One night, I was leaving work around 10 pm. Though I was exhausted, I didn’t want to go right home. There was one place I wanted to go before I drove back to my apartment complex. Though in my head, I knew that my plan wasn’t a great idea, my heart kept telling me that I needed to go.
I had been living in Antioch, Tennessee, a suburb of Nashville, for about two years. I loved to listen to the radio every morning as I drove to work. It was rather strange though to hear beautiful music mixed in with the horrible crimes that were described in the morning news reports. I was surprised by all the violent stories that were reported on the radio as I drove to work every morning. Throughout the day, I would contemplate the stories I had heard. Sometimes, I would have to fight back tears. I just couldn’t understand how people could be so vicious to each other. I cried when I heard about the young pregnant woman who was walking down the street and was almost run over by a truck. The driver was afraid the young woman would report the incident so he shot her to death. Another story focused on a young man who had moved to Nashville to pursue a music career. While showing his visiting family around the city one day, he was shot to death in front of his mother and aunt when he had stopped to ask for directions. Every morning, while driving to work, I would hear stories of more brutality and deaths. I continually felt overwhelmed and distressed by the violence in an otherwise amazing city like Nashville, Tennessee.
One morning, as I drove to work, I listened to the news reporter tell the story of a young 18-year-old girl who was raped and strangled to death in the bathroom of a local Laundromat. The story sent chills through me for several different reasons. It was so sad that the woman was so incredibly young and died so terribly. However, I was also disturbed that the Laundromat was located just a block away from where I lived. The Laundromat was just on the corner of my street. I thought about the situation throughout the day. Finally, I decided that on my way home from work that night I would stop by the Laundromat. I didn’t mean to be morbid. I didn’t want to go inside. I didn’t want to see the actual setting of the young woman’s death. I just wanted to sit for a moment in my car in the Laundromat parking lot and offer up a prayer, a blessing, to the young woman who had lost her life so tragically and so close to home. I just didn’t want the young woman to feel so alone in her tragedy.
I left work that night and drove to the Laundromat in quiet contemplation. I had been to this Laundromat before. I knew it well. The bathroom where the crime occurred was directly across from the entrance. A wall of dryers lined both sides of the bathroom door. Three rows of washers sat in the center of the large room. Folding tables were along the front by the big plate glass windows. Though the Laundromat was opened 24-hours, I didn’t expect anyone else to be around that night.
I turned off the highway and drove down the street to the Laundromat. I took a deep breath and pulled into the parking lot. I parked in a space up front…and caught my breath.
Oh, my gosh…I was surprised to see that there were a lot of people in the Laundromat. They weren’t there to investigate or to morbidly view the crime scene. The people were actually doing their laundry. I sat in my car and watched through the large front window as three women chatted and laughed as they busily folded their underwear and linens at the front tables. Two young men were in the back pulling clothes out of the dryers. Several other people were leaning up against washing machines quietly sipping out of Starbuck’s cups. The only evidence of the young girl’s passing was yellow crime scene tape that was plastered over the bathroom door in the back of the room. I stared at the people and felt the urge to scream out at them. “Don’t you know a young woman just lost her life here?” I had to consider that maybe they didn’t know. Maybe they didn’t listen to the news or pay attention to current events. Maybe these people, who were busily folding their sheets and sipping their coffee, just didn’t care. Maybe having clean underwear was more important than the death of a beautiful young girl. Maybe…but I just didn’t understand how clean clothes could be so incredibly important at that moment. Yeah, a young woman died…but life goes on…and we all need clean underwear.
I said my prayer for the safe passage of the young woman and then started my car. I drove home in awkward silence even though I was the only one in the car. My exhausted mind was twisting with confusion as I pulled into the lot, parked my vehicle, and went inside my apartment. I walked into my living room and turned on the news. A picture of a young woman suddenly appeared on the screen. She has spiky red hair. Green inky tattoos graced her bare arms. I stared at her face as the reporter announced that the young woman who had died at the Laundromat had been identified. I don’t remember her name. I just remember her beautiful wide green eyes staring up at me from the television screen. I went to bed that night and cried myself to sleep.
That incident happened about 10 years ago, and yet I have been thinking a lot about it over the last few weeks for some reason. I think, as I age another year, I become more aware of the preciousness of life and how fragile all of us are. Life is too short…It goes too fast…and I don’t think I want to spend my final years worrying about doing laundry or chores or anything that doesn’t provide me with bliss and joy. I’ve become selfish with my time.
Several months ago, I asked a friend if he wanted to go out to lunch with me. He responded, “I can’t. I have a lot of laundry to do.” I told him the laundry would still be there when he got home. He still, however, refused. I took myself out to lunch.
I know that on my deathbed I will have lots of regrets. But I guarantee, I will not be lying there thinking, “Damn, I should have done more laundry.”
Life does go on…we just need to determine how we are going to spend the precious time we are given. We just have to determine when life itself becomes more important than our mundane existence.
I don’t have all the answers. I struggle, too, with procrastination, indecision, anxiety…
But I do know this…as I am writing now about the death of this beautiful young woman I noticed something fluttering to the right side of my face. I turned and glanced out my window…and looking right into my eyes was a tiny sweet humming bird. It is the first one I have seen this season and I’m surprised that it came right up to my window. The small bird stared at me for a while through the thick glass before doing a quick spin and then flying away….
Oh, yes, sweetheart, I got your message….you can rest in peace.