Et tu, laundromat?

Thoughts on laundry, friendship, betrayal, and bats

The thought of doing laundry occurred to me as I stared at the pipes running along the ceiling of my room. The pipes were painted white, but there was an occasional chip in the paint and you could see the silver metal underneath. There were 3 pipes, running parallel to one another; the third was longer than the other two.

Most days, plumbing does not fascinate me.

Most days, I do not lie on my bed, shuffling the loose change in my pocket, while looking at the ceiling.

Most days, I am not heartbroken.

This is not about a college romance ending. For that, there is a protocol: a Spotify playlist to play, a book of poetry—Black Cat Bone being my current favourite—to read, a walk to take. That is not as bad as this.

Because love stories are meant to end, but friendships are meant to last.

As I lay on my bed thinking of friends leaving and betrayal, I remembered the story of Caesar and Brutus. And having gone over the story in my head, I reexamined my situation and thought—this in an effort to cheer myself—it could have been worse. Like Caeser I could have been dethroned and knifed and dead. Instead, I was only hurting in my mind. And I had no stab wounds either.

This reasoning made me smile a little. “Lucky we’re not in Rome right?” I said to myself, “And that there aren’t any sharp knives around.” I smiled wider.

Talking to yourself is weird. But it helps. And after narrating the Brutus-Caesar saga to myself and making a few desultory jokes, I was almost ready to get out of bed and stop moping. But somewhere in the middle of these recollections came another one: I remembered Caesar’s last line, “Et tu, Brute?” and the question and the emotion and the recognition just knocked me right back.

Historians don’t know if those were Caesar’s last words, but they could have been—and Shakespeare’s line tells the tale: When the only thing Caesar trusted in a crumbling world fell apart, Caesar too fell apart.

And now, remembering the full story, everything came tumbling down. I returned to thinking about the conversation with my friend and felt the words cut me again: “ You are so frivolous sometimes…not around…we don’t even have that much in common.” Each recollection hurt and I could feel my eyes getting warm and wet. As I blinked, I saw, across the room, my full laundry basket.

That was it. I needed something to do, to keep me occupied. Thinking would just make it worse. So I rolled out of bed, grabbed my laundry basket and the bright orange bottle of Tide from my closet and dashed out of my room.

Well. When I say “dashed” I am referring to the broad sentiment: the feeling of urgency rather than say, a practical demonstration of it. Because I didn’t actually run out of my room. I moved slowly out into the hallway. And I didn’t lift my laundry basket; I dragged it behind me like a caveman bringing back the dead corpse of his prey. This slowed me down even more. These details are important.

Returning to the narration: I am in the hallway, I am dragging my full laundry basket behind me, I pass one door, then two, then three—I am almost at the end of the hallway—and then I see it. A large hand-drawn poster taped to the door of a dorm room.

The poster reads: “Welcome back to Brown Connor*.” Next to the text is a big red heart and below it the Brown insignia. Valentine’s Day weekend was coming up and I was living in a hallway full of seniors; I figured Conor was a recent graduate who was returning to campus to meet his girlfriend.

I was about to start dragging my laundry basket, when a glint caught my eye. There was a little plastic bag attached to the poster and it was full of something shiny. Was it candy? Hershey’s Kisses? I walked closer and found myself staring at several Trojan condoms of both the lubricated and unlubricated variety.

After the initial surprise, I agreed with the artistic decision. Sometimes, you have to throw subtlety to the wind and just tell it like it is.

Having examined the poster from close quarters, and having approved of it, I was about to return to my abandoned laundry basket, when I discovered another overlooked detail: The original Brown seal is broken into quadrants and each quadrant has the image of an open book. However, the Brown shield drawn in the poster differed from the traditional shield in this aspect: Instead of four identical books, each quadrant had a drawing of a penis.

