The Washcloth’s Volume

Rated PG

My first wife and I did not get along well. It was just that way. We were two different people.

She and I spent almost a year in marriage counseling prior to our separation and divorce. During the counseling, I learned that I am a “fixer.” I want to fix other people’s problems, even at the expense of my own concerns.

During our marriage, being both an introvert and a “fixer,” I did my best to get along. I didn’t know it at the time but the independent cat in me should not be wearing that yes-man, whatever-you-say, dog costume.

I have very good spacial relationship skills. I’m lousy with human relationships, but darn good with sizes and spaces. Show me a sofa and an empty room, and I can tell you immediately where it will fit. That doesn’t mean I have a flair for design. I simply know it cannot go against that wall, no matter how much you think it can squeeze in.

We had been married for about five years. We owned the little house we lived in. She decided she wanted to purchase a second one. Some grand illusion about becoming land owners, landlords, whatever. I didn’t think it was a good idea but, “Sure, whatever makes you happy.”

We moved into the second house after a great deal of back braking work on my part, but that’s another story. Having gotten one of the back rooms all fixed up to handle all our laundry needs, we were starting to settle in.

One day after doing some laundry, I was in the back room folding clothes and putting them away. She walked in. I happened to be folding a washcloth. I folded it the way I always had done, the way my mother taught me, in half, and half again to make a square. I placed the folded washcloth in a drawer that she had designated for them.

She said, “Don’t do it that way.” I asked, “Why?” She began to explain that if I folded it in half, I could put two side by side but they would be half as thick, so I could stack them four high. A total of eight in the tiny drawer. I tried to explain that a washcloth is a washcloth. Volume is volume. If I folded them in squares, I could put four across the bottom of the drawer, two high. The same number. Heck, I could scrunch them up and the drawer would still hold the same amount.

It didn’t matter. She couldn’t see it. She was absolutely convinced that her folding technique would somehow magically allow more washcloths to fit in the drawer. “Okay. Sure, whatever makes you happy.” Life went forward as I adopted her washcloth folding technique.

Flash forward a few years. We were in marriage counseling. Our child was on the way. She was in nesting mode, so I was catching a lot of hell. My Mom had come over to help me do some general housework, to lighten my load. What a saint.

We were doing laundry and Mom began to fold a washcloth the way she always had, the way she taught me. I stopped her. “Oh no, that will never do.” She asked, “Why not?” I tried to explain, “Well… You see… Well… Umm… I’ll just catch a lot of hell for it.” I then proceeded to explain how things needed to go into certain drawers certain ways, and that these things here cannot possibly go there, and those things there cannot possibly go here. Not because they couldn’t, but because my ex didn’t like it any other way.

At first my Mom’s face had a puzzled look, which gave away to an expression of concern. But she let it go and followed my instructions as they had been handed down to me.

Years later, after my first divorce, as Mom was coming to her last years, she relayed some stories to me. One of them was how loudly the washcloth spoke to her. She felt for me. Mothers do that for their children. But she explained that she felt for me beyond the care of a mother for a child. She didn’t think anyone should have to live like that. That there has to be more give-and-take, more flexibility, especially about things as simple as how to fold a washcloth. What does it matter if it is folded one way by one person and another way by someone else, as long as they are clean, and dry, and put away?

There can be a lot of volume from a washcloth.

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