The Loss of a Close Friend

On Thursday when I left the house to pick my daughter up from school, I couldn’t find my iPod. I’d had it in the car the night before, but now I couldn’t lay hands to it. I couldn’t find it again when she and I left to go to karate. I came home and looked in my briefcase, my purse, my other purse, my backpack. I looked in the foot wells of the car, in the trunk, under the seats. I looked in that place in the kitchen where all the junk seems to accumulate, on the nightstand next to my bed, in the mess of books on the floor in front of the nightstand. I cleaned the desk in my office. I cleaned the stuff off the couch. I cleaned the stuff off the other couch.

Don’t get me wrong – my house is neither so big nor so messy that a thing as big as an iPod goes missing often. Yeah, I know that an iPod is only about the size of a deck of cards, but do you think that if you left a deck of cards somewhere in your house, you might never find it?

I looked in the onion bin, the potato drawer, the fridge, the silverware drawer, and the drawer in the pantry where we keep screws, tape, hooks, hinges and bits of string. I’ve looked under things, behind things, in things, between things.

In the meantime, I’ve got two audiobooks that I have to hear to prepare for an interview. There are a few podcasts I follow that I now miss. I’ve got a half-dozen audiobooks that I’m reading for non-school purposes. And then there’s the music. If I were stranded on a desert island, I could listen to music continuously for 20.4 days without hearing a duplicate. I’ve got 4.5 days of television shows (nearly all animation), and a whopping 138 days of books. Just over FIVE MONTHS of content.

I didn’t realize how much I depended on my iPod. Because I’m always reading a paper book while reading an ebook while listening to an audio book. Because I’m hooked on Lexicon Valley and SuperEgo and Judge John Hodgman. Because I am like the rest of the world in that I like to clean while listening to music. Because when I’m on a plane and I can’t write anymore, I can always watch more Clone Wars. Or re-watch.

I know from the painful and tragic experience of a family friend that you have to wait 7 years after someone’s disappearance to have them declared dead. How long should one wait before declaring a beloved life partner lost? Would I betray my old friend if I went out and picked up someone new and shiny? How stupid will I feel if I buy a new iPod and come home and the next time I sit on the couch, there it is, under my left butt cheek? In the meantime, I’m dragging my entire laptop around with me so that I can keep up with my schoolwork.

Lord knows what I’ll do when I mislay that.

UPDATE: Not 30 minutes after posting this, I found my iPod. It’s a 160Gb iPod classic in a thick silicone skin (I drop it a lot). The silicone means that not only does it not break when I drop it, but it sticks to things (like the time it stayed on the roof of my car during 48 hours and 100+ miles of driving). It had fallen between the mattress and footboard of my bed (it’s a big sleigh bed) and stuck there. Until I pulled all the linens off the bed and jiggled the mattress around. I knew that if I just bitched loudly enough about it being lost, it would hear me and get itself found again. This iPod and I, we’re like Sauron and the One Ring.

The Last Thing You Do

My last memory of my mother is of a tiny white dot, high in the sky above me, and a thin wailing sound as the wind carried her hot air balloon out over the sea.

I hung on as long as I could, the rough surface of the wicker basket creaking and cutting my palms as I struggled to pull myself into the gondola of the balloon, giving it a bit more ballast. Alas, I have never been athletic, and in this moment of desperation, not even my fervent wish and urgent need were enough to achieve the impossible and lift my leg over the edge of the gondola. Instead, fate, fear and lacquer conspired to make my sweaty hands slip, sending me tumbling sideways the forty feet to the ground where I crashed, and, as I found out later, broke both my humerus and my clavicle. Mother would never have survived the fall.

As I watched the balloon lift and mother went from a doll to something even tinier and therefore more unreal, I could still hear voice high above me.

“Tell your father I never loved him!” she shouted, wiping at her face. “I always despised him and I’m glad to be leaving!”

The pain in my body caused the world to ripple and shimmer, and the pain of seeing my mother drifting uncontrolled out to sea was a crushing weight that kept me from floating up into the sky after her, but this bomb that she dropped from sixty feet up hit me and drove me into the ground.

“What?” I yelled, not because I hadn’t heard, but because I hadn’t believed. We’ve all done that.

“I hate your father. Just tell him!”

I clasped my hands to my heart, worried that the pain I was feeling might be a heart attack, although I dismissed that notion because to have a heart attack at a time like this would be self-indulgent and attention-seeking. She must have thought I was sad. It was true, but to say I was sad is like saying that the universe is big. It’s a word so out of scale as to be wrong.

“I love you. Never forge…”

But I may have made up the last bit of that. The “I love you” was almost audible, but it may have been a seagull somewhere near as well. She was too far away for me to hear anything properly, and all I was left with was her saying she hated my father. I stood there, my toes hanging off the edge of the cliff, and toyed with the notion of stepping off and flapping my arms.

While everyone in the world who wasn’t us looked for her, a tiny old woman in a hot air balloon with inadequate ballast, a non-intuitive steering mechanism and a picture of Buster Keaton as a young and handsome man painted on the side, my father and I sat at the kitchen table and stared at each other and two cups of stone cold tea. I thought about telling him what she’d said, but the more I thought about it, the more angry I became.

How dare she. How dare she burden me with breaking the news to my father that their 42-year marriage had been a sham. How dare she intimate to me, in what may well have been her final moments, the notion that her life had been unhappy. I love my father. He’s a kind, gentle, unambitious man whose dahlias win prizes that he donates to charity and who writes letters to the editor in which he says that So-and-So is really a much nicer person than anyone gives them credit for. How could she have saddled me with the task of breaking his heart? I joined them late in life, a miracle baby when my mother was on the cusp of menopause, and I had always thought that she and my father had always wanted children and that I had dispelled their disappointment. It would never have occurred to me that I had caused it. Why did she feel it necessary to ensure that she took from us not just herself, but any happy memories that we might have of the time she had spent with us?

“What is it, sweet pea?” my father asked, patting my hand with his own. The blank, blasted shock on his face had been replaced with concern for me. As though I had witnessed her being drawn and quartered, rather than being swept away in a balloon.

“It’s the last thing she said. I just don’t understand.”

“What was it?”

I drank off the last of my cold tea, gagging a little but preferring to gag down cold tea that had been coddled in the first place to telling him what she had said.

“She said that she never loved you. That she hated you.”

I broke down crying, putting my arms out for my father to comfort me, but he didn’t. He couldn’t.

On the anniversary of her disappearance, with no body to bury, no ashes to scatter, no reason to even observe because she hadn’t been officially classified as dead yet, Dad and his new girlfriend and I all went to the cliff. The ruts in the ground that the gondola had made as it scraped its way toward the cliff edge had long since eroded away and filled in with grass, but I imagined I saw them. On the day she disappeared, the sky had been mercilessly blue, allowing me to imagine I saw her for an impossibly long time. Today, a frosting of cirrus clouds obscured the furthest reaches of the heavens, and protected the three of us from having to say anything. I didn’t tell Mom that Daddy and his girlfriend were talking about marriage, that I had been accepted to college and was packing my things to leave in three weeks. I didn’t tell her that only a year after her leaving, first by blowing away, and then by rejecting us, we were fine.

I have always held the suspicion that she lied.