These penises were not your standard textbook illustrations; no, they had been drawn free-hand and each was strangely and uniquely contorted as if doing yoga—I almost swore celibacy when I first saw them. The first penis was slanting upward, like a sunflower, except, well, it was not a sunflower. The second was bent in the middle at a sharp perpendicular; it was painful to even contemplate. The third was exceptionally hirsute: The artist had drawn several small vertical lines at the base to proxy hair; the attempt had been unsuccessful and luckily none of the other drawings shared this additional flourish. The fourth drooped, like, well, a wilted sunflower.

And now the story I had been constructing in my head was complete: I imagined the mysterious Connor arriving back to Brown. He would step into the hallway, carrying his overnight bag. He would see the poster and drop his bag in surprise. Stepping closer to examine it, he would smile at the shaky heart drawing and the packet of condoms, perhaps even laugh. And then, like me, he would see the Brown seal and the penises. His smile would disappear, his brow would crease, he would knock loudly on the door, and seeing his girlfriend after months of absence, his first words would be, ” How could you?” She would feign confusion. He would repeat, ” How could you? After knowing me, intimately, me for this long, how could you make…me look like that?” She would apologize. He would not be mollified. ” That’s not even anatomically possible,” he would shout and taking another look at the grotesque creations he would collapse, right there, in the hallway.

And that would be the end of another love story.

I returned to my laundry basket feeling much happier. As I descended to the basement, taking one stair at a time, I made a mental note to be on the lookout for Connor’s arrival the coming weekend.

When I walked down the final flight of stairs, into the basement, I noticed a yellow sign ahead of me: The sort they use to warn you about wet floors and other life-threatening conditions. There was a sheet of paper taped to the warning sign. On it, someone had scrawled with a blue marker: “Caution! Do not enter the laundry room there is a live/dying bat in there :(“

Again I saw exactly what had happened: Someone had been tripping. Hard. In this state of induced influence they had wandered down to the basement and had seen things in the shadows that existed only in their imagination. They had suffered and left behind a warning for others.

I sighed. First the penis-poster, then this imaginary bat-alert; I was becoming concerned about the future of Brown. To say nothing of the declining state of penmanship.

After enjoying the moment of fake-despair, I decided to return to my laundry, which had been sadly neglected ever since I stepped out of my room. I opened the door of the laundromat and found myself looking into the dark eyes of a live, dying bat.

I slammed the door shut.

I had—at no point so far—considered the possibility that there was a bat in the laundry room. There were three doors between the entrance to the residence hall and the laundry room. A bat—no matter how enterprising—would have to get past all three doors: while it could get past one by chance, maybe two if it was lucky; getting past all three? Forgetaboutit.

And yet, there was a bat in the laundry room. This was undeniable. Clearly, I reasoned, the bat being in the laundry room was not mere chance; it was part of some larger plan in which the bat and I were just pawns. I opened the door slowly and peered inside. The bat was still on the floor: its brown wings folded, its stub nose pointed to the ground, its eyes looking right at me. “I am dying in my own stench,” they seemed to say. “I will not let you enter and you too will live in your own stench.”

I closed the door and leaned against the cold metal. I needed to think of my next move. The safest thing to do would be to go back to my room and do laundry another day. I stared at the laundry basket. I didn’t want to drag it all the way back up. And then something in me snapped. It had been a trying day: my friend leaving, the penis drawings, and now a dying bat at the threshold of the laundromat. I just wanted clean underwear and happiness. And I was going to have it.

I pulled the door open with one hand and hauled my laundry basket in.

The bat didn’t move.

I threw my clothes into the washer, poured Tide into the machine, swiped my Brown ID to get it started, and left the laundromat with my laundry basket.

The bat still hadn’t moved.

