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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Living Lives in the Laundry Room

As I waited for the elevator with my wagon, B2, and a pile of empty blue Ikea bags, I cursed myself for thinking it wouldn't be so bad having to share a laundry room with a hundred other people.

It was 10:25 and I had washed six loads of laundry.

"People all over the world share washers and dryers with others," I'd said. "It will be convenient to have four washers at a time," I'd convinced myself. I was an optimistic idiot. Two kids and two flights of stairs and too little time have robbed me of my best self. I want my own washing machine.

B2 clapped his hands as the elevator dinged, and we rolled in to go downstairs to pick up the last two loads. But as I stepped inside, I inhaled an image of Papaw, my mother's father, standing in a kitchen in Dothan, Alabama. It was an image of menthols and humidity and sweat, and there he was, with a blue hat and a half-empty green packet sticking out of his breast pocket. In that moment, I was six years old again, hoping against hope that I would get to go play in the boat sitting on a trailer in the backyard. The noise of the elevator transformed into the hum of the air-conditioning.

The ding of level G brought me back, back to 2015 and Huntington Beach and the constant oppression of dirty clothes. I woke up and rolled myself into the laundry room.

Inside the room was an older man, around sixty, sorting his enviably tiny pile of men's clothes into two small loads. He had a hearing aid and socks with stripes at the tops. His head nodded gently as he worked.

B2 stared at him as I collected my bags and moped over to the wall of dryers, but my son's interest piqued my own, and I turned again to stare at the gentleman as well. He looked my way, and I smiled.

"Having fun yet?" I asked.
"Oh, yes..." he said with a voice that was familiar, distant, and a little too loud. "How about yourself?"

I was instantly struck by the realization that he must have been the person in the elevator immediately before me, that he was the cause of the vision I'd had.

"Where are you from?" I asked, bluntly ignoring his question.

"What do you mean by that?" he replied slowly.

"What do I mean? I mean where did you grow up? Where are you from?" I spoke fifteen words in less time then he had said six.

"Well," he began, slowly, "I grew up in Fresno. Do you know where that is?"

I stiffed my inner Angeleno and the sarcasm that comes with her.

"Yes, I do. My father-in-law grew up near there." I gave him the name of the town.

The man was amazed, and asked if he still lived there. I said no, that he had moved to the coast, a tremendous improvement from the heat and emptiness of the middle of the state. The man's eyes lit up.

"That is were I moved when I was in high school. I lived there for years before moving down this way."

It ends up he had attended the school where my husband's aunt had eventually taught, and his younger brother had attended the same high school as my husband.

"Why did your brother go to a different high school?" I questioned.

"He was much younger than I am. When I went to school, it was the only high school in town."

The world is small and full of the amazing.

We talked and talked while I unloaded the dryers. I had done more laundry that day than he had done in the preceding three weeks, and he correctly commented that B2 is adorable. As he spoke, his long, country drawl relaxed me. Talking to him felt, not like home, but like something better than home. Like the dream of home. Of grits and long grass and summers, of Papaw on the back porch with my Uncle Bud, smoking and taking about who earned more points in Canasta.

Once he had started his machine, he said goodbye, and moved towards the door. Just before it closed, I blurted out, loudly, "It was nice to meet you, sir. My name is Raychel."

He turned and held the door. "It was a pleasure to meet you, Raychel. My name is Bud."

Of course it was. Of course it was.

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