Laundry Night

By Marcie Beyatte


“I had a dream last night about water,” my mother says as we dice cantaloupe and brew our morning coffee. “I woke up with wet sheets.”

She wears Depends, but last night her protection failed. To any passerby, she appears to be a vigorous eighty-year-old; but they don’t see her falling, an almost weekly occurrence.  When we walk together, I try to anticipate the cracks and dips in the pavement and warn her so she doesn’t trip. I keep night-lights on all day in my dark hall when she visits. No matter what I do, she still tumbles. She lands with the grace of a bird, as if her bones are filled with air. I hold my breath while I watch the scene unfold like a slow motion sports re-play.

After breakfast, we get ready to pick up my husband from his chemotherapy treatment. He has colon cancer and he is about to finish treatment number four out of 12.

I’m also a cancer survivor, but now I’m learning about what it’s like to be a caregiver. So far, I think being the patient is easier, but I would hate to have to go through chemo again.

My mother always requires advance warning before we leave the house. First, she needs to find her glasses and her purse. Then she needs to apply her signature coral lipstick and spray her silver hair. She is now ready.

When we enter the sunny chemo room, Alice the nurse folds me into a hug. She flits from patient to patient, like a hummingbird, taking blood pressures and temperatures. She gossips and laughs with her patients, always monitoring the bags of rainbow-hued liquid that will make some of them sicker before they can get well.

My husband dozes in his recliner as the chemicals pump into his veins. Soon a beep sounds, signifying this treatment is over and it’s time to go home. I notice the hem of his polo shirt is wet.

“It’s a long, disgusting story,” he says.  He looks down at his running shoes and rubs his left heel over the toe of his right shoe. “I’ll tell you about it later.” I know not to ask any more questions.

At home, while my mother talks on the phone, he tells me that his ostomy bag accidentally unlatched while he was in the bathroom.

“Shit spilled all over the bathroom floor and splashed on my shoes. I had to rinse my pants out in the toilet bowl; the sink was way too small.”

I picture him in the tiny bathroom maneuvering his IV pole while he cleans up the mess.

“It took me so long, I was surprised no one banged on the door.”

Now I understand why his shirt hem was wet. It soaked up the moisture from his navy blue drip-dry pants.

Later that evening, I pause in my laundry room, debating over whose bodily wastes to attend to first.

My mother will need her sheets and nightgown soon, and besides, she discretely stashed the evidence in the machine, ready to go. My husband’s dark clothes can wait until later. 

I catch myself giggling as I walk down the hall.

“What’s so funny?”   My husband calls out from the living room where he and my mother watch TV.

I wish I could share the joke. “Life is what’s funny,” I tell them, continuing to laugh. Maybe I’ll cry later. But for now, I relish the irony, recognizing the parallel accidents that have befallen two people I love dearly, and that must remain a secret from one another.

I measure out the soap while I imagine my husband’s and mother’s puzzled expressions. I can’t make out their conversation as the washing machine whirls into action. Knowing they are united by their love for me brings me joy, especially today.

As long as I’m able to laugh, I think I’ll get by. I’m one of the lucky ones.

Later, I get ready for bed, hoping I won’t have to go through the same exercise again tomorrow.

Tomorrow will likely bring new unanticipated tests, challenging my ability to tumble, like my mom, without breaking my bones or to respond to an emergency like my husband, without having to wear poop on my shoes.

Marcie Beyatte became a cancer survivor in 2003. She created and produced the program, Cancer in So Many Words, whose mission is to empower cancer survivors to use the written word to express themselves. Marcie’s essays have appeared in the Contra Costa Times and The East Bay Monthly as well as the soon-to-be-published anthology,”Voices of Breast Cancer.”Her husband is now  thriving after finishing treatment for colon cancer. She can be reached at

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