How to fold laundry

Image by briandeadly. Used under a CC BY-ND 2.0 license.

It’s winter and I’m home from school. My mum is in the kitchen chopping vegetables and I’m kneeling on the couch in front of the window. Our house has a bay window, a divided-lite window—the kind with lots of little panes of glass. I can’t see out of the window because the dryer has fogged it up, so I draw on the condensation instead. These panes of glass are 50 years old and you are 25 years in the future.

I won’t promise that this is a real memory. It could be a merging of different memories (or it might never have happened at all), but it is a memory of everything home ought to be. Many years later I’m in a bookshop (I’d like to say it was winter then too and that the divided-lite window of the little old bookshop was fogged up, but that would be pure fabrication) and I pick up a copy of the collected works of Philip Larkin. Flicking through it, I land on a poem called “Home Is So Sad”: A joyous shot at how things ought to be, / Long fallen wide. That joyous shot, that little house with the divided-lite window and the faulty dryer vent, fell wide. Or so I thought back then, when I was 16. Now I see things differently, now I see all the ways in which that little house made me.

Two years after the bookshop, your father and I meet in the laundry room on campus. He dumps his clothes straight from the washing machine to the dryer and thinks it’s silly the way I shake out each item as I transfer it. Every time I pass that room on the way to his apartment, I breath in deeply to smell the damp clothes and detergent.

You are still six years away and I’m living in Amsterdam, in a tiny apartment with no washing machine. It’s winter and I’m unemployed and depressed. So I stuff bags full of dirty clothes and spend an hour at the wasserij, writing in my diary or reading. Slowly, I’m soothed by words and the sound of industrial-sized laundry machines. The launderette is just round the corner. I could go home while my clothes are washing. I could even pay a little extra for the all-inclusive service. But I choose to sit in the launderette, trying to claw my way back to a sense of home.

Now you are just 10 weeks away and I live in a three-story house in Toronto. We have a whole room in the basement just for laundry. It’s utter luxury, but I miss the sound of tumbling clothes. Still, when I feel overwhelmed, I gather the dirty laundry from the places where it accumulates—the end of the bed, the bathroom floor, the cupboard in the hallway. A few hours later I’m sat on the bed, folding clean, dry clothes into piles.

Just the other day we raided a thrift store, your father and I, and left with arms full of onesies, small trousers, and cardigans. Back home, I sat on the bed, laying them out flat to admire their smallness. These clothes make you more real than any grainy scan or kick to the bladder. They make you the living, breathing, kicking baby who will fill these clothes; the baby who will lie on this bed as I try to wrestle tiny limbs into legs and sleeves; the baby who will puke and pee and poop, necessitating daily laundry loads. And I will carry you, carry baskets full of your clothes. I will wash you, washing baskets full of you, as an act of hope. As a joyous, joyous shot.

12 thoughts on “How to fold laundry”

  1. Nancy Crispin Cappallo

    I love this piece of writing. A favorite sentence is “These clothes make you more real than any grainy scan or kick to the bladder.” Naomi, your writing succeeds in calling up such wonderful images (and scents), especially for me, perhaps, and certainly puts a joyous shot right through my heart.

  2. Naomi, thanks for this piece. So good. Brought me back to when Ed was born. We were living in a apartment and I knew the laundromat well. I was not working, we had one car and frequented the thrift store for the coolest baby clothes we could find. Fond memories.

    1. Thanks 🙂 There’s definitely something to be said for simpler times. Not that I’m not very grateful for my washing machine now, especially with a baby!

  3. “I won’t promise that this is a real memory. It could be a merging of different memories (or it might never have happened at all), but it is a memory of everything home ought to be. ”
    My favourite bit of this piece Naomi. I like your use of brackets. I like the way you throw in that sense of blurring of a memory.

    I have Carol Ann Duffy’s “Before You Were Mine” in my head when I read piece: the intimacy of a dialogue between loved ones. I enjoyed reading this, thanks.

    1. Thank you for reading! I do love brackets 🙂 And I love that Carol Ann Duffy poem! I can see the resonance with my piece 🙂

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