Last week, I took a wrong turn as I was hiking in the woods and found myself lost. I never get lost, so whenever it happens, I worry. At my age, they don’t consider it an accident, or that you angered the Moirai. If you get lost they take away your privileges; the Home is filled with people who are lost. So I usually tell myself and whoever wanders by and stares at me, that I am merely exploring a new route –it sounds better, I think. But that day, it started to rain so I decided to shelter under the branches of a huge, ancient cedar and keep a lookout for any paths that happened by.
Anyway, I love the rough texture of cedar bark -my hands are drawn to it like iron to a magnet. And as I ran my fingers over the wrinkled trunk, they discovered a weathered old trail marker. Hope sprang eternal: you can’t be lost if someone else in the same spot knew where they were. An arguable point, perhaps, but enough to save face.
I enjoy being able to make obfuscatory statements to myself like that -it proves I’m still in command of my faculties. In fact, I was so proud of realizing that I wasn’t, in fact, technically lost, that I decided if I ever made it back home I would make sure someone else found out that I hadn’t been. Otherwise, who would know? Genius is only genius if it is recognized.
I should know by now that Brien is not an empathetic listener; before I’ve finished the first sentence, he has usually formed an opinion and I can see him stirring restlessly on the lawn chair on the porch where I always find him. He’s a large, slow moving man, so in a way, it’s like visiting a verandal monument. But I knew I had to do it -I already felt the weight of guilt for equivocating with myself and I was desperate to atone.
The day was unseasonably warm for March, but Brien had obviously not checked the forecast before ensconcing himself on the porch in an array of scarves, hat, coat, winter boots and woolen blanket. Several bottles of anticipatory beer were lined up beside the chair, but his eyes were fixed on his second favourite tree as if it might surprise him and suddenly sprout if he relaxed his vigilance. Unlike Sheda, his favourite –and only- cedar tree, there were no leaves on the maple’s knobby limbs, and even if there were any buds, they were too far away for him to see. But although he expected great things of the tree, he hadn’t named it. “Too risky,” he’d say each spring when I’d see him staring at it like he was watching child about to wake. “I mean suppose this year it’s different…?” And yet despite his annual vernal angst, he still felt compelled to prepare for the new season. Spring does that to some people.
A brief glance was all he could spare me as I climbed the three rickety wooden steps to his lair. “I’m waiting for a leaf,” he said and picked up one of the bottles. “You can watch from there,” he added, pointing to a nearby chair with his free hand, and handing me the beer as I passed. “First leaf is always exciting…”
Sometimes it’s really hard to take Brien seriously.
“You’ve been hiking again, eh?” He notices more out of the corner of his eyes than I can manage with a concerted stare.
This was going well. “Why do you say that?” I asked, preparing to launch into a detailed description of my morning.
He shrugged but didn’t take his eyes off the maple. “You’re all muddy… Get lost again?” he added with a little smile before he cracked another beer. Retirement has allowed Brien a little too much time for reflection, I think.
“No,” I said, puffing myself up as much as I could under the mocking scrutiny of his indirect stare. “As a matter of fact, I’ve come to believe that ‘lost’ is merely a relative construct.”
His eyes briefly swooped over my face like swallows chasing insects, then flew away again. “Relative to where you want to be, you mean?” He thought about it for a moment. “Or, relative to where you think you are?” he added, complete with italics.
Sometimes it’s hard to follow his logic, so I decided to rephrase my initial point. “Being lost is entirely subjective,” I said, hoping to out-obfuscate him. “It’s only a decision you make about your location. You could be mistaken…”
His eyes did not waver again, but I could tell he was processing my assertion, because his bottle seemed to linger over his lips as he drained the contents.
“And the fact that I am now on your porch is the proof,” I added, smugly.
I think he nodded. Whenever Brien suspects he has me, he nods. “So where’s the hat you always wear?” He risked another quick ocular sortie onto my face, then retreated as if it never happened. But I’m used to these lightening raids. Unfortunately, I had no idea where the hat was; it was so wet, I must have hung it on that tree and then forgotten about it. “I don’t always wear it,” I said defensively, but I realize my tone said otherwise. “Or maybe it fell off where I turned around…”
“In the place where you weren’t lost, you mean?”
That seemed safe to concede, so I nodded –although a little apprehensively.
I could hear him breathing as he prepared his trap. “So, is it lost?”
I shrugged –that was an interesting question. I mean presumably a hat can’t decide whether its location is or is not where it thinks it should be. “Well…theoretically, if I don’t know where it is, it’s only missing.”
“Lost, you mean,” he corrected me with a firm, parental voice.
“No… misplaced!” I felt I needed another word.
He actually left the maple for a moment and turned the full force of his eyes on me. “So you mean if you left it where you weren’t lost, then it isn’t either -even if you don’t know exactly where it is right now?”
I didn’t want to agree too quickly or he’d ask me to wear it next time I saw him. I thought of an interesting corollary, though: if ‘lost’ is just a subjective construct, then an objective thing like a hat could be lost without reflecting poorly on its owner… He thought he had me, and I thought I had him… So I decided just to smile in response -I was already starting to get lost in permutations.
He settled back in his chair, content that he could now give all his attention to the tree. “Think you can find me another beer?”
I nodded pleasantly. Some things don’t get lost.