Once Was Lost. Now?

To give away items is one thing. To let go of what’s gone for good? Quite another.

Author: Erin Buckley ’08

Van Morrison Real Real Gone

If you mention Van Morrison to my dad, two neural pathways spark. One is an aesthetic appreciation of Van Morrison’s vocals, the other a question: Who stole my Van Morrison CD? Dad chauffeured my brothers and me during our middle and high school years. At some point his Van Morrison CD vanished. It is a fact he reminds us of at least yearly. Notwithstanding today’s technological advancements which allow my Dad to stream Van Morrison’s oeuvre, there is a black hole in his mind encompassing the fate of his CD.

I am no stranger to the mental footholds claimed by missing items. One item wedged within my brain folds, as if clinging to a washing machine crevice, is a pair of socks. Carly Morin, a classmate on the cross country team, had worn sandals to high school that day. Changing in the locker room before practice she realized that she had not packed socks. Ordinarily a pair of socks would not be any great loss. However, the particular pair I loaned her were brand new. My mom had taken me to a running store the week prior. In addition to shoes, the clerk recommended a pair of ultra-thin wick away socks. The day I loaned them to Carly, they jogged around the track, into the neighborhood and out of my life.

It is immediately apparent that some lost things will never be regained. A day late, I could picture the bench where I left my black rain jacket on a boat tour of Lake Yellowstone. The summer after kindergarten my faux jewel ring slipped down the J.C. Penney’s sink drain and into the bowels of Regency Mall. Despite disappointment, I at least can find closure knowing the approximate coordinates of these items in the universe.

Many things, however, are lost without a working hypothesis of where they are. Clothes are the most confounding. I generally don’t loan out clothes. I do not unpack my suitcase into hotel room drawers. Therefore a pair of my jeans, say, can only be in a select number of places: on me, in my closet, or in the laundry. Yet through the years entire outfits have slipped through my grasp. Where did that sweatshirt ever go? Did I literally shed my pants walking down the street?

An unreturned item, however, assumes its own category. It has not disintegrated into the atmosphere. In fact, it is not lost. It is like a book taken from a library shelf. The books around it form a cascade, off-kilter in its absence. A name goes on record. We play the role of patient librarian waiting for the book to be returned.

Buckley Lost And Found
An empty space on a shelf casts a long shadow. Shutterstock

Like a librarian, we are governed by a code of silence. Once or twice I asked Carly Morin for the socks outright. By the third encounter I hoped my mere presence would trigger her memory. When it didn’t, my hope dwindled. But hope never dies. There still lingers the possibility that I could receive a call or text years later — “Hey, I was cleaning out my drawer, and guess what I found?” Not that I have ever received such a call, but I could. If hope is, as Emily Dickinson says, the thing with feathers, for me the feathers comes on a dust cloud emanating from a closet undergoing a thorough reorganizing.

A few years ago, when I handed my friend a CD, I articulated the word “borrow.” Yet even in that moment I tempered hopes of seeing it again. I have not seen the friend for over a year but when I think of her I picture that CD under a pile of dirty clothes and baby wipes. I wonder if some day she’ll find it and think of me.

An obvious solution would be for me to stop loaning out things I cannot bear parting with. I have acquiesced somewhat to this. Yet when there arises an opportunity to loan something, a warm feeling starts to percolate in my chest. Borrowed goods are a righteous scoff at compulsive consumerism. As in the case of music, some things are just meant to be shared. I gladly would give an egg or cup of sugar to a neighbor in need. In fact, I would consider a baked good which mingles elements from neighboring kitchens all the sweeter. Unfortunately, missing CDs and socks sit on the shelves of my mind like long-expired goods, taking up space with no prospect of a future.

I acknowledge my response to lost goods is as irrational as my Dad’s. It’s not about money. He could purchase a Van Morrison CD today for less than he paid for the original. Likewise, my salary affords me the ability to stock my drawer with expensive running socks, if I so choose. If a book goes missing from a library for too long, the library will eventually purchase a replacement book. Money is not the point. Then what is the point?

I consider the quandary of the Ship of Theseus, whose rotten planks are replaced one by one. Does the ship remain the same ship as its parts are substituted? Aphorisms plague my conscience: “Whatever you keep dies with you. What you give away lasts forever.” “It’s in giving that we receive.” I wish I could strap ties around all of the earthly goods I have loaned and set the ship out to sea in my own personal iceberg ritual of the dying. Against the ethereal northern lights, I could let them go from my heart.

But in my heaven there is a strong sense of Final Justice. I cannot help but think that outside the pearly gates St. Peter will direct me to a Lost & Found. A clerk will emerge from the back with a bin of all of my missing earthly goods. From the container I will remove the ultra-thin socks and place them on my feet. I will emerge into the sunlight, wriggling my toes to feel the soft clouds underneath.

Of course, assuming my Final Justice hypothesis, I will have to accept that my own library score card will not be flawless. There are doubtless things I have absorbed unknowingly over the years. Whoever’s box the Van Morrison CD is in, I trust it will be shot through with heavenly light.

And in that ultimate radiance I will recognize the spark in my Dad’s eye which comes not only from the opportunity to shake Van Morrison’s hand, but once again to hold his “The Best of” collection — the Original, stored in the Volvo S70’s passenger door pocket from 1998 to 2000.

All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

Erin Buckley lives in Richmond, Virginia, where she works as an occupational therapist.