For years, my kiddies and I would pull up the double-wide stroller outside the dry cleaners. I unstrapped my toddler first and deposited him safely inside the store. Then I would unstrap my baby girl and carry her in.
In later years, they toddled in on their own. They learned to sit still while I paid and chatted with the woman who has worked there forever. Their little sandals barely hung over the side of the chairs.
They liked to jump out of the chairs and dance in front of the big mirror. My daughter posed, hand on hip, lips pursed, and I always wondered where she learned that. More than once they both fell off the chairs laughing. Sometimes they fought. My daughter nudged her brother too many times, and he finally hit her back. She wailed, he wailed.
I’ve been avoiding the dry cleaners lately. But today I had no choice but to drag myself there, childless, to pick up my winter clothing.
“So are you working now?” the lady ask me.
“Yes, I am,” I reply, and tell her that I enjoy it but that it doesn’t leave me with a lot of time for errands like picking up dry-cleaning. We chat about the kids and my upcoming move to the suburbs.
And then she asks me about my “husband” and where he’s been. I don’t skip a beat and tell her he’s working and traveling. I’m a little bit skeptical about the first of these statements, but it seems like the right thing to say.
“So are you together?” she asks.
Stunned, I think about that for a moment. “No, we’re divorced.” I add my usual “after twenty years,” line to assure her I’m not the sort of person who just dumps a husband for no reason.
She shakes her head sadly and tells me that my husband has been in there to college his dry cleaning, and that he tells her the same thing. I try to channel my inner Alicia Florick and show some dignity.
“Maybe you’ll get back together,” she says, hopefully. “You know, because of the children. They need a father.”
“Yes, maybe, you never know!” I say brightly as she separates my dry cleaning from my husband’s. They are both still listed under the same name and phone number three years after the Separation and four months after the Divorce. I think some dark and unprintable thoughts about a man who still uses his ex-wife’s phone number to pick up his dry cleaning.
But I am not angry at the lady.
I have learned that it is not my job to teach other people anything. She didn’t mean to hurt me. She just said what she really believes. She doesn’t have the full story. Because I know this, her words don’t hurt me.
But then I walk out and realize that I’ve paid for my ex-husband’s dry cleaning. His shirts and suits remain inside, paid for by me. I wonder if she will tell him that when he arrives to pick it up. He will be pleased.
I can no longer spend time thinking about things like this. It’s time for a new dry cleaner, a new home, a fresh start.