lost and found

I've started calling the numbers on posters looking for missing pets and objects. Oh, I haven't found your cat, but I'd like to take you out to dinner tonight. I used to have a wallet that sounds kind of like your missing one. It might be I still have it somewhere. When I used to lose my keys, I got a carabiner and fidgeted with them all the time. I'd know as soon as I couldn't find them, then.

And so on. I had a small cache of lost things, but nobody ever seemed to be looking for them.

Mostly, they wouldn't respond. Some would just hang up, others would swear at me. But some would talk and listen. Once or twice they even agreed to meet me. I think they wondered what I wanted at first, whether I had some ulterior motive, but soon they forgot about that. We would talk about lost things.

It started, of course, with what they had lost. I'd tell them about things I'd lost in my time. My cat ran away when I was very young. I misplaced many of my favorite toys. One time, I put a magnet in a thing of silly putty, and I swear by all flowers, it vanished inside there. I looked for it for hours, though it was just a little round magnet, and there was no trace. And when I was older there have been still other things I've lost. We talked about them, too. Sometimes we thought we knew what happened. Sometimes they vanished to the whims of fate.

But that's not what we're really here to talk about. After a while, very casually, as if I'm not changing the subject at all, I'll say that a few years ago I lost a part of me that I've never got back. I talk about things that have scarred me--lost love, past mistreatment, mistakes, realizations that I can't take back. And they look at me, wondering if I'm joking. Most of them left, and I don't blame them.

One stayed behind. We came here to talk about things we've lost, she figured, didn't we? For every kitten who's run away, there's a past self we wish we still were. Once I was a boy who had never bled for someone who would not bleed back. Once she was a girl who had never spent six months in a lie. And we lost that.

The thing about lost things, she tells me, is that we're always still looking for them. They're frozen in time, just like they were before they left. Even twenty years on you still wonder if that's your kitten who just ran across the road.

I've forgotten what her poster was looking for. A wallet, some keys, a leather-bound notebook--I just know I haven't seen it. Some kid probably picked it up and wondered about it until he'd lost interest, the way I always do when I find lost things in the street. They remind me of the time when I was a boy who didn't find lost things in the street. A girl I knew took that from me, along with many other things.

I tell her I think I'm hoping that finding lost things might be the key to bringing something of mine back, and then she smiles. It's a warm smile and it encourages me, but it also fills me with the certainty that I'm entirely wrong about that. But for a little while, anyway, that's okay.

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