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5 o'clock on a Tuesday

It's just after five and I'm sitting inside the Wash World laundromat waiting for my four loads to dry. The place is a colorful mix of people, scents and sounds. TV audio of the five o’clock news fills the room with urgency. A woman was convicted of killing two men and feeding their bodies to the pigs. A man’s Teacher of the Year status was revoked. A father donated a piece of his liver to save his daughter’s life.

Across the room, a skinny twenty-year-old man with star tattoos along his neck helps his girlfriend fill washers, one scoop of detergent each. Behind them a three-year-old plays “big helper,” scooping armfuls of laundry into the machine, her overweight young mother directing. I sit at a cheap plastic folding table waiting the remaining 24 minutes until my four loads dry, a gap in my day like breathing room, white space for my over-cluttered mind.

Fox news keeps us posted: A black Portland woman’s car was lit on fire. Mike’s drive-in was burglarized. And would you believe it? A $5,000 bong was stolen from an Aloha shopkeeper. But around me dirt is being extracted from worn clothing, and water evaporates from my stark white sheets like magic.

There are two kind of people who go to the laundromat. Regulars, necessity customers whose cheap apartment didn't come with a "washer/dryer in the unit." They show up like pros, efficient and directed, knowing the rules. And then there's the Temporaries, inconvenienced by broken equipment or the need to launder an oversized item. I’m here because my own dryer is broken and I can’t afford the 75 bucks it’ll cost just to get the technician in my front door. A Temporary, on the edge.

It’s been twelve weeks since I lost my job. I cram my days with production. Structure. Resumes, cover letters. For jobs I want, for jobs I had ten years ago. It's a quantity over quality game now. Scan here, browse there. Add it to the list, tick it off. Just about every four days I get scared. That the money will run out. That no one will hire me. That I’ll let my kid down because I won’t be able to cover her tuition this fall. Mostly that I'm entirely, entirely alone. My psychologist says that it’s in these moments that I forget who I am. But mostly I realize that the bottom has dropped out and I’m falling.

"I want to fold 'em, mommy," the three year old grabs a towel from a pile and stretches one end high above her head. The towel's as tall as she is.

I remember my own daughter and I in another Laundromat, back when I made peanuts and we lived in a shit-hole apartment without its own machine. We were Regulars back then, it was our weekly thing. We’d snuggle up together on hard plastic seats screwed to the floor and study her math workbooks, color, or play games on scratch paper while our clothes tumbled dry. We didn’t need white space back then. As I look back, I realize how many times I’ve picked myself back up after a fall. When the bottom of life had dropped out far more violently than now. I wonder where my resilience went. I wish she’d come the hell back.

There’s just four minutes left on my towels, but I stay off the anxiety that begs to creep into my chest. Next time, I tell myself, I’m bringing a fucking coloring book.

One of my loads is done so I open the large glass door and begin to pull out my wash of colors. Someone has left a dryer sheet in. I take a deep sniff: and pick up the faint hint of “fresh linen breeze.”

The room has emptied, though the newscaster continues his recitation of the days’ most urgent, fear-inducing events. I miss her—that younger me on the hard plastic chair with my younger kid, before life got so damned complicated. I decide to take my time, fold everything up nice and neat, partner my socks. I set the timer on the towels for five more minutes and breathe.


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