Oct 11 2012 in Caring for Partners by ejourneys
I did four loads of laundry on Tuesday — in the Laundromat — despite the fact that we have a new washing machine at home.
I was ecstatic. (I really was; that’s not meant sarcastically.)
Flash back to 2007. We had been without air conditioning for a month and it was summer in Florida. I had taken my computer to our local library to get my work done, including writing the introduction to a poetry anthology I was editing.
My introduction included this brief slice of life: “Then there’s the half-disassembled washing machine to figure out. That’s a long story, but a poem might well arise inspired by predawn jury-rigging with the aid of a car jack.”
I did not elaborate that my partner had taken the washing machine apart in her search for mold that she later realized lay not in the washer but in one of her potted plants. Or that she had commandeered an old car jack to try to raise the drum so that it could be reattached — finally accomplished by the two of us after hours of elbow grease, grunts, and sweat, because our summertime predawn lows had been in the mid-70s, with close to 100% humidity.
The washer never agitated after that, leaving us to do that part by hand. My partner complained about how cold the water was. The machine was old enough (of voting age with years to spare) so that a repair person told us we were better off just getting a new one.
I held off on replacing it for years. I knew that my partner wouldn’t be able to leave a new machine alone.
Flash forward a year, to July 2008. My partner had injured her back by “grapevining” on our foot-powered treadmill, rather than simply walking on it. (Grapevining means walking sideways, with one foot passing alternately in front of and in back of the other.) She was getting chiropractic treatments three times a week. She had been barely able to walk, let alone do laundry. For weeks I was on call to lift her onto and help her off the camping toilet I brought to her side. I stocked up on incontinence products, which she complained about because she said they gave her UTIs.
I suggested taking our clothes to the neighborhood Laundromat. Not only was our machine on the fritz, but my partner had also disabled our dryer, opting instead to drape our wet things all over the house — above her piles of clutter.
She didn’t want me to use the Laundromat. “That’s a waste of money.”
She didn’t want me to wash her clothes, so they were building up in a pile on the laundry room floor. But I was desperate for clean clothes for me. I snuck my own clothes to the Laundromat when I could.
During last Saturday’s Table Talk, Denise had asked me, “How did you come to embrace the idea of detaching?”
I told her that I knew exactly when I started detaching. What I did not say in our talk was that it had begun with laundry.
At 1 a.m. on July 9, 2008, I tried sneaking my laundry bag into my car, so that I could get my wash done at the Laundromat later on, as part of my errands for the day. My partner discovered me. Amidst her piles of clothes on the laundry room floor, she tried to wrestle my bag away from me, insisting that she would do the wash herself.
She was in no shape to even come close. I stood stock still, gripping my laundry bag. I didn’t want to do more than that because she was already injured and I didn’t want to worsen her already tweaked back.
I wrote in my journal that day, “She finally let go of the laundry, after I refused to budge. She said she would do hers last night — that it would be dry on the racks by morning. This morning the laundry was still in a big pile on the laundry room floor. No surprise there. If I had relinquished mine, it would be in a pile right along with hers. As it is, it is done, and clean, and in the trunk of the car, and my investment of $2.25 was worth the decrease in aggravation. Call it my health insurance premium.”
That was the day I started recording her behavior in earnest and working on my own detachment. It would be almost a year before she received a preliminary diagnosis of OCD, 18 months before her second preliminary diagnosis of schizophrenia, and 29 months before her definitive diagnosis of MS that acts like traumatic brain injury.
But back in 2008, she had refused to get a brain scan when I made the suggestion. She had refused to consider applying for disability, saying that it “encourages people to be sicker.” And she had refused to get any kind of counseling.
A friend of mine warned me, “If you go down, you both go down.”
It would take the “perfect storm” of my partner’s hysterectomy in 2009, which enabled me to finally get POA and appeal to both doctors and social workers, before she got any help.
Last year I finally relented and got a new washing machine, but I already knew what would happen. Almost immediately my partner removed its drainage hose and dug out one of her saved hoses to attach to it instead, so that used wash water could drain into a large, black rectangular tub. The “gray water” would then be used for toilet flushing.
The blue hose is used for draining. The black tub peeks out from beneath the yellow laundry basket. The upside-down green bowl is used to bail water from the black tub into five-gallon pails, otherwise the tub would overflow during rinses. My partner has also draped scarves and other “insulation” materials around our hot water heater and its pipes.
But the washing machine’s agitator still works!
