Ally Wright is about to start her fourth quarter of putting off real life by attending graduate school. She loves to travel and to write, and hopes to one day combine these into a moneymaking endeavor. Her greatest achievement in writing so far is receiving the “Best Writer” award in Mrs. Thorton’s first grade class, which included a certificate, which now hangs in her parent’s house.
The Isle of Lost Things
“And everything that begins, then, has the possibility of ending.” – Aristotle (as I remember it, from Rhetoric, and probably not as he said it.)
If all the lost things in the world fell into black holes and landed on some island in some unnamed sea, I would be afraid to visit this isle, afraid that once I visited, I would never leave, that I would become lost myself.
(It is not an unreasonable fear, this fear of becoming, myself, nothing more than a lost thing.)
If I did visit, accidentally stumbling after some misleading trail of bread crumbs to this place of confusing and unorganized things, the fear would vanish upon arrival, the way fear of pleasant things can only vanish if you plunge headfirst into those pleasant things, with no time to overthink, no time to worry about the losing of them. But of course if you are at the Isle of Lost Things, you are already obsessed with loss, with end. The thing, then, is not to go, there.
Perhaps, then, the thing to do is plunge in, here? Headfirst, without fear? The weather is warm; I should not be so afraid of the potential cold, for the icy hit from the water of the splash. I should not be afraid of losing what I do not yet have, what I only think I want.
I am sure that, if this island were a place, and if I went, I would give in to the attraction of all the different lost items. I would wander the maze of lonely socks and long-forgotten ticket stubs, of childhood’s stuffed animals and adulthood’s car keys. Perhaps I would catch a whiff of my grandmother’s necklace, or my mother’s charm, dangling from my own charm bracelet, or perhaps they would be too ensconced in the hills and valleys of lost things that they wouldn’t know I was there.
And the foundation of the island would be dirt: the dirt of faith, so much faith, lost by adolescents who thought that it would one day be found again. That one day the floundering certainty of youth would settle back down underfoot, letting them know they were “grown.” They, too, could settle. This never happens. Faith, once lost, is never found, not in the same way. At the Isle of Lost Things, it is the strongest and most solid lost thing.
Let me be clear, this is not faith in a higher power. That faith, lost, isn’t of this isle. This is the innate faith in things, the faith we put in the idea that material things can save us, the instinctual groping for something of flesh to grab onto with our tiny fists when we first enter the world. It comes before we understand abstract concepts, before the idea of “mother” is anything more than the flesh we are groping.
This faith in the things (ones that aren’t lost yet, ones that could be lost) would be the dirt, and from it would grow innocence in the form of tiny green grasslings, covering the solid ground with all the little naiveties of youth.
It is on this grass on this ground that the lost things build. Mazes of objects. Rooms of objects.
Perhaps I would meet other people on the isle, too: real, live lost boys and girls that were actually lost and are still lost and did not choose to leave but wandered off, as I could do. Perhaps there would be someone there that I had lost, someone there that I would find had not chosen to leave, as I thought, but had just gotten too far off-track? Perhaps I would not be the only person chasing what was lost, chasing it too far.
And the breath I lose when I’ve been running too long, or the breath taken away when the shocking or glorious happens—that would be the wind. Yes, The Isle of Lost Things would be in constant sway, swirling and mixing together so nothing could ever be found, unless you felt it, unless you knew exactly where to look.
That is how I have found things in the past. The dropped contact. The tiny peace-sign stud earring. The back to that earring. I lose it and suddenly turn my head and see exactly where it is.
(This is how I always thought I would find you. I would suddenly know exactly where to look. But I guess, with the objects, I knew what I was looking for. With you, I do not, and I can’t stop looking.)
It happens that most often what is lost is only half, and the other half is left at a loss. One sock, one earring, one shoe, one contact lens. I lost a shoe in the current of a strong river, and I gave the river the other shoe, let it set sail on the rushing water, so the halves could be a whole. What use is only half of a whole?
Does everything lost leave something behind, and can we only find peace in letting this last piece go, too? Letting the water rush it away? My mother said not to think about it, speak about it, when I lost the charm and the bracelet. It’s bad, but it’s gone. It’s material; it can be replaced, but I’m still wearing its absence on my wrist. It is buried in the lost things, and I am dwelling in the remembering. (This is one reason I fear the isle.)
What do these things that I keep trying so hard not to lose and sometimes lose and become heartbroken and cling to the loss—what do these things represent? The small, slim gold cross on the small, thin gold chain, my Nana’s necklace, may have, in an obvious way, stood for my Nana, whom I lost when I was young, long before I lost the necklace she gave me. (I use “lost” here inappropriately; the dead would not be part of this isle of lost things. They have their own world. They are not lost, nor capable of being lost, so the euphemism serves only to placate the fear of the real word.
