I loaded laundry into the washer this morning and realized that each heavy muslin bag of my three-sectioned laundry hamper is a sort of diary from the week. As the days go by, I separate them into whites, darks, and colors. When a bag fills, I load it in the washer. This morning I loaded colors; reaching in and pulling them out to load into the large black mouth of my front-loading washer–my own little short-lived time capsule. When I pull them out, I’m reminded of what was going on the day we wore them. That’s the shirt Christian was wearing at his piano lesson. We stopped for an ice cream cone on the way home. Those are the sweatpants I was wearing when I was edging the flower beds. I was listening to the iPod and wishing I was a singer while the dirt sunk deeper beneath my fingernails. That’s the shirt Ryan wore to the Jazz game the night they won. Max was wearing those shorts when he fell of his scooter and scraped his palms. He wanted two Band-aids, though he didn’t even need one. The clothes are wrinkled and limp, like a snakeskin we’ve shed before going to bed each night.
Of the three different loads, the colors are my favorite. The whites all blend together; the darks are mostly our jeans, the anchors of our wardrobes. But the colors—they’re the ones that bring us to life.
I often think of people in terms of their colors and patterns. My mom is earth tones. My dad is a Hawaiian shirt. Alison is black and silver. My sister, April, is lavender. Leslie is mauve and tan paisley. Ryan is light blue. Max is yellow and blue stripes. Lately, Christian is kelly green. Me? I’m probably some red polka dots.
For the most part, the clothes come out of the dryer as a blank slate. As I fold them, separating them not by color but by owner, I have forgotten their previous life. (Unless they bear a stain I’ve forgotten to treat.) They’re ready to become the new skin on a new day of a new story. Maybe I’ll be wearing that yellow sweater during the best sunset of the summer. Maybe Ryan will be wearing those khakis when he hears a job offer he really wants. Maybe that shirt will be in a photo at the Grand Canyon or in front of a ride at Disneyland. Maybe these jeans will get stained with the juice of a ripe cherry. Maybe Max will be potty trained in those brown plaid shorts. Who can say?
Sometimes I wonder what’s happened to our old clothes, the ones that finally retired from our life story. Whose shoulders do they cover now? Whose story do they live today? Where’s the red dress and sweater I was wearing when Ryan proposed? Where’s Christian’s first pair of tiny tennis shoes? Whatever became of that purple shirt I loved more on the hanger, but I held onto it for years? Would I recognize them if I saw them on someone else? Do they get washed in a river on the other side of the globe? Were they cut into scraps to make a bandage or a quilt? What sights have they seen? When it’s dark and quiet, do they miss our hamper and the soft rattle of our spin cycle? Do they miss being a part of our lives?
What is the story of your laundry?