Lost things 

Losing it over lost mementos

I got lost on the way to Monterey once. It was years ago, and my sister and I were driving there from southern California. The route was simple, an eight-hour shot up the freeway, but we were at that monstrously invincible fake-I.D. age, that sun-baked, silver-ring-on-every-finger age. In short, we were drunk and drugged and basically lucky beyond measure that we ever survived to become the craggy, bleachy-haired ex-beach tramps with matching laugh lines that we are today. God, we were idiots.

Such amiable idiots. We started the road trip on a whim in the middle of the night, and I keep remembering the quiet lightning that fractured the blackness in the far-off horizon. Every few minutes there was this staggering display of silent radiance, like a big wizard in the distance performing powerful spells. "Did you see that? There it is again!" we'd holler. I guess that's what got us lost -- looking for the lightning -- because eventually we decided we wanted to be in the middle of the storm.

But we lost the lightning and never got close to the storm. Weird, I remember thinking from the front seat, no matter how fast we drive the clouds are always ahead of us. So eventually the sun rose and the sky became evenly brilliant, and after much meandering we decided to pick up on our original plan, which was to track down one of our childhood homes, a place we simply referred to as the "pink house."

Lately I've been trying to remember why the pink house held a particular fondness for us, because by that time we had moved, literally, every year of our lives. I was 5 at the pink house; it was there that I lost my shoes one day and my sister made me a new pair from fabric scraps in hopes of keeping our father from kicking my ass when he found out my good ones were gone. My new shoes looked like plaid biblical sandals and my father wasn't fooled for a second. "No, really," I cried as I dodged him between the moving boxes that were like permanent furniture at all our addresses, "I outgrew my other pair."

"Dad was always getting pissed at us for losing things," we laughed while we were lost that day. He even used to blame us for getting him lost during all the cross-country moves we made after we proved to be such bad map readers, issuing him instructions like "take a right at the red dot." After that we were relegated to the back seat. "You're a disgrace to the daughters of traveling trailer salesmen everywhere," he chided us affectionately.

Driving around, Cheryl and I finally, via Iceland almost, found the pink house that day. It had lost its original paint and was now kind of a maple color, but we recognized it from a small set of concrete steps imbedded in the grass that circled the terraced front yard like a little arena. "This is where Dad sat, right here," Cheryl said, pointing to a specific section on the concrete. She was referring to the only intact family photo we have to this day, which was taken while we all sat on those steps. "Kim was on his lap, I was next to him, you were on Mom's lap and Jim was next to you," she sighed, finished.

I guess it was important to her to find that exact spot. I'm looking at that picture right now, and in it the sun is beaming down on the six of us, and I'm wearing the shoes I later lost in the park. My father is the age I am today, and looking closely I can see that on his left hand he wears a ring. I recognize it as his signet ring from the Army. I wonder what happened to that ring. I didn't even learn he'd served in the Army until after he just up and died all of a sudden one day. Soldiers attended his burial and handed me the folded flag from atop his coffin to keep.

I wish they hadn't done that. I wish they had handed it to my brother or someone else, because it wasn't even two months later that I was moving again and the box that contained the flag fell off the back of my friend's El Camino while we were driving down the San Diego freeway. The flag billowed like a patriotic parachute as it caught car grill after car grill. His Bible was in that box, too. Jesus God, looking back, I realize how I was always losing things. I lost my father's flag and his Bible and probably that ring, too. I lost every opportunity I had to find my way back to the bond we shared like the one we had when we lived together in the pink house. I lost the lightning and never got close to the storm, didn't I? I lost the point of it all, didn't I? I'm losing it right now. Just looking at this picture, I'm losing it.


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