In a little while I will leave the comfort of my home, drive to a nearby laundromat, enter the place and shove a load of wet clothes into a publicly accessible drying machine. I actually typed that without recoiling or bristling. Apparently I’m stepping down from my high horse and inhaling the smell of my own shit, finally.
I’ve been a homeowner for fourteen years and as such, we own our own washer and dryer, therefore I haven’t had a need for the use of public laundromats. When I was a single mother — living in various apartments, packing toys and books for my little girls, loading the car with sorted dirty clothes — jaunts to the laundromat was an almost weekly event. I hated it. It was tedious, exhausting and time consuming, and if it wasn’t for the kids I’d wear dirty clothes longer, but it had to be done. So I did it. As my life improved via better paying jobs and comfier homes, I left my laundromat days behind me.
How did I turn into a snob? How did a woman whose father snuck into her childhood bedroom regulary at night learn to look down on the less fortunate people of the world? I was the the same girl who once was forced to stay home from middle school an entire week because that same father gave her a black eye. How did I fashion snobbery out of such a life? My parents taught me well. Bless them, they were a mess, and they made a mess of me and my siblings too, how we saw the world and our place in it. We were the family who lived in that suburban house, with a modest little garden out front, fancy ceramic tiles on the floor inside, too many knick-knacks among the plastic covered, over-priced furniture and a stand-up piano near the couch.
As a family, we got dressed up and went out for the occasional dinners, sometimes attended church on Sundays, but visitors to our home were extremely rare. The patriarch, my father, was just a poor boy, abandoned by his mother at age eight, whipped repeatedly by a grandmother who hated him, and grew into a man torn by love and hatred for women. But more than anything, my father hungered for the good life of the American dream. Demons may have haunted him, but damned if he wasn’t going to have the best life had to offer; dammit, he would work his ass off and he would have all the accoutrements hardwork and success could buy. And yet those demons would not let him go.
My parents— mother was even poorer in girlhood than her husband — were complicit in constructing a facade of success and contented family. We learned to keep family secrets hidden and it behooved each of us to project our falsified sense of security and flaunt material accomplishments. To do that we learned to identify groups who looked less privileged, gazing haughtily down our nose at them. It was a smokescreen used to detract from our traumatic reality, lest neighbors get a whiff of what was really going on in our home.
For the last seven years, as I have learned to exist as a sober woman, without the balm of alcohol to smooth life’s rough edges, I have been forced to behold parts of me that I am not proud of. I started drinking when I was eighteen and did not stop until I was forty-three. There has been a lot of reprogramming going on in my brain, excorcising thoughts of vitriol, unlearning some rotten behaviors, and releasing unflattering attributes. I am a work in progress.
I am loving this new me, though. I spent enough years hating Maria, with all her conflicted other selves. As a family, during my childhood, we were all, each of us, hurt and lost children trapped in different skins. The tricky thing about sober living after drinking for so many years is, every day an alcoholic like me opens her eyes, she is picking up where she left off on learning how to live life anew.
Today I am grateful for the chance to be a better woman than the one I was yesterday and find blessings in places I used to overlook. A repair person will come to our home in a week or two and fix our broken dryer. In the meantime, rather than hiding out, hanging wet clothes over a tub, I get to practice a little humility as I return to the familiar routine of drying my panties in public. And really, at the end of the day, I finally realized, we’re all just humans, no different from one another, facing routines, triumphs, love and heartaches, getting through this life, hopefully applying what little wisdom we can discern.