The week before the pandemic closed Los Angeles, my dishwasher broke.
After years of recovery, I had developed the emotional maturity of being able to load the dishwasher once a day, run it at night, and unload it in the morning. The whole three-step system takes a total of 15 minutes, with no thoughts, no emotions involved in the process. Dishes are a generational source of self-flagellation in my family, so it’s freeing to press a button and walk away. It’s like dropping a rock; let go, let God, let GE.
When I was 16 and wasted, living in my mother's house with my 22-year-old boyfriend, I forgot to do the dishes. My mother had been gone on a work trip for the better half of the month, and I had been drunk or high the entire time. She arrived home in the ubiquitous LAX Shuttle and entered the kitchen where I stood, stoned, next to a sink full of dirty dishes. The sight threw her into a fit of rage, and she broke every dish in the house.
When my grandmother died, I was sent a box from her stash of most treasured belongings—a very special tea set brought from England to America during WW2. It was wrapped so carefully, and labelled so diligently, that I have never opened it. The box has been in the top of my closet for almost 20 years, dragged from house to house, in storage units, car trunks, never used in a game of tea party with my daughter, never held reverently, only to be rewrapped for another day and another trip down memory lane.
My grandmother once left my father’s New England home after a family lunch, and was two hours and countless miles down the road to her summer place in Florida - or so we thought - until there was a knock at the door. She had left behind an opened box of wine in the fridge, and she was back for it. I’m guessing she was somewhere near Connecticut when she got thirsty. I don’t need to touch those tea dishes; what my grandmother passed on to me came through her DNA, an inherited worship of shitty Chablis.
When I had my daughter, I would wash the dishes obsessively. If I could just clean all the bottles, I would be prepared for motherhood. If I could keep the sink shiny and bleached, she would stay healthy. If I could cook meals with lots of pots and pans to scrub, I could ignore the emotional anorexia of my marriage. If I could just stand at the sink a little longer, staring out into the backyard, smelling the orange tree and watching the cat twitch her ears in the breeze, I could feel free, and not weighed down on a cellular level. The dishes were my proof that I was a good girl, I was a good mother, I was a good wife, I was good, I was good, I was good.
When the marriage ended two years later, and I was on my own with this tiny person looking at me to fill her every need for attention and affection, I had to create a solitary cell of safe space. In this anemic apartment, the kitchen sink was against a sad, beige wall. No backyard window, no view. So I pieced together a collage of quotes, old cards, my daughter's drawings, and reminders of god, in one shape or another. When things got too loud in my head, and the single-parent pressure so heavy on my shoulders, I would stand at the sink, soaping the snack boxes and endless sippy cups, and I would remind myself, this too shall pass, this stage, this week, this loneliness, this sadness, this grief. It would all pass. I would refuel myself from the visual paper shrine of divine love, so when the dishes were done, and I was recharged and right-sized, I could rejoin her princess parade, and be present. I had left all my worries in the sink.
My daughter was turning 5, and we moved again to a bigger place, across the street from her new school, with a pool, a microwave, and a dishwasher. A dishwasher. How could I trust it? How would I be able to just casually put dirty glasses in and trust they would come out in one piece? What if I chose the wrong soap tablets? What if I loaded it too heavy on one side? How could I put faith into something I didn't understand? If I could just stand there alone, arms in the sink, and scrub it myself, it would get done properly. And so what if I missed out on an elmo story, the dishes needed to get done. And yes, self care is important, but I can’t take 20 minutes to meditate; I need to do the dishes. You really expect me to turn all this over to this block of plastic under my sink?
It took time. It took trying three different soap tablets to find the one that worked for me. Some pots do still need to be cleaned by hand. I’ve stopped abusing plastic Tupperware and stick with glass instead. And yes, sometimes a plate breaks, but that's usually as I am squeezing it too hard with slippery hands. When I pack the dishwasher too tight with every last possible thing, nothing gets clean, just showered with a half-assed rinse. I have learned to leave space for things to get proper attention. If I leave a sharp knife tip up at night, I will forget, and stab myself in the morning. So it’s best to end the day with everything pointed in the right direction.
And then the dishwasher broke mid-March. It was hard. I got back into my martyr stance, of sure, I can just do everything. Let me homeschool, let me sit for hours on the phone with unemployment, let me go to 5 zoom meetings a week, let me just do everything. No problem. I can stalk the online grocery windows, I can cook 3 meals and 2 snacks a day, I can wash all the resulting dishes. I can do everything, I can do anything. I had completely forgotten my square hunk of humility under the counter.
I want my fucking dishwasher back. I want to turn it over—this one task, this one thing off my plate. Literally. Because I don’t want to be in charge, I will never achieve “good,” I do not want to ‘perfect’ myself into having to take a drink to get some relief. I have no work, I have no income; financially, I would have to turn around for half a box of wine.
You know what fits perfectly in an empty dishwasher? An abundance of paper towels.
I have enough paper towels stashed in there, that if a friend is struggling to find some for her family, I can give her a roll or two. I have used a couple to soak in ice water for a post-yoga face mask. I have used them to clean up cake mix after baking my ex a quarantine birthday cake. I have helped my daughter complete fun art projects, getting messy together. My dishwasher is absolutely packed with rolls of paper towels; I have enough for myself, enough to pass on.
Let go, let God, let GE.