I once asked a friend who works at the post office why there are so many rage shootings at her organization. She thought about it for a moment and then said, “No matter how hard you work, the mail keeps coming. It’s like you climb to the top of a mountain daily, only to find another mountain on top of that one. It can drive you crazy.”
I didn’t truly grasp the frustration of that metaphor until I moved in with my spouse and her two teenaged sons and encountered their laundry room.
When I first moved in, she was living in a house with a large laundry room in the basement. It was fed through a chute from the first floor, which constantly belched out damp towels, bed linens, jeans, and undergarments.
During the months that we dated, she skillfully kept me from visiting this room, which was cordoned off in a dark, foreboding corner of the home’s crypt.
But on the day I moved in, I foolishly asked: “Is there anything I can do to help around the house?” Slowly, a dark grin materialized on her formerly unthreatening face.
“Yes. You can do the laundry.” And then she led me to the room that would forever after be known as My Struggle, which, like the Karl Ove Knausgaard novel of the same name, is a testament to how the tediousness of everyday activity can crush your soul.
I only have a sense memory of the moment I first entered that room. It so traumatized me that I’ve blocked out most of the experience. What I remember feeling is that this room was a sordid sex dungeon for clothes, towels, and socks. It’s where these items went to breed and produce mountains of dirty fabric all wailing to be cleaned and fluffed.
I remember standing in a corner of the room, staring incredulously at the work in front of me.
“When’s the last time you did laundry?” I asked. She was a single mom, so I assumed she just wasn’t able to keep up with it, and this was a few weeks of laundry build-up.
“Yesterday,” she said, leaving me alone to deal with this nightmare.
As I began shoveling fabric into the washer, I heard a sinister rumble. I turned in terror to see the laundry chute vomiting out a bundle of soiled sheets. This happened throughout the day, usually just as I took what I thought was the final load out of the dryer.
It took me eight hours that first day to complete the laundry. I surveyed the now empty room with exhaustion and delight. I turned smugly toward the now quiet laundry chute and gave it the finger. And then I summoned my spouse to show her of my triumph.
She looked around the room coolly, and then her gaze fell expertly on the chute. “You’d better check that piece of fabric hanging from the laundry chute.”
I walked up to the fabric apprehensively. My first thought was that it was a piece of a bed sheet that had gotten snagged on its journey down the chute. But when I gave it a good tug, it unleashed an avalanche. Dozens of garments that had been trapped in the chute came raining down and buried me.
I lay under the dank fabric and I wept. I cried for my old life, when it took me only a couple hours each week to wash my laundry. I cried for my innocent, carefree past, when I didn’t realize that my greatest enemy would be a metal cylinder that allowed teenagers to easily terrorize me by dropping piles of filthy T-shirts on me from the safety of the first floor.
My spouse gently stroked my hair as I wept. “Welcome to parenting. Just be glad you missed the diaper years.”