The street next to my house has a sidewalk until it just doesn’t have a sidewalk anymore. You walk down the street thinking everything’s fine, and then you’re plopped out into traffic, next to the cars, wondering what the hell happened and who got to decide that this is where you have to cross the road.
I’ve lived here for a year and a half and I’m still surprised when the concrete cuts out from under my feet.
But I can tell you now, safely away from actually experiencing it, that it’s directly across from the laundromat, where I go to have other people wash my things because I am extraordinarily lazy and it’s strangely cost-effective. And though we are on the eve of a snowstorm, I dropped off my winter coat today to have it washed.
“It says not to dry-clean it, but to wash it with delicates,” I said. It’s a family-run business and only one family member speaks fluent English. This was not the one.
“So you want wash,” she asked me, pointing at my feet, where, presumably, more things to be washed were stashed.
“Yes, but I don’t have any other things to be washed, is it OK?” I wish more than any other wishes to be able to speak all the languages there ever were. Unassumingly. Just start speaking the language that’s needed, like a superhero of communication. Instead, when I can’t speak the right language, I also stop speaking my own native tongue and sound like a foreigner myself.
“Is OK this,” I said.
“Ten dollar minimum, you don’t want,” she said. “Dry clean.”
“Oh, no, no dry clean. Ten is OK,” I said. The whole of today I second-guessed the things I’ve thought, said, written, judged, and here was no exception. I panicked that my jacket was too small to go in alone, that it would get sucked up into a panel of the machine, come out horribly disfigured. I abandoned my co-ESL. “I just need it washed is all. Someone spilled beer all over it and it’s so gross and it’s snowing and I don’t know how to clean it.”
I don’t normally have a weekend night off, and I also don’t normally use a weekend night off to be on the other, more awkward, side of the bar, but I was done early and my friends were out and it was on my way home anyway. They were dancing, and I was sober, and some guy came up from behind me, and knocked an entire Bud Light bottle onto my one and only coat.
I searched his face and all I saw was drunk. It was an accident, but the drooped mouth and the blank stare and my poor jacket, and I wanted to just purely not like him. Like, name-calling, throwing things, not like him. You are stupid and now I hate you and the bottom of my ribs has bottomed out into a bubbly acid I will never understand. The sidewalk that drops off into parked cars and rage.
“I have to go get napkins,” I said instead.
“OK, I give to you $6.50,” the lady at the laundromat said. I have no idea what kind of cleaning my jacket is getting right now, but it’s a sweet deal and I can only hope it doesn’t smell like beer and hatred by tomorrow at 5 PM.