Lessons in cohabitation: Dave’s socks

While undertaking a Great Drawer Reassignment, I just started remembering years ago when Dave and I first moved in together. We were in our wee early twenties, and it was a first for both of us. We both proceeded with trepidation for our own reasons, mine being that I had passed the dorm chic phase of decorating with posters and thumbtacks although I wasn’t so sure Dave was ready to leave this behind. Dave’s fears were more territorial in nature: He didn’t want me messing with his Stuff. It was nothing personal, and I understood this, just a paradoxical “these are my toys, those are yours” way of dealing with a major life change in the direction of Growing Up.

I respected this protective instinct as far as I could, but there were practical matters to consider. For example, public health.

I faced my first dilemma during the first Great Drawer Reassignment of our cohabitation. Back in college, Dave had enough socks and underwear to last an entire semester. He would pile his dirty clothing up in a hamper inside a closet that one would be wise to don a hazmat suit when entering. His clothing–and odor–were not my responsibility, did not fall under my jurisdiction. But there I was in our shoebox fifth floor walk-up on Beacon Hill, having just carried the clean laundry up four flights of stairs, faced with a pile of socks some of which I knew had spent entire months under piles of nasty dirty clothing, oxygen deprived and mud caked from a newfound addiction to mountain biking.

Some of these socks emerged from the dryer not looking much better than they had when they went in. But Dave had Rules about his Stuff, so I knew that if I wanted to successfully eradicate the Black Socks of Death from my living quarters, I would have to proceed with care. So I started making piles.

I had four classifications: Fine, Pretty good, I suggest we throw these away, and Really, really could we please incinerate?

I found Dave in his office and asked calmly if I could run something by him. Please could he come to the bedroom–I will not throw away anything without his consent, but there is an Issue, and maybe he could consider…well, come see for yourself.

I’ve come to recognize a certain twitch in the jaw Dave gets when he’s angry, frustrated, concentrating–basically, any time he’s putting out a “now’s not the time, don’t talk to me” vibe. I know when I see this little muscle start to throb to proceed with caution. That little muscle could have been a heartbeat the way it pulsed that moment.

But he did follow me down the hall, into the tiny bedroom that barely fit a bed let alone two dressers and a bunch of nasty socks.

To earn his trust, I started with the worst, grungiest pile, thinking he had to see what I saw there. In the spirit of caution, I reverently picked up a sock that was once white now soot-black with holes in the toe and the heel and I muttered some understatement such as, “I think these might have seen their day.” Then waited for the fury of the angry caveman. “You no touch sock! My sock! MINE!”

But he just looked at that nasty sock, clutched so delicately between my fingers as if it were the shroud of Christ, shook his head and laughed.

I still don’t throw away anything without explicit permission, but I now have full reign on socks.

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