In my eleventh year I found a pocketknife. Closed, it was about four inches long, with a bone handle that was fat and round at one end, and tapered into a squared brass cap on the other. The blade was shaped like a hawk’s bill, and by aid of a small lever would lock in place. Both handle and blade were well worn. On the fat end of the handle someone had carved the initials LDW. The knife, when opened, fit snugly in the palm of the hand, and felt as if it had been held that way a thousand times. It was the perfect knife for scraping bark off a fallen limb, or for splitting a scrap of rawhide. I grew fond of this knife and for a while carried it wherever I went.
I can’t recall where I found it. Had you asked me then, I would have told you it found me. Who was LDW? I didn’t care, nor did I care to find out. The knife had found a home in my pocket, and that’s where I meant for it to stay.
But it made an awkward bulge there. It was uncomfortable, too, being so fat and heavy. I soon tired of carrying it around. It was painful pedaling my bike up a hill with that fat knife in my pocket. I began to lay it aside. Sometimes I would misplace it. A month or so later I’d find it in an unexpected place, like out in a field, or under the refrigerator. Once I found it in the road only inches from a drainage grate. Another time I found it in a wooden toolbox beneath a pile of plumbing pipe in the smokehouse. I found it several times in a certain drawer in the kitchen. Another time it was in a cigar box where my grandmother kept things that didn’t seem worth keeping, like a broken pair of glasses, or an assortment of empty thread spools. But no matter how many times I lost it, the knife always came back.
Until I was nineteen or twenty. By then I had stopped carrying a knife. I also had moved enough times that I’d lost or discarded most of the junk that once filled my drawers. And I no longer spent most of my time in the woods carving up trees. I got older and forgot about the knife.
A few months ago, though, I was walking in Jonesborough. I went into an antique store and there in the display case was the knife. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I pressed my face against the glass to get a closer look. Yes, same initials, same bone handle. “That’s my knife!” I said to the man behind the counter. “I mean, it used to be my knife.” He looked at me kind of funny. “Will you take five dollars for it?” I asked. He shook his head. “ ’Fraid not. That’s an antique. Handle’s made of solid bone. Why, that knife’ll bring five times that.”
I didn’t buy it. After all, it was mine all along — and never had been.
Johnson City, Tennessee
I am lost and found at precisely the same moment.
I lose myself in a bookstore. I find a good book. I read it and the “I” of me is no longer.
I quit smoking. I struggle. I eat. I gain weight. I am found and I am lost.
So I think back to my days as an athlete, to the junior-high boy who learned to love running. I dig around in my clothes closet and come up with my wrestling sweats. I warm up until I’m sweating. I begin by jogging down the road, more chugging than jogging, bouncing, huffing and puffing. I am sore, humiliated. I am like Rocky in the first part of the first movie — before the theme music.
Then it clicks. I am running and I am lost. Running is. Slow and plodding, sure, but running is.
I am writing and am lost. Soon “I” smell the pan burning without my coffee water, which has evaporated. When I write in the mornings, sometimes I evaporate for moments at a time. I am found.
And sadly too, when I am found in the world’s eye view, I am too often lost to myself. And never more than when I try to exist in harmony with both at once. Whatever harmony is for me, it is not about trying.
I began writing half a life ago, for the byline. What I would not do for my English teachers, I found, to my surprise and delight, I was more than willing to do for myself. I began to study, to concentrate, to try. My writing, of course, became terrible.
So I write for the sheer glory of self-expression. It becomes such a cumulative and wonderful experience that I imagine an audience — you. Right away I am lost again.
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
I shivered all over when I marched down the aisle to “get saved” at Vacation Bible School. I was nine years old. Later, neck-deep in tepid water in the small, marble baptismal pool of our sanctuary, when I saw the preacher wade toward me in huge rubber fisherman’s hip boots that flared out at the tops under his wet, billowing robes, I found the sight unusual, but not overly disconcerting. I truly did feel renewed.
Around age fifteen. I became alienated, and even went through an atheist phase — when the preacher told me Jesus thinks war is all right and then winked at me, and when I wondered why the adult congregation wasn’t Christian toward blacks and Indians and didn’t really imitate Christ in certain important ways. Some attempts to emulate Christ, I noticed, even evoked persecution from our elders.
I’m tired of fighting Jesus, and want to give in and accept him as a blessed, enlightened one who helps me dwell on God. I won’t allow anyone to alienate me from Christ anymore by harsh, rigid fundamentalism and by interpreting his truths in that murky light. From now on, I’ll insist on my own interpretations filtered through a brighter light. Now I may again be retrieved from the desolate wilds of faithless despair through Christianity and other great religions. For someone who feels lost as often as I, this is a blessing bestowing hope, truth, and beauty on a heart too easily dismayed.
Faith fluctuates. We forget, and feel lost. We need to remember who we really are, parts of the wholeness of the divine.
Durham, North Carolina
What’s lost, of course, is sex. The sex drive, around which we organize our psyches, begins to diminish. Its pressure to define us begins to recede, and we become increasingly nervous about this growing open space inside. If we aren’t in pursuit of sex and its many attendants (adventure, love, security), then what are we in pursuit of? What are we? Who are we?
I’ve heard people express relief that their sex drive is shrinking, but I’ve never believed them. Oh, I believe they felt relief for the envisioned end of all their disappointments and frustrations; but this is a negative relief, not a fulfillment or even a genuine finishing-up.
What’s found, it seems, is found only by those few who do “finish up,” and they have trouble saying what it is. In part, I think it’s something like a new sex center in the mind — an orgasmic rapture for existence that just goes on and on. We’ve had little hints of it; even the young man’s fantasy of having an orgasm that lasted and lasted was a hint of it.
Real joy for existence is the only next place to get. And the only way to get there is to fulfill ourselves where we are right now. In other words to get there here.
Petersburg, West Virginia
I lost William Burroughs’ Cities of the Red Night on the way to a Grateful Dead concert last August. I was inwardly glad because it was full of sex and hangings. Finally I paid the Denver library $20.
I lost a container of tahini on the Q10 bus in Queens in November. I thought of calling the Metropolitan Transit Authority but I lost my nerve.
In high school, I read a book on existentialism by Sartre and immediately lost it, which made me something of a celebrity.
I seem to have lost touch with David Hyduke, Rabbit, Melody and Paul Rosenfeld. Write me if you’re reading this!
I’ve been lost in Buffalo, Denver, New York, San Juan and Chicago.
Once I lost my temper and threw a dish at Joan.
I’ve never found anything in a Lost and Found.
Brooklyn, New York