A stray piece of quiet

Today I hung my wet laundry out on the line. It was the first time in nearly twenty years I have done this. It was a different line then, just some old cotton clothesline between the slats in a corner of fence at a house we were renting as poor newlyweds. When the wind blew, it would thrash the clothes against the fence, taking splinters and seasons of dirt with it, depositing them back on our wet towels and sheets. We bought a dryer shortly after that, sending us further into debt. Just for the luxury of fluffy towels without needles of wood in them.

Today was a clear and calm day in the mountains. The sky is that shade of blue that you could almost cut yourself on. Just a few whisps of icy clouds drifting through to join thunderheads massing over the mountains to the east. I hung out my towels and sheets, comforters, and quilts on the twisted steel wire line. My grandmother’s old clothesline. Not some amateurish rig, this was a highly functioning, and unless it was raining or snowing, extremely reliable way to get the job done back in the day. Not long ago, every back yard had one. Long before we were being scolded by this generation about the kind of world we were leaving for them. We hung our clothes on the line and let the wind do the rest.

This evening, I felt a sadness, like eyes watching me from across a crowded room. Like someone watching me over the rim of their drink as they sipped at it through a tiny cocktail straw. And every time I tried to look in its direction, it shyly looked away. The house was quiet, the laundry brought in and folded and put away. The last light of the day fading as the sun slipped behind the mountains. The sadness became more pronounced. I recognized it as loneliness, regret, longing. It wasn’t mine, I knew that much. It was more like hearing a conversation through the walls of a house. That warm sound that used to fill the quiet of morning when you wake up in a new place and people are busy making coffee and speaking in that low tone to keep from waking anyone else.

What was this loneliness and why had it found me? Was someone missing me? An old lover who had been flooded with nostalgia and thoughts of what could have been? I wonder sometimes if they still think of me and what might have been. Though I am at peace with it now. I have my own path to walk, and wish them the best on theirs. May they never cross again.

Could it have been a close friend feeling overwhelmed but thinking their problems were a burden and rather than asking for help to carry the load, they just watched it boil over like a pot of noodles. Or was it my kids in some far off place, feeling shut off, but powerless in their world right now to do anything about it? After all, missing their dad would be a betrayal. The weight of growing up is hard and frightening and more than anyone should have to face alone.

Or maybe it was some stray feeling on the wind, caught by the hanging clothes like a net, which I unwittingly dragged in with the rest.

I invited this loneliness in and listened to it and started putting words down on paper. That sadness. That longing. Like the scent of tobacco clinging to old walls. Or the sound of peeper frogs singing in a creek, but are seldom seen. That desire for connection manifested itself into words and ink and expression. And when I was done, it was laid to rest.

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