Thirty years ago I “hid” a fifty-dollar bill between the pages of a red leather, gilt-stamped journal that now sits, along with all my other old journals, on a shelf in my bedroom closet. Every so often, I still leaf through, hoping to find that fifty bucks.
I think of all the other things I’ve lost in my life: the moss agate bracelet my parents gave me for my 23rd birthday, left behind one hazy night—dropped? impulsively given away?—in the bar of the Copley Square Hotel. The ninety dollars of waitressing money that fell out of my pocket near the old Boston Garden in the fall of 1988 and I mourned for months because it was some of the last money I ever made waitressing and I’d waitressed for 15 years. The black leather jacket (how? where?) somewhere between my apartment and the Southwestern Law Library, right after I’d first moved to L.A. and was studying for the California bar.
I won’t count the things that were stolen, which is another kind of loss; or the things I gave away to the wrong person: my virginity, for instance; or the things I knew I was going to lose in advance, like a little chunk of my left breast when they cut out that tumor. A few years ago, for the first time ever, I lost a library book–Roberto Bolaño’s By Night in Chile–which I hated not so much because the book cost 35 bucks to replace (plus I didn’t like it) but because the loss blemished the perfect library record I’d had since I was 6 (I found it later, under a floor mat in my car, and got a refund). It’s as if all those lost things tell their own story; form a path linking my past and future, like Hansel’s and Gretel’s crumbs.
Why do we lose things so much more often than we find them?
Why can’t we be more careful?
Do the things we’ve lost feel like they’ve lost us?
Maybe in some other dimension everything’s there, keeping each other company: the whirligig for the Krups food processor I accidentally emptied into the garbage, along with the plum pudding, that really bad Christmas in the mid-90’s. The 250-dollar reading glasses with the thick black frames I’m pretty sure I left at a Starbucks on the main drag in the mountain town of Temecula, California. The green ribbed sweater that disappeared one night in the Twin Towers jail in downtown L.A.
The clothes, the books, the jewelry, the money: maybe they’re all in some cosmic lost-and-found; maybe in an alternate realm, a small carefully-tended pile, labeled with our names, awaits each of us. Maybe everything finds its way back: the fragments of broken heart, the minds that wandered off and never returned, the roads not taken. Maybe in another world, we get to start over: the illusion that our parents were perfect, that he’d never look at another woman, that we weren’t going to die.
“I’m so sorry to hear it,” Andy Warhol said when he learned that everybody dies. “I just thought things were magic and that it would never happen.”