As I return to the Laundry Depot, my stomach clenches. Standing in the entry way are two young people with all the signs of homelessness. They are dressed for the cold. Hoodies peek out of heavy jackets. They also are wearing scarves, mittens and stocking hats. Two black garbage bags accompany overstuffed backpacks. I can feel their eyes on me as I approach the establishment. As our eyes meet, I see frizzy blonde hair and a toothy smile.
“Wow! What a colorful headband. I like your headband!” The young woman says. The voice is high and sweet. Innocently so, my teacher brain recognizes this.
“Good morning, thank you so much.” I stammer and head in to check my laundry.
I am instantly re-calibrated. For eight weeks my life has been chaos. Self-inflicted. We still live out of the suitcases we packed on July 19th in Hiroshima. To stay out of the way of painters, electricians, carpet layers, and the contractor, we move our things from room to room. Currently my kitchen is in the bathroom.
This morning as I lugged my laundry to the car, through the garage, because we have no front door, I fume. I berate myself for not being more assertive in this remodeling project. Second guessing every decision made since July 28th sends me down the rabbit hole. The beauty of the autumn morning goes unnoticed. The school zone I creep through only adds to my foul mood. It reminds me of the career I loved and don’t have.
Re-calibrated. The seventeen minutes on the washer gives me time to take deep breaths. I watch the couple on the street. The big front windows give space for context and detail. The young woman is looking at the day breaking. The foothills are magnificently golden. The gentleman with her is fumbling with a rope, the bulging garbage bag and his pack.
I am not alone in the Laundromat. A man my age is moving his things from the washer to the dryer. He then walks out to a big fancy car, gets something out of the back. My stomach tightens as he approaches the couple. Its then I see an outreached hand with some cash. I wish I could hear what they are saying. He points north and shakes their hands. As he returns to his dryer, I say, “That was very nice.”
“I’ve been there, you know. It’s hard. It’s really hard.” And he turns back to his dryer.
No. I don’t know. I have always had a safety net.
As the laundry swirls so do my guts. What should I do? Can do? Will do?
I look out at the frosty foothills. My car is packed. It is stuffed with good will donations, valuables and returnables. The roll of quarters (minus three dollars and seventy-five cents) heavily hangs in the corner of my pocket. In Japan my wallet would be full of cash. Here in America the folds are empty.
BIZZZZZT. My clothes are clean. I drag them from the washer to my basket. The paint is still on my jeans, but they are clean. I wish the man a good day and thank him for making my day brighter.
With the over full basket of wet clothes, I leave. Heart pounding (why is it pounding?) I walk over to the smiling, parka clad young woman. Her pack is almost as big as she is.
“I am sorry this is all I have.” I say.
Immediate fear overshadows her face. “I am not begging! I didn’t ask for money!” she says, voice trembling.
I soften my voice to reassure. “I know. I want you to have it. Sorry it’s not more.”
Scurrying to my car, I almost spill my laundry. I throw the basket in the back. The last thing I see as I drive away is the young woman standing there watching me.