the card must be purchased with a $10 bill. I admit I'm beyond mad by now. So I walked in with $50 in quarters to do my laundry and my money was completely useless. I had cards in my wallet out the wazoo, thousands of dollars literally at my disposal not to mention $50 in quarters and my money was useless there.

I began pleading for a good Samaritan to help me. I have now officially blown 35 minutes on this adventure and I'm playing beat the clock. "Does anyone have 2 tens for a twenty?" I call out. A God send of a woman comes out of the blur of nameless faceless people who are occupying this hovel with me. “Here,” she says, “I bet we do.” She then turns to her children and asks them to locate the money. Finally I have the required cash in hand. I go through the steps on the machine and get my card. I decided to load the card up to the max, I figured I'd pass it on to IHN (Interfaith Hospitality Network) when I was done using it.

It was like finding the arc of the covenant, angels literally sang as I walked from the card machine back up to my waiting washers. So I proceeded to do my laundry. The lady with two tens and I struck up a conversation about iPads and how horrible this Laundromat is. As she's standing there with her daughter in their matching sweaters from Hanna Andersson I feel comfortable talking to her. She's like me. She looks like me, she dresses like me, she has a broken washer like me and four kids like me. She tells me not to waste my money in the dryers, the doors fly open mid cycle and the clothes tumble out onto the aforementioned dirty floor. Her nine year old daughter was completely grossed out by the thought of her clothes touching this floor and was adamantly insisting she wouldn’t wear them. So we talked about the Laundromat and what we were supposed to do with these cards when were done. I said I was giving mine to IHN. She loved that idea. And also suggested she was going to write a letter to the newspaper about the condition of the Laundromat. I thought that was a good idea. We were perfectly happy to help the people caught in this place, it made us feel good so long as everyone knew we didn't belong here.

Shortly after that she left and I finished my wash. Because of time and her advice I chose to bring it home to dry. Now I had $20 left on this stupid card that cost me three dollars to buy in the first place.
I put my clothes in the car and came back in to return the wheelie cart when I saw her. She was an older woman, looked to be in her sixties. Life had really beaten her up, if you know what I mean. The worry lines were carved so deeply in her face I wondered if she had ever once in her life laughed. I don't know what brought her there, how she got to her age and looked like she was just waiting to die. Her hair was mostly gray and she just looked like she could barely muster enough energy to take the next step, let alone lug laundry back into her car. I never did see her car; maybe she wasn't even lucky enough to have one. She sat in the chair by the window on those hard plastic chairs where four or five are attached to a steel beam. It’s the type of chair that you would think of when you picture an emergency room or waiting area of a police station. Places I got the feeling she'd frequented sometime in her life. I had seen her with a man about her age earlier when she was putting her wash in the machines. He was wearing a Sweatshirt with the Ronald McDonald House Logo on it.

Unlike some of the others who were regulars she didn't have a book or crosswords or even a cell phone to keep her busy, I didn't see anything in her hands except one of those ridiculous $3 cards. She sat there alone, staring at the floor. I returned the cart to the corner, walking in front of her, careful not to disturb her, and she didn't move, didn't even look up. As I crossed back in front of her I looked down and without a moment's hesitation I knew what I was supposed to do with that card. I paused and leaned in to her, I said "Do you come here often?" Immediately I felt like the stupidest person in the world. It was the most inane thing anyone has ever said to someone. This was a Laundromat not a singles bar and I was a woman giving away $23 not some cheesy guy at last call. But she looked up with sadness so deep in her eyes it was now an air of resigned acceptance. Whatever hand life had dealt her she was going to play it out.

She quietly responded, "Yes." with a look of confusion on her face. I replied, "Here please take my card, I won't need it again and it's got about $20 on it. Please enjoy." Again I'm feeling stupid, who enjoys doing laundry? She says "thank you" even more quietly than she said "yes" and I handed it to her and walked out of the Laundromat. She didn't show big gratitude, but I didn't need that. It felt good. I imagined that no matter how much she did or did not need that $20 in laundry money, she definitely needed it more than me.

I got out to the parking lot in my car and started to back out of the space. I looked up and she was trying to come out of the door of the laundromat. She stopped, we made eye contact and she mouthed the unmistakable words, "Thank you and Merry Christmas." I waved and smiled and continued on my day with a smile literally in my heart.

Editor's note: As I read this some 18 months after writing it, I've often thought about the lady from the laundromat. I wonder how she is and where she is. I wonder if she is happy and I hope for her it was just a bad month. But I mostly wish I had taken some time that day to get to know her, to understand her true needs and see if I could help. I've been back to the laundromat a few times but I've never seen her again. I am happy to report that I no longer baby my daughter's clothes. At least not with the obsessive nature I used to.

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