When I was eight or nine years old, I learned how to iron. I recognized it for what it was: a rite of passage into womanhood, and also an additional, unending chore that I would start that day and never, ever finish.
"We'll start with pillowcases," my mom declared, handing me a freshly laundered stack. This is how I grew up: No matter what was going on in our lives, we placed our heads on starched pillowcases each night. My mother was from Detroit; for long years, I entertained the idea that this was the typical behavior for people from Detroit. It was comforting to think of an entire city slowing down each night so the women could iron in the luminescent glow of the television.
Beginning that day, I started ironing just about everything, down to my t-shirts and tank tops. Like my mother, I didn't see wrinkles as a natural state. I saw them as an abomination.
The late '80s was a time of starched shirtdresses, and I came of age at just the right time. My first real job? Ironing clothes for a woman down the street whose entire wardrobe was 100% cotton right out of the Spiegel catalog.
I brought a miniature iron and ironing board with me to college and used them fairly often, at least my first year in the dorm before I shed cute lacy blouses for borrowed flannels. My roommates must have seen me as an oddity -- Sarah unpacked not an ironing board but a full-sized playground swing, which we hung from our loft. Others contributed an espresso machine and about five million packets of Kool-Aid.
When I met Will, it was safe to say he had never ironed anything. Once, on a dress-up occasion, he arrived wearing a new shirt. He'd removed the pins and the cardboard collar form, but hadn't bothered to launder or iron the shirt. "Do you like?" he asked, turning in a slow circle. There were so many stiff creases in odd places that he could have stood in for the Tin Man.
I sighed, already manuevering the ironing board out of the hall closet, and ordered him to strip.
These days, the ironing board is a permanent fixture in our lives. We have an office with a desktop computer that we never use, and instead, we more or less use the space as a laundry room. I hang clothes to dry in there, and Will douses his work clothes with liberal sprays of Wrinkle Release -- but still, we vie for use of the iron in the mornings, never seeming to plan far enough ahead to iron for more than a day at a time. It's not unusual for us to argue over who needs the iron first, who needs it more, etc.
There is no sedate ironing in front of the evening's reality shows; no I'll-iron-it-on-the-off-chance-I'll-dress-up-this-week. The chore I once learned with pride has become just a chore. Most weekends, in fact, I refuse to iron at all.
And the pillowcases? Sorry, Mom -- they're wrinkled as anything.
Will doesn't mean to cough so loudly, or so often.
That's what he tells me, anyway.
It seems curious that a person would have to cough with such regularity (every two minutes or so) and at such fantastic volume.
"Be reasonable," I plead with him.
"I'm sick!" he replies.
It seems like we are talking about two different things.
* * *
We have arranged to have the interior trim of our house painted, which amounts to a dozen doors, window casings and lots of 1940s-style molding. "It's probably best for me to take the doors off, sand them down and paint them. Maybe I could do that in your garage?" Dave, house painter extraordinaire, asks.
"Um," I say. "That might not work."
"Why? Do you have a lot of stuff in there?"
I consider. "Have you ever seen Hoarders?"
He laughs. "Well... let's see. I could take the doors off, bring them back to my place, and work on them there."
We shake on it. The doors removed, our house has a strange, echoey sound to it. I'm not particularly bothered that the mess in my hall closet, where I store our extra toiletries, is on display. It's actually kind of nice to wake up in the morning and be able to look directly into our walk-in closet. But it's somewhat disturbing to go through life sans a bathroom door. (Read here for more on my feelings about bathroom etiquette.)
Will and I have taken to announcing when we'll be in the bathroom, turning up the volume on the TV when necessary, and using the restrooms at our respective places of employment.
It's only temporary, thank goodness. And sort of an adventure -- the closest I'll probably come to camping.
* * *
For Christmas, Will bought me noise-cancelling headphones. I'd requested them, mainly because I do the majority of my writing in public places, and I like to be able to drown out some sounds. Also, no doubt because they don't know me, random people like to strike up conversations with me about the weather, their grandchildren and their parole issues. I love to be able to point apologetically to my headphones and shrug. Whoops -- I missed what you said, and sorry, I'm not taking off my headphones.
They work marvelously.
And they've arrived at just the right time, since at this exact moment Will is in the bathroom, hacking away.
1. I just took three Advil. I feel pain; therefore, I am.
2. Library books returned, $16 fine paid, audio book of David Copperfield renewed.
3. My dog has been spotted in my neighborhood with a blonde woman in fake UGGs.
4. Persistent Starbucks charges on debit card totaling $4.35.
5. Long hair in the sink, tub and drain.
6. 92-point word, JUTES, played against my father.
7. Name paged over intercom at work repeatedly during 5-minute passing period.
8. Someone "window shopping" on www.ruelala.com routinely fills my shopping cart with size 9 shoes.
9. Folded laundry, paired socks.
10. Novel manuscript continues to grow, little by little. Currently: 105,000 words.
Paula Treick DeBoard