It is an hour before the rising of a white-blue sun when we pull up to the bus stop. A numb winter of constant grey sky and bland living has preceded this early-March week of vacation, and on an impulse, I had decided to board a low-cost, inter-city travel bus that went from Minneapolis to Milwaukee to visit a close friend. The week is over. It is time for college to begin again. After buying French pastries with apple filling and strong espresso, we drive into the just-beginning bustle of the parking lot next to the bus station where she is to drop me off. This is the start and end of my experimental autonomy. I stand next to a cold, steel pole of a street sign with several other individuals waiting for the Minneapolis-bound city bus that is soon to arrive and mull over how I, with my shearling-lined gloves and rolling luggage, feel lost in the sea of suitcases and early-morning commuters.
The murky frost of clouds weighs heavy with snow over my head, and I think back to days when being lost wasn’t so terrible after all. In the glacial March air – the middle of my freshman year in college - I am fairly directionless. It wasn't always like this. Growing up, my father was a firm believer in Menards. I, as the child, was a firm believer in exploring the land of the doors in Menards. This is, in fact, the section of the store that is simply labeled “Door Department.” To me, it was magic. I was only counterfeit lost when I explored each new country behind the standing frames. To vanish yet still be under the watchful eye of my father at the same time was a delicious liberty.
He always offered to purchase a Salted Nut Roll for me when we went, and between that, Christmasland, and the magical showroom of doorways, I generally enjoyed my trips to the home improvement store. Everything smelled of sawdust and the Greensweep they cleaned the linoleum with, and it felt comforting to be with my father in the hustle of carts and machinery.
At age six, I tromp after him through plumbing and lumber aisles, stopping to touch any interesting surface or metallic object. When my mother comes with us, she warns, “Lauren, you need to stay with us,” and I see the leg of her washed-out denim disappear as she turns the corner into the next row of tools, and I am alone.
There is a strange feeling that comes with being unaccompanied in a store aisle, especially when one is only in Kindergarten. I feel keenly exhilarated, as though I have just discovered a new coastline that no one has ever seen before. I will stake my flag, peruse the columns of shelves, and all the drywall and plaster sheets will be mine. My mind is buzzing with the thrill. But, slowly, I can’t help but notice the slinking, wobbling words of lost and alone that begin to loom large in my head.
Once I realize the true disparity of the situation, everything inside me flips. Gathering myself in a split second of panic, I begin running through the store, searching for my parents. Aisles of strangers blur past, men with white beards and slouched shoulders, a flash of blue vests as workers heave a heavy box onto a shelf. The ball of apprehension in my chest pulses larger as I keep looking for the subtle maroon of my father’s shirt to catch my eye. Eventually, I see them. measuring the dimensions of a window frame or looking at different shades of Sherwin-Williams beige, calm, everything that meant safety to me. My heart drums for twenty minutes afterwards.
Even now, however, I can still feel that same orb of dread and alarm in my torso whenever I start feeling off course or directionless. It was the same when my family dropped me off for college or when the Mapquest route I printed off for trips downtown was wrong. Just like the heat that rippled and heaved up off the ground in August, the sensation of being lost felt much like a blurry blister of steam that made everything hard to see.
Here is what misplaced means. A person has an object, his or her keys or phone, and then the items become lost. In the midst of the losing, it is a verb. Other times, a person is considered lost if he or she is thrown off course such as in a ship on the sea – an adjective. I have been these things, both parts of speech. It wasn’t until recently, this week when I was sitting on a cold stone by the iced-over fountain, that I thought how everything that is forgotten, gone astray, cannot truly be lost in all of its entirety. We are both located and misplaced at the same time.
Once, a friend of mine asked me where I thought all the lost things in the world go. It was a strange thing to consider. I pictured all the trinkets I had lost over the last couple of months: three gold buttons I was going to sew onto a sweater, a brown and braided leather bracelet that a friend had given me, my cell phone, which is my most forgotten item. I saw them all gathering in dusty corners, jagged cracks in walls, and the hidden pockets of the world, veiled to the human eye. All these objects would be right where their owners left them, but at the same time, they would be in another world – straddling the line of both spheres. In June, I sit in my car on the side of the freeway and wonder if this happens to people too.