I ran up the stairs, feeling victorious. The sense of elation lasted till I crossed the penis-poster on my way back and inadvertently looked at the drawings again. It was the stuff of nightmares. Seeing the poster again, however, reminded me of my freshman year at Brown: I was afraid that I’d know no one well and my birthday, in the middle of September, would pass unnoticed. And when my birthday came, I went to breakfast in the V-Dub and waved to a dozen people, but no one said anything. When I returned to my room, after having eaten an extra pancake, I found my door had been completely covered in purple and green gift-paper that had the words “Happy Birthday” printed on it, over and over and over.

I walked into my room and imagined the bare walls being wallpapered green and purple. I lay down on my bed and thought of where I’d place a hand-drawn poster with hand-drawn hearts. I closed my eyes and saw Caesar, white robed, shaking hands with Brutus. I saw Brutus hugging Caesar. I saw a drawing of a sunflower, wilted. I saw my Google Calendar—blue, orange, red—and a day that I had tried to delete.

I woke with the timer ringing next to my ear. I reached out and shut it. Blinking uncomfortably, I put on my shoes, grabbed my wallet, and set out, once again, for the laundry room. This time I exited the hallway the other way.

I ran down the stairs, taking two at a time, to the basement. The bat hadn’t moved, but its eyes were still on me. I ignored it and took my wet clothes out of the washer. I turned to put them in the free dryer, but found that it was not empty.

The clothes in the dryer looked laundered and I assumed their owner would be coming to collect them soon. I decided to wait. Five minutes passed. Then ten. When 15 minutes later no one had come to claim the clothes, I decided to take them out myself.

When I was young I ate all my meals like this: I would take my steel fork and slowly, when my mother wasn’t looking, push the vegetables—okra, carrots, peas—to the corner of the porcelain plate.

I wrapped my hand in a wet towel and slowly started pushing the stranger’s Hanes white underwear to the corner of the dryer.

I would then eat everything else.

I removed everything else from the dryer.

When only the vegetables, in the corner, were left, I would push my chair slightly back and look around the dining room.

With only the underwear, in the corner, left, I took a step back and pulled out my phone to look at the time.

What we were both doing in those moments of delay was waiting to be saved. And between the ages of six and ten, what I was really doing was waiting for Superman.

I imagined him breaking through the dining room wall, a blur of red and blue, his eye-lasers turning the vegetables in my plate into ashes, flying off before Mom could catch him. However, I didn’t believe in heroes anymore and settled instead for waiting for the damn fool who’d forgotten his laundry to come and get it.

As I waited, my eyes wandered around the laundry room and fell upon the bat—for a moment I’d forgotten about it. It didn’t seem so sinister now. I idly wondered if it too was waiting for Superman. And then, as its eyes turned on me, a terrifying thought: Did it think that was me? I felt a frisson of fear and the hair on my arms prickled. I turned back to the dryer, but could still feel its presence. And then, a moment later, another thought: Maybe I should try to save the bat.

I went in search for my CA. He wasn’t in his room or the kitchen. I then went to the custodian’s room, on the other side of the building, and knocked on the metal door till my knuckles hurt. There was no response. I dialled EMS, but cut the call when the ring started going.

I returned to the laundry room. The underwear in the dryer and the laundered clothes were gone, but the bat was still there. I put my wet clothes into the dryer and started it. The machine’s vibrations shook the room. I leaned against a washer and looked at the bat from the corner of my eye. I felt guilt. I told myself that I had done all I could. But I knew that was a lie. I knew that I was too scared of being bitten to pick the bat up and take it outside. I knew that my actions were not that of a hero.

Unable to help and unable to leave, I stood there in the laundry room with the whirring of the dryer in the background. I thought about my day. I thought about the poster and how I wanted someone to make me one like that, perhaps without—or, honestly, even with. I thought about my friend leaving and wondered if I could do anything about it. I thought about Caesar and Brutus and unhappy endings. Then I  looked at the bat, caught all alone, and said that I was sorry.

And in a dark room, with a dying bat that I couldn’t save, I thought that I wasn’t the friend or the lover or the hero that anyone wanted me to be. But I wasn’t done trying.