dirty laundry

Here is a serious and perhaps sullen question: where does the other sock go?

You know the sock, the one that falls out of the dryer first thing when you open the door. It’s no big deal; you put it on top of the machine, expecting to find its pair later. Then after you’re done folding the khakis so they don’t wrinkle, grouping your boxers all together, separating your workout shirts from your sexy shirts from the shirts your mom buys you for Christmas, checking the stain on the tank-top you wear to show off your chest hair, and making sure that striped pullover you got when you went to Moscow that you wear when you’re hanging with your girl and her friends didn’t shrink; after all that, when you’re ready to carry the load upstairs, you notice it, all alone, drooping like a dog’s tongue in summer from the top of the machine door. And at first you’re not perturbed. The other sock is around here somewhere. You open the door wider and stick your head in, because obviously you just missed it, the lolling sock’s pair, its buddy:

Come here little buddy, without you this other sock is nothing.

But no luck. There’s no other sock. It must have gotten stuck on something. You must have missed it in the bottom of the dryer.

You scan the dryer’s inside, groping with your hand, sticking your face all the way in there. You look on the ground and, for some reason, the ceiling, and you check the laundry machine because you might have forgotten it in there and a wet sock is better than no sock.

But there’s no sock.

You mull this over for a second, resign yourself to the fact. At least it wasn’t a dress sock; you know, an expensive sock. It was just a plain white sock. Cotton. Gray on the toes and at the heel.

You figure at some point in the cleaning process some leprechaun-like monster snuck into the dryer and stole it. Some leprechaun that subsists on single socks depaired your pair, leaving you with the life-changing decision of what to do with the one sock. (I mean I guess leprechauns gotta eat, but damn, why’d it have to be my sock, you know?)

But first, indecision. Maybe it wasn’t a leprechaun. Maybe the sock’s mate fell outside the laundry basket, and if so, god, what a waste it would be to throw away this perfectly good sock now. But what if it wasn’t there? What if you never found it, and you held onto this sock just in case, floating through life meeting new people, moving apartments, with new jobs taking you new places, bringing you new girlfriends and new socks, and to every one of those places you brought along this sock, the old sock, the lonely, pairless, dick sock, and nothing ever comes of it? You would’ve forgotten about it had you thrown it away, but you didn’t. So all your life you think about the sock that got away, and sometimes you get mighty depressed imagining how happy things could’ve been, wondering how things would’ve been different, talking about it with people at work and joining clubs and organizations—alcoholics anonymous for loss of sock, that sort of thing.

Two cities later (three moved apartments) you get your mind off it. You’re dating girls, you don’t think about it at all. And then one day you read something somewhere about how we are all congenitally disconnected from our soul mates, how we’re all subconsciously stumbling through life searching for this person or horse or tree—you figured it could be anything. And the idea seems to make sense to you, because you see a lot of people at work and on the subway who seem lonely, even when they’re with friends. And so maybe they’re missing something dear to their soul—maybe we all are. Not in a romantic, Disney movie, chick-flick type of way, more like finding salt without pepper, like night without stars. And the whole profundity of the thing (profound in the way that’s got you swearing you’re gonna quit smoking again) gets you back to thinking about that sock. That old cotton sock, which turned out to be so useless as a sock: you hadn’t worn it on foot in years (not since the accident). And now you are too sentimental about it to use it as a rag. But, of course, you never lost it. Even though you are on this Fuck Material Possessions binge, you know exactly where to find it. And it’s the exact same as it’s always been, except it’s gotten older, more threadbare, and so have you. And you still don’t know exactly what to do with it.

You don’t tell your lady about it because you know it’s super weird and she’s gonna dump your ass, and you kinda really like her. And then one night you accidentally use it to clean your dick after sex and you weep like a drunken sorority girl, all snuggled up in bed telling your lady to just hold you a little longer, just till you fall asleep. And of course the next day she dumps your ass. And all you can think about is at least she had the decency to wash the sock (she knew you couldn’t separate bleach from contact solution, not to save your life).

So you’re back to square one, and now there’s no way you can get rid of it. You don’t believe in soul mates, not after watching your parents’ divorce. You can’t admit that we’re all nothing without each other. The idea just seems entirely un-American.

But, still, you have this overwhelming feeling that it’s your responsibility to bear the sock, like a mother bears child, even if it is unwanted. Maybe especially if it is unwanted. In fact, you think you understand mothers better now. You definitely understand your mother better. You can’t let the sock go. You wouldn’t even dream of getting rid of it. You know exactly how important it is—how it may be the most important thing that’s ever happened to you. Now, even if you found the other sock (that sock you spent so many years dreaming about) you wouldn’t welcome it back. You left, sucker. We’re better off without you. Sorry, we’re not sorry. Maybe you will find happiness elsewhere. But you probably won’t. Because you’re just a sock. An ugly, lonely, single sock. And you’re good for nothing. And nobody likes you.

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