Now, whenever we do laundry, my partner gathers her saved sheets of newspaper and spreads them all over the laundry room floor. The floor becomes soaked between all the bailing and our attempts to control the blue hose, which dances around from the water pressure. The pails are then lugged out of the laundry room, through the kitchen (edging past the bicycle my partner still has up on its bicycle stand in the kitchen, because she’ll get around to changing its tires “some day”), across the dining/living room and its piles of paper on the floor (but with walkable pathways, my partner is quick to point out), and halfway down the hall that leads to my studio (a.k.a. my sanctuary from the rest of the house). Then I swing a right into the bathroom and leave the pails near the toilet.
For the next several days, we flush the toilet with gray water from the wash, returning to the black tub until it is empty. My partner takes the soaked sheets of newspaper and spreads them carefully all over the garage floor. She keeps reusing the same sheets of newspaper because I cancelled our paper subscription years ago. This is why:
Fast-forward to late last week. The wash has been piling up. My partner realizes she’s running out of things to wear.
But she’s just had her toenail ablated. Her foot needs to stay dry between twice-daily antiseptic soaks. I point out that futzing around in a flooded laundry room is not a good idea.
She offers, “I think this is a time when we can use the Laundromat.”
The Hallelujah Chorus thunders in my head! I am giddy with excitement. I tell her I’ll do laundry on Tuesday, to avoid the weekend rush and leave Monday open for her follow-up post-surgical appointment.
And she’s actually letting me wash her clothes for her! This is a watershed moment!
Her follow-up appointment goes well on Monday. The toe looks good.
On Tuesday afternoon I gather up the bills to be paid, my grocery list, and my laundry bag. I set aside two bed sheets to serve as makeshift laundry bags and fill them with my partner’s clothes. The laundry room has a floor again! I add the extra pile of clothes that sits atop a stack of three cardboard boxes on top of a chair.
My partner has left a single pair of denim shorts perched adorably on top of a big cardboard box that she leaves in front of the sliding door between the kitchen and the laundry room; I surmise correctly that she wants them washed, too. The box is one of several that she shoves against the sliding door to guard against airflow getting in from underneath. Fortunately, we move those boxes out of the way when transporting the five-gallon pails of water or big loads of groceries.
I would search the bedroom for more of her clothes, but she’s asleep there. I tell myself: Next time.
At the last minute I spot the pail that’s filled almost to the top with her heavy socks. She has inundated them with soap and the soap has long since dried; it takes extra effort for me to pry them out of the pail and apart from each other. Into the sheet-laundry-bag they go!
I haul everything to the car and take off. Only one other person is using the machines. The Laundromat has added A/C and ceiling fans to replace the single portable fan it used to have. It has new folding tables and two TVs blaring the news. I wonder if it’s under new management or has just renovated a bit.
I’m a little sad to see that the industrial-strength dryers have been painted over and are now a bland off-white. They used to be brown and covered with stencilled bees and flowers and words like DREAM and HOPE. Now they’re just blah.
But I’m in the Laundromat! I’m doing real, regular, non-crazy-making laundry! It’s heaven.
I load up four machines (sorting! I’m sorting!), feed them a total of 36 quarters, and get comfy on my plastic chair. Out come my MP3 player and earbuds. Out come my journal notebook and pen. I write of my joy.
And I get to use a dryer! I can barely contain myself.
When all the loads are done I haul everything back to my car and finish up my other errands. I get more healthy fruits and veggies from the market. (Crispbread’s on sale! And lettuce! Woot!)
My partner is awake by the time I reach home. She’s happy! Yay! This is a far, far cry from her behavior of years ago, when her laundry had to be done just so.
She thinks her heavy socks could do with more washing, but at least they’re no longer hard crusts. They go back into their pail, onto which she has now placed a plastic bag to serve as a dust cover.
We put the groceries away together. Then I hustle to make myself a big salad with my newly-bought lettuce, tuna, and homemade dressing. It’s at my side as I jump into Tuesday’s New Member Chat — where I explain that my partner’s need to keep all the windows covered “was a minor adjustment” for me “in light of everything else.”
It’s no wonder that I thought of caregiving when I spotted this quote the other night:
For an afternoon I got to step out of my “other world” of laundry and enter one where the floor is bare of soaked newspapers, there are no pails to fill and transport, and my clothes emerge from an industrial-strength dryer deliciously warm — all with my partner’s blessing.
And amidst all the clutter, the house feels a little bit lighter now.