Charge Separation

Creative Nonfiction

By Megan E. O’Laughlin

While some turtles can live up to 100 years, the fabric which covers a person’s most sensitive parts may exist in rotation for a mere year or two. Then, depending on the fabric, they go on to their second life in the landfill, where they may decompose rather quickly (cotton) or never (lycra). Prior to that, the life of a pair of panties can be a succession of predictability and darkness. 

When it didn’t cover my skin, the black sheath hid in the drawer, or twirled in the washer’s soapy water, or tumbled in the dryer. During the sexiest times, the nether garments were quickly removed, thrown across the room and then later, unceremoniously tossed into the hamper. The smooth stretchies were not typically exposed to the public, but they were on that day, to that long line of people in line for the matinee showing of Hellboy 2. 

A hoodie in my hands, I stood in line, eager for the air-conditioned bliss of the theater, a break from the stuffy city apartment. My underwear didn’t get out much, but that day they hitched a ride on my favorite hoodie, courtesy of static electricity, that unpredictable phenomenon of positive and negative charge, an imbalance of charges– the same exchange that causes lightning strikes. But nature needs balance, so my slow shuffle somehow dispelled the electricity, and the sweatshirt released the undergarments to gravity. As we stood in line with all the people, we saw the underwear underfoot. A silent splat, a small puddle of black on pavement: my panties on the ground by the ticket booth. 

Why are you dropping your draws on the ground? asked Q, laughing, as he pointed to the shiny fabric. I explained the static and my distaste for fabric softener, which would have prevented the electrostatic charge altogether. It bothers my skin. But I didn’t need to explain because that particular pair of briefs, just one of three from a pack from Target, yearned to experience the world, to escape that dark drawer, to feel the gritty pavement, to smell the buttery popcorn, to experience the sunlight within the closely woven fibers. This is the sensory circus my underwear did not know before that day. 

Aware of my audience, the cackling people in line, I didn’t mention the unmentionables, I only snatched them off the ground and stuffed them in my bag. After the brief adventure, they returned to the same cycle: drawer, body, floor, hamper, washer, dryer and eventually—garbage. 

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Megan E. O’Laughlin (she/her) is an emerging writer, psychotherapist, and MFA candidate at Ashland University. Her work is published in The Black Fork Review, Defunkt Magazine, and The Bluebird Word. She is currently working on an essay collection about mental health work and trauma recovery. She lives by the sea in Washington state with her spunky child, spoiled dogs, and surfing spouse. You can find her at: and on Twitter: @meganeolaughlin

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