Imagine me leaning in close to the mic, gesturing a little, dropping my voice to a sultry whisper: I can find things. Your lost keys. The neighbor's missing cat, awkwardly named Pussy. Maya Bloom's retainer, let us never speak of that dark day again—the smell of the dumpster in which it was located is lodged permanently in my left nostril. Billy Pickens's trombone, which didn't really go missing so much as it was purposely tossed into my backyard on the last day of school because, top secret intel: Billy Pickens despises trombone. Or my mom's sunglasses: Nine times out of ten, they're right on top of her head.
It's not a superpower—that would be fairly lame, as superpowers go. Who'd pick finding things over flying or shooting fire from their eyes or being able to turn water into Diet Coke? But it's been helpful, I have to say. Not just personally, but professionally: I find things for my job.
Or, more accurately, things find me.
Think about all the flights around the world happening at the same time, and how if even one percent of that luggage doesn't make it back to its owner, pretty soon you'll have a massive pile on your hands. What happens to all that stuff? Airlines try to reunite people with their belongings, but they don't always succeed. After a certain amount of time, those orphaned items are sold to stores like Unclaimed Baggage and auction houses where people show up to bid for suitcases they aren't even allowed to look inside. You might hit it big, or you might end up with a pile of soiled shirts. Game of chance, meet laundromat.
Most days I work in the stockroom, going through shipments. What I find ranges from the spectacular (a vintage Oscar de la Renta gown with only a tiny spot at the hem; I could have worn it to prom, if I had any interest in such things) to the abysmal (old boxer shorts that require me to disinfect myself with an entire bottle of hand sanitizer). Even better, I find those items—well, not the boxer shorts—homes. For example:
1. The doll that made my old piano teacher, Mrs. McClintock, cry because it was a replica of the one her grandpa had given her when she was a tiny girl.
2. The skateboard that class stoner Bruno Havens yanked out of my hands with the only scream of joy anyone's ever heard Bruno Havens emit because it was signed by some famous skater named Tony. Then Bruno actually hugged me, which is unprecedented.
3. The designer purse sold out everywhere that Ms. Lee, our extremely stylish vice principal, simply had to have. I kept it
hidden in the back until she could pick it up, ensuring my path to a really good college rec letter, even if I am a godless heathen.
I've been working at Unclaimed for two summers now, so I've seen plenty of stuff come and go. It's a lot like life that way.
Everyone's always looking for something. And we're all carrying around the memories of what we've lost. Which, by the way, is far more than just possessions.
For example, my closest friend, Maya Bloom, who's not only the one Jewish teenager in our town, but also the only lesbian who's actually out (a lot of people around here seem to think that's worse than not being so sure about the existence of God), got a job as a camp counselor in Mentone this summer, so I'm here, left behind, my life the same but also different. I miss her, but at least I know she'll be back.
Then there are more permanent rifts: Friendships that go awry and can't ever be fixed. You can lose your mind, your heart, your
dreams, your community, your job. You can lose someone you love. Or, to a less tragic extent, your virginity. (My parents would be relieved to know I still have my own.) Even age disappears, year after year. In two more years, high school will be gone. I'll head off to college, and all of this life I've had here will be, well, if not lost, closed. A chapter behind me.
Earlier today I was heading back to the stockroom after my lunch break when I found a kid. This kid was alone and loitering near the toy section, but he wasn't paying attention to any of the toys. That set off the alarm bells. He was five or six years old, a chubby boy with spiked-up hair and cargo shorts and a frown on his face. He looked at me, and I knew.
"You're lost," I said, and his big, round eyes, they got hopeful.
"My mom is here somewhere," he said, and I said, "Of course she is." I took his hand, which was slightly sticky. He squeezed mine back in a way that felt like he was preparing to hold on for dear life.