I believe in doing the dishes. I don’t mean I believe they exist or that they need to be done, though those are both correct. No, I believe in doing the dishes like kids believe in Santa Clause and like parents believe in their children’s future.
Growing up I always had to do the damn dishes. And in a family of ten children there were a lot to be done. We had a dishwasher, but the dishes still piled up and stunk in the sink before I could get to them. The pre-rinsing made my hands look, feel, and smell weird. I hated it. But since then, I’ve found washing dishes one of the most useful and rewarding activities there is.
Two years ago I started renting in a basement with an estranged brother. His sentences trail off when we talk. He uses statements to ask about things; questions to tell me other things. His words, thoughts, pace, attitude, and way of going about things are mysteries to me. Irritating mysteries. Poverty alone keeps me here. Keeps us both here.
We’ve talked about it, but mainly we’ve learned to limit our interactions to “hey” in the morning. Occasionally “how are you?” or “how did the interview go?” or “oh, I didn’t know you were here.” We’ve both tried to gain sympathy for the other and a functional relationship over the years. We’ve also both given up. He in words; I in action.
He’s fastidious. He cleans before it occurs to me to do so, so we argue. He says he’s not a slave, indicating that I’m growing fat on exploiting his labor. I say, I don’t ask you to do it, I’ll do it, I don’t care, but you have a lower tolerance, I’ll get around to it if it’s a big deal, that he should do it for himself or not at all. I also say, what do you want me to do? Take out the trash, he says.
He believes in taking out the trash, but I still believe in doing the dishes.
And here’s why.
We’re brothers and we ignore each other and that’s sad, unhealthy, and a waste of both our lives. Usually I feel bad about it, but sometimes I don’t. Living in a cramped basement with someone I can’t understand, can’t relate to, can’t appreciate, and can’t stand, when I can’t get a job, or make my life right, I can do his dishes. I can take his plates, cups, and bowls—even the water bottles he needlessly washes everyday—and make them clean and right. I can do that.
And that means we have choice and we have hope: we haven’t given up. Even when we’re both jobless, stuck, and going nowhere. It means in spite of not being able to connect for the past ten years, and still not knowing how, we haven’t given up. And as long as we keep not giving up, it means we can figure it out someday.
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