We’re friends now. Friends without benefits. At least, not that kind. We are movie buddies. She sometimes cooks; I clean up afterwards. We pet-sit each other’s dogs. We hang out.
She asks me if I’ll help her fold her laundry. She’s washed three sets of bed linens and she’s managed to deal with the flat sheets and pillow cases on her own, but the dreaded king-sized fitted sheets, with their challenging elasticized corners, have been taunting her, staring her down from on top of the dryer for over a week. Now they’re in a messy pile between us on her bed.
The bed we used to share.
“Show me again your special way of folding them.” I know what this means. It’s code for: “Can’t you just do it for me?” The following aphorism pops into my brain, “Give a man a fish; feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish; feed him for a lifetime.” I take a fitted sheet from the pile and hand her one end.
“Come on, we’ll do this together,” I offer. We stand a few feet apart, holding the sheet between us. “First, you have to find the seams in the corner pouches.” I place each of my index fingers into one of the two corners on my end holding them up like little pup tents. She has some trouble zeroing in on the seams, then attempts to duplicate my movements on her end. “Now line up the inside seam of one side with the inside seam of the other…” she’s fumbling a bit, “…and lay one side of the sheet on top of the other, so that you now have one corner pouch with both seams aligned.”
“Ugh, I can’t do this,“ she says exasperated with herself. “Why can’t I get it right?” She’s struggling on her end, already frustrated with herself, and perhaps with me. I silently acknowledge how this dynamic right here is part of the reason we’re no longer a couple. She is quick to find fault with others and herself.
She is a self-described “Highly Sensitive Person.” I don’t disagree with this assessment. Her wiring for detecting “dangers,” things that are “wrong” in her environment, is pretty much always switched “on.” I try to imagine being on high alert all the time. It has to be exhausting. I acknowledge how much better I am at feeling compassion for her when we are not in each other’s spheres day in and day out.
Some deep reptilian part of my brain senses the possibility of greater distress on her part if I don’t jump in and take charge. I take her end of the sheet from her and say, “Don’t worry about it, honey. I’ll finish folding them for you.” I wince as I hear myself call her “honey,” and as I hurry to ease her discomfort. Old habits die hard.
At least for now, she’s off the hook. Her face brightens. Her expression shifts from irritation and impatience to relief and peace. And damn it, I love knowing I’ve contributed to that shift. I want her to find peace. With herself. With our current status as friends. With her stupid sheets.
But I wonder, how do I finally let go of my need to rush in and rescue when her needs show up? How do I give up my coveted role of hero?
And there it is. The crux of the matter. Plain as day. It has absolutely nothing to do with sheets. It doesn’t even really have anything to do with her!
It has everything to do with getting my own internal house in order.
Will I never learn to keep those co-dependent urges from charging forth for the dramatic rescue? Once again, I’m overstepping, overreaching and overdoing my self-appointed role of First Responder. Even when there’s no emergency to speak of! Sheets? Really?
She can surely deal with her own sheets however she chooses. She is perfectly capable of making her life easy, happy and more peaceful without my interference. And I’m just going to have to suck it up, and allow that to be OK.
But this one last time, I’m going to fold her fitted sheets.