A Scary Time

by | Aug 6, 2018 | Issue Four, Poetry

In the middle of the day on a Friday afternoon in the first week of August in the Summer of 1981, when I only thirteen years old, my mother accidentally put me in the washing machine with some dirty clothes and put me through two full wash cycles. At four foot eleven I was a little short for my age, and I guess I was easy to miss among the beach towels and jeans. I forgive her now and I forgave her that day. There was a lot going on. My mom was between jobs. Believe it or not, the theme from The Greatest American Hero was the number one hit song in the United States. I was home from school. Dad was at work. It was a scary time. America was a little girl crouching in fear of the bomb behind a box of Mary Lou Retton Wheaties and crack cocaine had yet to be born. I remember flailing my arms and screaming but I don’t think mom heard me. I looked up from the hot water just as the lid was closing down, and I held my breath in the dark soap. For the next dizzying and brutal forty-five minutes, I was washed mercilessly. The holes in the metal of the tub flayed my skin at first and I had to hug the plastic fin tight until the cycle was over. Seemed like it took forever for the water to drain and be gone. I tried to cry out for help but all that came out of my mouth were soap bubbles, each one containing only a fragment of the scream I was trying to make. When each bubble contacted the rim of the machine, it would burst and let out only a snippet of my scream. Then there was light, and I saw my mother reach for a towel to inspect it for cleanliness. She frowned in concentration and didn’t even seem to see me there. I remember seeing from my vantage point the top of the green, red and cream box of biodegradable Safe brand detergent. She reached for it and dusted me right in the eyes as she added more soap. Then I saw the lid close again. I tried to kick the machine to get her attention, but I was stuck in a fetal position and could do no harm. She wanted us to have clean clothes and I had to respect that. After the second cycle, another agonizing forty-five minutes in the water, she pulled all the clothes out and found me. She patted my back until I sputtered and thanked her for saving me. Whoops, she said, I’m so sorry about that. It’s okay, Mom, I said, and we hugged. I was fine. It was just a little bit upsetting.

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