Cleanliness

I’m sorting laundry in my bedroom.

Sitting on the end of the bed, a pile of dirty stuff on the floor between my feet. I’m picking up items and tossing them into one of three piles a few feet away — darks on the right, lights on the left, whites into the plastic laundry basket in the middle. I’ve done this thousands of times.Dirty Laundry

After my friend Rick died, when he was 20 and I was 19, and after the funeral and the cursing and the crying, I spent some time with Mel, his mother, whose heart was broken by the loss of her only son, her firstborn. We talked about Rick, the only thing we had in common. Mostly, I listened. She said that after he dropped out of school and returned to get a job and live at home, it took her months of careful sorting and bleaching to return his white washables to white again. Because he hadn’t separated his colors from his whites while he’d been away at school. I knew this was true, because during that first year at San Francisco State we had done our laundry together, stuffing everything we had into pillowcases and dragging the load a block or so down Haight Street to the laundromat, where we had simply and efficiently dumped it all into the minimum number of washing machines, his red sweatshirt commingled with my white socks.

The only sorting we did was when we separated his stuff from mine after we got back to the apartment. Using this technique, we gradually turned all of our clothes the same shade of dingy gray, the color of The City that fall and winter. We didn’t care at the time. We were liberated and studious, drunk on freedom and Red Mountain and there was no reason at all why we weren’t going to change the world, or why we should have really white T-shirts.

But there’s nothing like death to make you think of life, and after my talk with Mel I started to think about how important the little things are in life, and the more I thought about it the more crucial it seemed to do the things that wouldn’t break a mother’s heart, whether it was wearing safety belts on Highway 99, or properly sorting the laundry.

The safety belt thing was too late for Rick.

But I can still hear Mel telling me in a soft voice that it might take another couple of washings to finish her job of whitening Rick’s white clothes, things that he wouldn’t be needing. Since then, I sort, because I wouldn’t want Mel to be disappointed ever again, and because changing the world ain’t no big thing if your underwear is dingy gray.

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9 Replies to “Cleanliness”

  1. I’m sorry about your friend, Larry. I’m glad you think about him and wrote about him!

    You and your “chores.” Sorting your laundry and how important it is to your life that you make your bed! lol

    Maybe that’s what I need to do right now. Find one little thing like sorting the laundry that’ll help me move along. I shall ponder it. 🙂

  2. Isn’t it funny the posts we remember? I loved that post you wrote about you making your bed and that your world makes more sense when you do.

    And I really liked this post, too. And I meant what I wrote about how great it is you are remembering Rick and writing about him. And it’s a cute thought to me that the two of you were wearing pink socks and didn’t seem to care. 🙂

  3. Bittersweet post. I remember after my divorce doing the bills for the first time, she’d always managed the finances, and how scary and liberating it was at once. The feeling of being completely dependent only on oneself. Has nothing to do with your post except for the emotions it evoked. Nice writing.

  4. you may be relieved to know that I DO sort my laundry, though Chuck and I used to do our laundry separately, because I claimed that he thought 3 socks and a pair of underwear constituted a load, while he claimed that I needed a big stick to cram everything in. (This was actually a source of humor to both of us, after we stopped trying to combine our laundry-doing styles.)

    WTF did you do to your comments? It’s like the Flintstones’ bird pecking out a letter at a time.

    And, no, I will not start making my bed. But I do appreciate you sharing that about your friend.

  5. Blue Girl – We lived in Haight Ashbury. Pink socks were conservative.

    Bob – Thank you. Do you ever wonder, as I do, how much you really want to be “liberated?”

    Narya – Someday you’ll appreciate the wisdom of The Ritual of Making the Bed.

    Girlfriend – Solidarity, Sistah!

    Holly – You’ve seen something that I never considered. Thank you!

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