Wait for the Click

Reflections on Laundry, Mental Illness and a Steamy Patrick Wilson Sex Scene

I can’t imagine I am alone when I say I have been doing a lot of laundry lately. We are a family of 5 but judging by our hampers, my kids seem to have each grown 3 extra asses when it comes to the amount of underwear I am washing. (By hampers, I mean the floor of every room, the backyard, the porch, the front lawn and inside the sink, because my kids will leave their dirty clothes anywhere but the hamper and by underwear, I mean all clothing except underwear because all of my kids refuse to wear it.) What makes this laundry situation all the more confusing is that no one living in this house under the age

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of 8 will wear both shirts and pants at the same time and nobody at all is showering regularly and yet there are currently 19 towels and about a millionteen t-shirts waiting in the hallway to be washed.

I bring this up not because I think this situation is at all unique or even more than mildly amusing but because I now spend quite a bit more time than usual (ever) sitting in front of our front-loading washer waiting for it to be done so I can move it over and throw in my next batch of unsorted clothing including the rocks, leaves and microcars I do not bother to take out of pockets before washing. And while washers are amazing pieces of technology and have been shown to be useful for so many grown-up things (Have you seen that laundry room scene in “Little Children”? Good lord. It still gives me funny feelings.) I didn’t realize watching these machines in action could be so…meditative.

It’s the cycle I think. The repetition of the soak and the spin and the sit and the rinse. The very short but so satisfying click of the door when the work has finally finished. I wonder if the washer were a person, if this would be its sigh of relief. Maybe it would be the pfft of the couch cushion as it drops itself down after finishing its arduous tasks. Perhaps it’s the crack of a teeny neck joint as it stretches against a shoulder in a moment of hurts-so-good self soothing.

I realize that personification of a washing machine is problematic. A simplistic and childish attempt at literary technique at best and a warning sign for my loves ones to hide the Tide Pods at worst. But stay with me for a moment because I realize now, in no small part due to these laundry room reflections, that the washer – the cycles and the work and the fleeting moment of satisfaction just before the cycle begins again – that is actually a pretty solid metaphor for where I’m at in these days of self-quarantine. And being inside this cycle, the constant of it, the endless repetition, also has made me grow a bit mildewy from the static nature of it all. And how do we clean mildew? We air it out.

It occurs to me that I can pretty clearly explain my mental state over the last 7 weeks as a cycle. There’s the initial part, the rinse, where I am faced with a task – distance learning assignment, sink full of dishes, changes to my teaching syllabus, news to take in and process – and I immediately engage the step 1. Whatever Step 1 may be, I immediately begin the “doing”. As I am faced with the real dirt however, my anxiety kicks in. I begin to cycle through the assessment and adoption of worst case scenarios, to list in my mind the “doing” I am not doing, the stains that will be left even after my efforts, and I am filled with the familiar buzzing of panic. If you touch me at this point in the cycle, you will feel the heat and the vibration of the swirls of doubt and negativity and fear making its way through my veins and my organs and my skin. It’s a lot of work for this machine I live in. And it’s without ever getting to the actual work.

Enter the depression. The soak. Here’s the part where all of those moving bits of fear and self-doubt start to congeal. The buzzing is gone and replaced with a heavy soapy sludge. The heaviness in my chest lands, the exhaustion pervades, and I can do nothing but lay still. I soak in my own dirt, allowing it to penetrate the small pores of my inner fabric until it feels an inseparable part of my very being. It’s impossible to move in this function. Even on the inside. The reflective part of me that recognizes more complex feelings like insecurity, and the huge fear of failure at parenting or career, becomes so steeped that everything seems to register only as frustration and anger. Anger at myself and worse, at the people around me. Sitting in this part of the cycle feels scariest because it feels as if this is the forever part. The machinery has become undone and I wish only to be unplugged. It would be better for everyone to offload this broken junk.

I never have though. Unplugged.

Due to the deft hands of those operating the thing, my husband, my therapist, my chemical-balancing prescriptions, the next section of the cycle always begins. And so I rinse and spin some more. I do so forcefully sometimes – dragging my inner and outer self to do the work, to let go of the dirt. Sometimes, I am more gentle. I proceed kindly, with warmth and gratitude for this machine’s ability to make it out of the sludgy place and clean myself up and start again.

And then comes the click. The ding. The sigh of relief. To escape this troublesome metaphor, it is the sinking into the cushion, the small sloppy kisses, the warmth of the sun, the feel of my feet still planted firmly as I am emptied of this particular load. In the click, I know I will start the cycle again. But when I am here, I know I will finish. And I take a moment to hopefully tattoo on my broken brain, to send a message to my misfiring wires, that I will get through it again. I will not get stuck in the dark place.

This time of isolation, this time of fear I feel for the people I love and the people I don’t even know, the frustration at the mistakes made that will cost us all so much, the inauthenticity of the online experiences that have replaced our normal interactions, it makes everything more intense. The laundry pile is bigger and the machine works harder. And so do I.

But as dark as it feels with the door closed, I have to keep listening for the click. The click, I know, will save me. And I want to be there to see it when my kids start doing their own damn laundry.