[This is 5th installment of our ongoing creative writing column, curated by Ashley C. Ford. Today’s essay was written by Carla. Please read on to learn more about her and where to contact her online.]
When I was a child, I lost my shoe out of the window of a moving car.
The day was warm: blue sky, chittering birds. I was reclined in the backseat: the insouciant sprawl of an only child. I wasn’t an only child, but my siblings were decades older and long gone. I longed to fill the yawning space they had left behind. My legs were long and spindly, ending in big, narrow feet. I didn’t pay them much attention, outside of the instinctive curl of my toes to keep my sandals from flapping off into the wind. How funny would that be? I thought, turning the page of my book. I can’t recall what I was reading, as my childhood is littered with half-remembrances of the stories I consumed like Halloween candy. Insatiable. Perhaps I was giggling at Ramona Quimby’s confused antics or being solemnly reminded to never judge someone until I’ve walked two moons in their moccasins. Maybe I was zooming through Sweet Valley, CA in Bruce Patman’s BMW or fretting over Alice and Patrick’s relationship troubles. Wherever I was, it was not here. I was long gone, as the world flashed by me around me, whistling at my back, hastening past my feet. And then it took my shoe.
I started, dropping my book onto the floor in shock and scrambling to sit upright, clambering over to crane my neck out of the window (“What are you doing?” my mother snapped).
“Mom, I dropped my shoe!”
We went back, but couldn’t find my sandal anywhere. As if it had been sucked down an alternate dimension, blasted into an invisible vortex. Long gone. She launched into a tirade about my absent-mindedness, my propensity for getting lost in a book when I should be paying attention. It was a common complaint, its familiar edges and striations fitting themselves neatly into the grooves created the first time it had been uttered aloud. I felt shame, but muted with the crass mundanity of my infraction: dropping a shoe out of car window. I understood my mother’s irritation, but didn’t feel it, veiled by my own gentle bemusement. It was just a shoe. And it was a really good book.
When I was in the twilight of my adolescence, I lost my class ring somewhere in the Hilton Toronto.
Spending four days in a sprawling hotel with hundreds of rabid Harry Potter fans was not a phenomenon I thought I’d ever experience, and yet there I was, singing along at illicit wizard rock concerts in forbidden rooms, attending riotous parties in corner rooms with bathtubs that overflowed with alcohol, waking up in strange beds with cotton mouth, no shoes, and a patchy memory.
The convention was a definitive closing note on my first year in college: an exhausting daily battle to keep my head above water, to make it look like I was Having Fun, to excel in the awful classes I chose for a major I wasn’t sure I wanted, to ascertain the line between getting tipsy to party and getting obliterated to forget, to become a new person, to slough off the existential trappings of my feeble life, if only for a night. I thought being a college student meant something more: scintillating discussions with likeminded peers over lunch; gritty romances and glamorous heartbreak; reveling in my confusing, newfound adulthood with loyal, newfound friends; instead, I rode the campus buses and attended my classes with the sensation of slipping into an old bath, the water frigid and clouded with the previous day’s dirt. Wearing loneliness like a stale sweatshirt. So I turned to fandom.
Once I stopped pretending to enjoy the dorm room shuffle, the banter with strangers with whom I felt a profound disconnect, I disappeared into the internet for hours, finding digital names and faces with whom I shared an obsession. It was 2007; we were teetering on the precipice of the final book, the fifth movie. Fan sites and podcasts proliferated; theories and analyses multiplied. I skipped classes to debate with other fans, to finish fanfiction stories I’d started in the dead of night when anxiety and tears snatched the sleep from my weary bones. It felt only right to immerse myself fully in the physical manifestation of the fandom that had sustained me for a year.
It wasn’t until I had flown back to Newark Airport, retrieved my luggage, got in the car, and trudged up to my room, that I realized my ring was missing. I placed a frantic call to the Hilton, and the receptionist was kindly apologetic. It wasn’t until I heard her voice, fingers gripping the edges of my cell phone, that I realized it was long gone. Forever.
“I’m sorry, ma’am.” (I could never tell Dad. It cost so much money.) “We will absolutely call you if it turns up.”
I imagined the vast hotel, the infinite spaces it could inhabit: beneath a bed, tucked between couch cushions, down a drain. It held a tiny amethyst, not because it was my birth stone, but because purple was my favorite color. The year I graduated high school was inscribed on one side: 2006. I had spent hours debating if I should have my name inscribed on the other: was it tacky, I wondered, or was my name short enough to pull it off? I didn’t particularly like my initials. I remember the night so clearly, the night I sat in my room with the order form, staring down a list of options for a piece of jewelry I’d never thought would come to mean so much. And I was talking to him, the him that had come to mean so much, infuriating and captivating in his physical and emotional distance. I yearned for him, and terrified myself with the depth of that yearning. We spoke primarily through AOL instant messenger. He offered little concrete help with my ring dilemma.
I’ll get you a much nicer one someday
It won’t have your name on it, though
“Thank you,” I hiccupped, through a haze of tears, and lowered the phone, unsure of why losing this actual ring felt so much like losing the possibility of the other. We rarely spoke nowadays, anyway. It was an impossible fantasy, one that I quietly resented him for ever conjuring.
When I was stumbling into the middling years of my twenties, I lost a to-go box of macaroni and cheese during a bike ride.
I was not a confident cyclist, not like I had been before, before student loan payments and calling bars the morning after, asking if they still had my credit card. Before, when there was overwhelming freedom, when my world was caged and familiar, when my neighbor’s front door slammed and their dog barked, and my knees were unshaven and knobby, when my bike was just an extension of my body. I relearned the hesitancy I had shed when I made the transition from three to two wheels, ridiculous and afraid to let go of my handlebars as an adult. I kept forgetting to buy a helmet. I predicted death around every corner, certain doom down each block.
My boyfriend and I were upset with each other, for reasons no longer relevant or remembered. That is how most arguments function: retrospectively meaningless. I left our apartment in a huff and rode to the bike repair shop, to – oh, that was it. He was upset because I failed to have my bike fixed. The context, however, still eludes me.
I went to a nearby bar while I waited. I ordered macaroni and cheese, and left with what I hadn’t eaten. I hit a pothole one hundred feet from our front door. I was going too fast to stop and mourn. The box flipped in midair and landed top-down on the asphalt, cheesy noodles scattered like grey matter at the scene of a homicide. I had to keep going. I couldn’t stop.
When I got home, I told my boyfriend what had just transpired, sullen, extending my misfortune like an offering. The air was still sharp, a tinge sour. He smirked, then laughed, and I grinned with him. Our previous rancor dissipated into the dusty annals of memory.
Where is the last place you saw it?
Retrace your steps.
Think of the least likely place it would be.
Losses and gains. How much more have I unwittingly let go of, lost in some fantasy imagining, wearied by reality? Have my missteps been transactional? Is there a greater lesson in my carelessness, some meaning in its chaos? I chide myself to slow down, step back, create lists, double check: all of the tiny, tidy directives meant to fence in order, to keep out disarray. To use my moment of stasis to reflect on the danger of reckless motion.
I try to remember, once a thing is gone, going back is often impossible, and even when it is, the thing tends to stay gone. Remembering is difficult. And I’m already moving past it, moving forward. Too fast.
About Carla: Carla is a writer and teacher living in Brooklyn. Her work has been published in The Toast, Potluck Mag, Luna Luna Mag, McSweeney’s, and elsewhere. Connect with her on Twitter @carlawaslike.