But isn’t “lost” worse than “dead”? Almost? Dead is dead, but lost is somewhere. Somewhere buried, perhaps, but buried and waiting.)
But the necklace, I lost, while I was in high school, on an overnight trip with a youth group that I never felt a part of. Losing the cross necklace was simultaneous with me losing my belief, or my commitment to trying to believe, in what the cross represented, but that’s probably more of a coincidence. For me, the necklace was my Nana, the memory of my Nana, and I cried when I told my mother. (It was not just the necklace I was afraid of losing.)
My mother’s charm, a silver Sweet Sixteen my Nana gave to her on her sixteenth birthday, I wanted. When my mother mentioned the idea to me she seemed almost embarrassed by the sentimentality of it, apparently momentarily forgetting the daughter she raised (a daughter who hoarded old jeans and ticket stubs and notebooks. A daughter who was just like her, only younger. Only worse.). I assured her that I was very touched. I loved the symbolism of it, and the symbolism of the charm bracelet as a whole. I would wear my memories as little trinkets around my wrist, and I would not be able to forget them, to lose them. She bought me a silver charm bracelet of my own for my sixteenth birthday, and her charm was the first to be soldered on. Soldered, to prevent its being lost.
To this bracelet, I added my own charms over the years, as was intended. I traveled and graduated and learned new things and for each I bought a charm. A silver mask from my visit to Venice during Carnivale. An Eiffel Tower for when I went at night and sat in front of it. The she-wolf mother of Rome, because I lived there, and felt like a part of it. The bracelet became more than just my mother, or so I thought, but now that I have lost it, I know that perhaps it never really did. Losing it has simply reminded me that, as she lost her mother, I will one day lose mine. (This I cannot even type without crying; this I cannot write words for to make you understand my fear.
This is the fear from which I suffer most.
(This is perhaps why I do not plunge in, here. Why I have fear. I cannot lose what I do not have, so perhaps the thing is to not have it.))
I lost the shoe to the river, and it felt right to sacrifice the other shoe (it strikes me now that I have done this more than once—lost shoes in rivers—though the other time it was a river of people, and I think both were snatched from me in the dancing, throbbing crowd, but they were flimsy shoes, and I did not fight for the second one much, after the first was gone), but I have several earrings without mates that I am reluctant to discard. Do I think I will one day know where to look and find the missing piece? Or am I simply obsessed with the memory?
One earring, I wore when I was last with a guy. It was a matched set at the beginning of the night—we were out, celebrating a friend’s birthday—and at the end I was only wearing one. I think I knew then I was done with this boy, but I was afraid of the idea of ending it, nonetheless. And I was upset, perhaps disproportionately so, over the loss of the earring. They were pretty, each a golden circle with flowers and vines overrunning the edge, but I had others that are pretty, too. I keep the remaining earring (most recently, I put it in a desk drawer) because there is still something there I am afraid to lose.
I know the Isle of Lost Things, if it existed would mostly be jewelry, such as my bracelet, and cell phones and cameras and suitcases and sweatshirts and material things that can be forgotten and replaced with the help of money, but it would be more, too, at least to me, and this is why I would not want to go. It would be the memories, dark or happy, deep or simple, true or not.
This is why I am afraid to go. And, too, why I would never leave.
I’ve heard losing called an art and a childish thing, something we need to be good at and something we should never do, something we can control and something that cannot be controlled. It is hard to know what is true. (Is anything true?
Would true mean something that could not be lost?)
My mother said that I must not dwell on the charm bracelet. Someone found it; someone probably needed the money they could get from it. They could melt it down, she said, use the silver for something new. She had lost things that were important to her, too, she said, and it was rough, but it would be okay.
This is how I know the Isle of Lost Things could never really exist. Black holes don’t open up under couch cushions or in dryers or even on trains, where I left my charm bracelet. Everything lost was, to some extent, left, and may still be there, where you left it. It may not be.
But the thing is, lost things are somewhere. They do not disappear. They simply move; they shift; they change what they are or whose they are. Or they stay and become buried in the dirt, an earring dropped in the grass could become an artifact dug up in hundreds of years by those people who make their lives out of finding other people’s lost things and trying to figure out what they represent. (But they can never actually know, can they? What these things represent will have been long lost.)
Perhaps the charms and the chain of my bracelet will be melted down and the silver will be used to make something new: a tea cup engraved with an infant’s initials, or earrings that will adorn some young girl’s ears when she finds someone waiting for her, exactly where she thinks he will be. She may know what it is to simply plunge in, without fear of the outcome. She may lose one earring and then simply toss the other in the trash. (The World of Things Voluntarily Discarded is a place I can’t imagine.)
I do not know how, but I must learn to avoid stumbling into the Isle of Lost Things and how to let the other half of what is lost—desire and the fear—race away with the river and leave me here.