She couldn’t seem to direct her mind away from what she had lost. The intensity of her focus wasn’t due to any inherent importance or value, but the unknown, potential importance of these items. Since they were no longer with her, she couldn’t physically weigh them. Could only turn them over in her head, try to remember each individually and feel them together, collectively. Remember what it felt like to have.
The loss had happened because of the car. She had borrowed the car, having not driven in years. A few hours, a box of decorations to a party across town, it had seemed simple. She had laughed at the car’s comic size—its excessiveness, its awkwardness. While also feeling the power that comes with such awkward excess, such hubris. She had parked in a residential neighborhood, having no question of its safety. It was clearly a fortress, impenetrable.
Each night she would lie in bed, in the dark, leading tours through her bag. Every pocket, every item that had become a fixture. From the craft fair lip balm to the folder of old New Year’s resolutions on her laptop to the Christmas gift novel she hadn’t been able to bring herself to read. All would be cataloged, each grieved for individually. Over and over.
This was not like her. Or at least not like the self she once thought herself to be. That previous idea of self believed in impermanence, natural cycles of change. It was a self that easily let go, a self that did not grieve objects. But the loss was too sudden and didn’t fit with the gradual erosion she expected from life. It felt like many break-ups at once, none of which she had seen coming.
Her friends didn’t, seemingly couldn’t, understand why she was still talking about the loss all these months later. Often, sad and drunk, a friend would put a hand on her shoulder and tell her it was an awful thing that had happened, senseless, but it was time to move on. And she knew, she agreed. But it didn’t change the happenstance, the randomness, the previous self attached to these belongings now somewhere unknown in the world. Why couldn’t anyone see?
In her mind she held her before and after versions: one carefree, the other guarded and untrusting, existing without pieces of her identity. She learned early on that replacing the items didn’t replace the self. But perhaps there were a specific number of tours that would create change, she thought. An amount of cataloging she had to do to arrive at her new life, a better life, a life where she could stop being a person who had lost.
Joshua James Amberson is the author of the decade-long running zine Basic Paper Airplane and a regular contributor to The Portland Mercury. His work has appeared in Broken Pencil, We’ll Never Have Paris, Electric Literature, and The Rumpus.