I had forgotten they were in there. Actually, I had forgotten that I had them at all.
Last night, as my parents and I were rushing around, trying to save and dry what we could after yet another basement flood (in a different spot this time), my mother came across an old laundry bag filled with stuff. I’d known it was there, of course, and I knew that it had some old clothes in it – some mine, some my husband’s – but it had been stuffed in a corner, only to be soaked in water some ten years after I’d put it there when we moved into this house.
It was one of those things I had been putting off going through all of these years. I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason why my garage and my storage area are always disaster areas is because every time I try to clean them out, it’s like a minefield of memories.
And so I avoid doing it as much as I can.
“I just want to warn you,” my mother said as we rushed around last night, “that there was a lot of Brad’s stuff in that bag. I’ve laid it all out on the front porch so it can dry out and I’ve put some stuff in the washing machine.”
“Okay,” I said and then quickly moved on to the million things that needed to be done in that moment.
This morning I woke up to piles of laundry around my bed, the result of being gone with the kids for a week to my grandmother’s funeral in Louisiana. Exhausted, I hauled myself to my feet to start a load. And when I opened my dryer, it was like a time capsule.
I pulled out at least eight pairs of my husband’s old military socks and two sets of camouflage uniforms. I did it slowly, almost savoring the moment, allowing myself the brief fantasy that this was real – that I was really doing his laundry. I ran my fingers over the badges that had been sewed onto the shirt and then hugged it to my body, willing the empty shell to fill with the form I’ve missed holding onto for so long.
Never before have I enjoyed folding clothes so much. I carefully creased his pants, pretending that I was putting them away to iron later (which was kind of silly because he always did his own ironing). I paired his socks like I was about to put them back in the drawer in the closet that became mine seven years ago. I closed my eyes for just a moment.
And I pretended I was living a different life.
I don’t do that often. I’m firmly entrenched in the life I have going on right now. And it’s a good one.
But I’d be lying if I said there weren’t moments – split seconds really – where I allow myself the fantasy that things are different. And by that I mean, that things had never changed.
There are times when I’m in my car and I pretend Brad is home waiting for me. Or I’ll have a conversation in my head because I’d like to think I’d know what joke he would make about some situation or pretend that he’s providing a voice of reason when I need it the most. It’s not often, but it happens.
It’s just never been so tangible before – like I’m actually holding time in my hands. I swear that if it didn’t mean adding to all of the laundry I already have to do, I’d start washing some of his old clothes all over again. I’m envisioning writing “play pretend” on my calendar every Friday at 2 PM when I’ll go up to my laundry area and fold those just-from-the dryer-clothes over and over.
And just be in that moment.
When I’ve talked to groups about my book, many times the people I’m talking to aren’t actually widows. Sometimes people will say to me in surprise, “I really enjoyed your book” almost as if they don’t understand why because they’ve never lost a spouse.
I always explain to them that the reason why they enjoyed it is because they actually do relate to it – that not one of us is probably living the life we pictured we would when we were young. Things happen that shape us into who we are and many times experience comes from situations beyond our control.
I think of so many of my friends who have gone through changes in life or have dealt with things they wish they could change but they can’t and I wonder if they have those moments when they pretend, too. Maybe it’s not a “laundry moment” but something else that catches them by surprise and allows them that brief moment of escape.
It can’t last forever, this pretend game. Otherwise men in white coats might come take you away. And, really – it wouldn’t be as special if it did.
It’s just that second. When you take a deep breath all the way down to the bottom of your lungs and close your eyes, holding onto that moment and the overall feeling that comes over you that’s almost impossible to explain. It’s like coming home for a second, this flash of elation and recognition.
It’s more powerful than a wish…because in that moment it’s real.
Then you open your eyes.
And breathe this life in again.