by Cheryl Anne Tuggle
It’s been a long time since I needed a laundromat. And I wouldn’t need one now if I hadn’t realized yesterday that the comforter in the upstairs guest bedroom hasn’t been cleaned in a while. I took it to the dry cleaner’s but quickly left again, dazed and still holding my comforter, when the clerk quoted the price—far too high for a service I could easily handle myself with a triple-load washer. But where, in a town (a part of the country, really) where everyone owns a washing machine, and if not a dryer, at least a clothesline, do you find a laundromat with a triple-load washer? It was a burning question, so I called my priest. He’s a wise man. Also, he lives in Ash Grove, where on drives to church I recalled seeing a laundromat. (Our church sits on land our priest and his wife gifted to the parish, part of a farm passed down to Father Moses through his father’s family, who were the descendants of slaves.)
The Ash Grove laundromat, Father Moses said, is now a lawnmower shop (a business more generally needed these days, I suppose, along with washing machine repair) and gave me directions to a different one that turned out to be only a short drive from where I live.
So here I am in a Springfield laundromat, watching the comforter do a sudsy twirl, and the place is empty. I am alone and free to observe. To ponder. The smell of powdered laundry soap, old metal and old tile, the sight of the wheel-around baskets and the years-old magazines scattered across a counter—it all has a kind of strange poignancy to it, and gives me a feeling much stronger and less plain than nostalgia. Although I am old enough to remember places like this when they were in full daily use, this is more a sense of having entered a different, and important, dimension, a feeling so odd and sharp it is almost eerie, in a time-travel, sci-fi way.
For the first time while pondering all this from my bench, I happen to glance up and read one of the signs that are posted around the interior, there are at least two on every wall. Some are threats, and some are blessings. The contrast is jarring. On one wall is a chalkboard on which is scrawled, in hopeful, looping cursive handwriting, a scripture from Jeremiah about trusting in the Lord. Above it, a camera points directly at the bench where I am sitting. Next to the camera, a less hopefully-written sign reminds me that I am being filmed, and that if I should take a notion to carve my name into a bench or jam something that is not coin into a machine, I will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Another of the signs is reminder to the homeless people who frequent this part of town that the building is open only to paying customers. There is no attendant on duty to enforce this block-lettered policy, however. There is only that camera.
Here in this strange place of past and present, of blessings and curses, where I am alone with my thoughts in a way not often experienced, I get a most sudden and unique glimmer of understanding, the quickest flash of an idea. Having experienced less mystical flashes, those that have to do with the stories I write, I know how quickly they can evaporate and hunt for pen and paper, hoping to record it before it dissipates. Instead I discover that I’m in a rare state, that of being without a writer’s essentials. There is not a single scrap of clean paper in this place (even the bathroom is out of tissue), nothing to write on at all, except the wall or this bench, and I am not about to be arrested for vandalism. This empty-handedness, I decide, is fitting. Because the glimmer I’m trying to record has to do with a vacancy in my soul. I think I can see, almost, the length and measurement of the space that I, who have only limited flexibility, am attempting to straddle, the one Saint Sophrony and others speak about, the chasm that keeps my mind and my heart from being one. It is from this wide, great divide that I, too, utter blessings that are for others curses. It is from this place that I tend to turn backward and crane my neck into the past, hoping what I see there will somehow light my way in the present. It is also from this place that I revel in my aloneness, becoming colder and more indifferent to the homelessness in the heart of my neighbor.
If this seems a bleak glimmer, a morbid sort of insight, I assure you it is not. Indeed, it is such a happy thought that I almost leap from my bench in the joy of it. I feel like spinning and twirling the way my clean comforter is doing, now, in the dryer. Hope is a feathered thing, I remember, and believe that what has just hatched in my chest beats with wings eternal.
Because, you see, I don’t expect that by understanding that my soul is sick, void of the humility and love that would fill and heal the wounded, vacant space, I’ve become instantly well. No, that’s not where the joy comes from. The joy springs from the certainty that I am receiving the right care and medication. I have the best treatment available in all the world for my condition.
That phone call I made to my priest that led me to this laundromat? Well, he’s a good doctor, and as it happened, that call also led to my partaking of the Sacrament of Confession. Or, as I like to think of it, a triple-load washer for the soul.
*Thank you for reading! Soon I’ll be posting at my new author website: cherylannetuggle.com. I’d love to have you visit me there. (If you’d like to share this post, please scroll past the ads.)