I’ve written before about how much it bothers me to lose things. Materials objects, that is. I just feel that the material world is something you should be able to count on. People can be unpredictable. So can weather and natural disasters and political situations and boating conditions and reader response. But knowing that you’ll be able to find your keys wherever you last placed them – because they’re not going to decide to go for a walk, or have a change of heart about their fealty toward you, or decide it would be funny to hide – is something you should be able to count on. Object permanence matters to me; it’s one constant in a world of entropy.
And for that reason, I’m careful with objects. I pay attention to where I place things. “Is this where I’m most likely to look for it next time I need it?” I ask myself when I put something down. I’m mindful about having specific places for specific belongings and not mindlessly leaving things in places other than where they normally go.
So it was frustrating not to be able to find my pedometer chip yesterday morning. This is a little plastic oblong that plugs in to my iPod and tracks my mileage while I run. Unfortunately, since it’s about an inch long and white, it’s nearly invisible. So I always leave it in the same place, with my iPod and headphones, when I’m done running.
Yesterday, the fact that it wasn’t there gave me the feeling that something was ever so slightly wrong with the world. An object had picked itself up and gone away; that isn’t supposed to happen.
It wasn’t essential that I have it right away, but it’s so small and inconsequential in appearance that I knew if I didn’t find it quickly, it could simply be swept under a bookshelf or tracked outside with the dog or brought out to the recycling bin with the mail.
And as neurotic as it makes me sound, I felt a little off-kilter all day, knowing that a tiny fraction of my attention was diverted wondering where this little piece of plastic could be.
I told my 13-year-old about the problem when he got home from school. “So just keep an eye out for it,” I concluded. I expected relative indifference on his part, but to my surprise, he immediately started looking on the floor below the mudroom shelf. “I bet it’s either here or in the laundry basket,” he said.
“Why would you think that?” I asked.
“Because those are the only places it could have landed when I knocked it off the shelf last night,” he said.
A ha. A clue. “If you knocked it off the shelf, why didn’t you pick it up?” I asked him.
“Well, I looked for a minute, but I didn’t see it right away, so I figured it had to have fallen either on the floor or into the laundry basket under the shelf and you’d find it eventually.”
Exasperated but hopeful, I lifted a pile of clean laundry out of the basket. My odometer chip tumbled out.
“Tim, if you know you’ve knocked something off a shelf, look for it!” I said, incredulous not for the first time – more like the ten thousandth time – at the seemingly obvious truisms that need to be stated to 13-year-old boys.
“I figured it couldn’t be too far away,” he shrugged.
So now all is well. I have my odometer back and my faith restored in the material world. Tim has learned what I would have assumed was intuitive: if you drop something, pick it up. Okay, realistically, Tim probably has not learned that. But surely a mom can dream.