Oddly, for someone who's a bit cavalier with material possessions, a bit vague, fatalistic, I hate losing things. It feels like a personal failing (which it is). The missing object looms large in my mind for months, sometimes years; I think guiltily about it, abandoned. A single amethyst earring, lost when I was 18, still troubles me. I have its sibling in a drawer, just in case some miracle brings it back to me. A wallet left in a coach park on a school trip aged 13 haunted me for years - I could see, almost touch, the precise area of tarmac I thought I must have left it on. I can precisely recall the sickening realisation that I had lost my father's watch - through no fault of my own - a faulty catch on a ride across the moors. The miserable retracing of my steps, hope fading with each puddle searched. I still rummage hopefully through bags for the wallet that was stolen on my birthday last year. Maybe I was mistaken? It must be here somewhere.
At the moment, I get the 'something missing' jitters all the time. Yesterday, at the bottom of an escalator in the Gare du Midi, it stopped me dead in my tracks for a minute, while I searched fruitlessly through my bag for whatever might have been lost. Nothing. Again this morning, at the market. €50, purse, keys. All accounted for, but the anxiety remained.
Of course, finally, realisation hits, blindingly obvious once I articulate it. It's not a thing I've lost, it's a person. I'm alone. Noone on my arm. Noone I have to call. After sixteen years - my whole adult life - there are long swathes of time when noone wants, needs to know where I am, what I'm doing. I don't need to buy Weetabix Choco Minis when they occasionally appear, like a vision, on the Belgian supermarket shelves. The cupboard doors, opened and forgotten, remain open. I can take my laptop to bed every night, even though I know it's stupid, and noone calls me out on it. It's no surprise I'm patting my pockets, searching for a phantom missing credit card.
So I accept the anxiety. I understand I will twitch, and fret, and search for things, possibly for years. I'm waiting to recalibrate, to adjust to my own alarmingly slight presence.
*From Elizabeth Bishop's One Art:
Lose something every day. Accept the flusterof lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master
(with love and thanks to Mrs Trefusis, who reintroduced me to it just under year ago)