What once was lost
One minute she had the keys in her hand, using the fob’s button to pop the lock on her car parked in the drive. The next minute the keys were gone. Way gone. She tore the house apart and put it back together looking for the damn things, to no avail.
It always amazes me the way things — important things, necessary things — can disappear in a split second.
I lost my keys once, I mean really lost them, like there was no rational explanation as to why they shouldn’t be in my pocket. It was a week or so after my first son came into the world, and I drove to the airport to pick up my mother, who had offered to come to town for a few days to help us adjust to the new normal. I parked the car, walked to the gate to get her and brought her back to the garage. When we got to our ride, I had no keys. It was insane.
We retraced our steps in the airport, badgered the staff at the lost and found, tore through every pocket and peered into the car to see if I had left them in the ignition. No dice. As I sat on the ground with my head in my hands, I remembered something: I was finishing a soda when I parked and had tossed the cup into a garbage can near my spot. When I dug through the trash, I found my set of keys, dripping with garbage water, at the bottom of the bin.
I chalked it up to nerves: The appearance of that first child rattled me deeply; it’s possible that I haven’t felt truly relaxed since I became a parent.
When I was a single man, I kept a pretty good handle on my stuff. I lived in a series of criminally messy apartments, yet my necessary items — keys, cigarettes, cash and wallet in those days before cell phones — were always right where I left them. I don’t remember losing actual things, save for the stuff that got stolen, which to my view meant not that the items were lost, just that these things weren’t mine anymore.
I now believe that for a time back then I myself was lost, alone in a world I thought had forgotten about the likes of me. But that’s another story.
When the kids came along I began to lose things in earnest, partially due to the nerves activated by their births. In the early days, I could not yet bear the weight my life had taken on. When the kids grew into grasping, grabby toddlers, both my wife and I could barely keep track of the things we had begun to accumulate. My oldest son, still in diapers, made a cell phone disappear in an old apartment; we never found it, even when we moved out. He did the same with a set of black pearls, a Mother’s Day gift. Once, I remember, the remote control was gone for a week.
Here’s a story: My wife had taken the kids on a shopping errand and gave our son her keys to play with while she tried on shoes. He ran down an aisle and returned… without the keys. She enlisted a sales associate to help in her search for them, and they finally found them an hour later tucked inside a red shoe box on the shelves.
Over the years we’ve lost favored items of clothing, a display case worth of sunglasses, crucial components to kitchen gadgets, a multitude of individual gloves, valued books, tools and gadgetry. And somewhere in my house is a trove of single socks voluminous enough to knit into a king-sized quilt.
These things are gone, vanished without a trace. But socks can be replaced. Sunglasses were made to be lost, it could be argued. Everything else is just stuff.
But keys are a different matter. When my wife lost her keys her entire day effectively shut down. She couldn’t start her car to get to work. And even if she got a ride, she wouldn’t be able to unlock her office or get back into the house afterwards. This was not a loss that could be brushed off.
Misplacing this item that fit into the palm of her hand effectively stopped her in her tracks, and she spent the rest of the day retracing her steps, uncluttering the house room by room, peering into dark and dusty corners, digging through the trash while I sat at work feeling vaguely as if it was my fault, an old habit that I wish I could lose as easily as a lighter or a Starbucks gift card with a couple bucks left on it.
A loss like that inspires panic, frenzy and mania. And it taps into one of our most primal fears: the fear of loss. When we truly lose something, we wonder, at the basest level, If I can lose my cell phone, then surely I could lose anything. Everything!
She found the keys about 10 hours after they disappeared, caught on the lining of a jacket she had hung in the closet. Like with all lost things, she found them in the very last place she looked.
Like with most things that are lost, soon enough they will be found.