I was wearing black and white running sneakers and old white socks. The socks were worn out, more gray now than white, but they still had the logo from where I used to work stitched around the ankle. Given their age (they were older than my relationship with my husband) and their threadbare condition, they should have been thrown away a while ago. I held onto them because, even though I didn’t consciously think of myself as something to be stepped on, these socks reminded me of myself, or someone I used to be: Employed. Independent. Awkward enough to buy the “company socks.” Sentimental enough to hold onto them even after they hardly served their intended function.
There was no reason to think I would need waterproof footwear at the apple orchard today. I had been to this orchard dozens of times, and the only times I had gotten soaked were when it was actually raining. Today the weather was forecast to be gorgeous, crisp, and sunny– a perfect October day.
But I had never been here this early. So I had never noticed how when the sun has just risen over the hill, the grass is coated with surprisingly large dew drops.
In this early light they gleamed remarkably like silver and remarkably like the stainless steel wrist band of my husband’s watch. He had lost it a day earlier somewhere within these tranquil rows of apple trees.
I was looking for the watch with a desperation that surprised me. The watch was expensive, but of no obvious sentimental value. This was not a watch he inherited from his great grandfather, or a watch imbued with some historical significance. It was simply a nice watch he had bought for himself that made him feel “dressed,” accomplished, and generally good about himself. (Like a very expensive pair of skinny jeans.)
And he took care of that watch! Cleaning it, setting it, dismantling and reassembling it–tending to it like a modern day Geppetto (minus the creepy hope that the watch would eventually turn into a child).
Despite his reputation for being messy, and a sort of “absent minded professor” type, my husband really never had lost anything. (except his wedding ring–but that is a different story–from a different time—um–and maybe that wasn’t really an accident.)
I would never expect him to misplace the watch temporarily, much less to lose it forever.
In fact, this alleged act of carelessness was so unlike him, that when he first noticed that the watch was missing on the way back home, we both assumed that he couldn’t have actually lost it. There must be some other explanation. Like he somehow forgot to put it on in the morning.
When we returned home and the watch was not in its usual spot, or behind its usual spot, or anywhere else in the apartment, and it still wasn’t in its usual spot when we checked and re-checked the usual spot, I began to consider the alternative.
Had he really been wearing it?
Looking for proof, I searched through the day’s photos in my phone, looking for an image of him with the watch. As I paged through photo after photo of my kids jumping in leaves while never simultaneously looking at the camera with their eyes open, I stumbled on one of him.
I remembered the moment. I had taken the photo about 15 minutes after I had inadvertently dropped 13 dollars cash on the ground (and about 2 minutes after my husband had found it).
He was proudly toting a 1/2 bushel of Golden Delicious with his shirtsleeve rolled up to reveal that, yes, he had remembered to put on his watch that day (as he had always remembered to put on his watch).
I felt a wash of relief. At least we knew it had been lost in the orchard. At least I did not have to spend the rest of the evening checking and rechecking behind the bed stand.
We planned to return to the orchard first thing in the morning. We planned to find the watch.
It would just be a matter of retracing our steps, right? It might take a while, but if we looked carefully we would find it.
My husband went out first, returning 15 minutes later to announce, “It is gone. The search is pointless.”
As someone who has lost and found so many items in my life, I was not accepting this. I left my husband with the kids (equipped with chips and hotdogs) and I embarked on my own search.
About 30 seconds into my quest, I realized that as many times has I had strolled through the rows of apple trees here, I had never really looked down. I had never really looked carefully at all.
I had never noticed the thick ground cover: crab grass and clover and broad-leafed weeds with holes eaten in them by the bugs I had never seen. There were sharp smells and varying textures and, as I said, a soaking wet dampness I had never encountered.
My heart leapt with hope once, as I caught a glimpse of a foil gum wrapper. And then again as my gaze landed on a shard of glass. As I clawed around this growth my hands got cold and my knees got muddy. I grew more and more convinced that any second now I was going to find the watch under the next bunch of clover.
I didn’t. But I did find several cigarette butts.
On the way home, without the watch, I was unmoored by its disappearance. Not so much because the watch was “gone,” but because this sturdy and well-cared-for object of desire had “gone missing.” Despite our best efforts, we were never getting it back. Whether it was lying in a field somewhere, or had been tucked away in another picker’s pocket, something that once belonged to us, no longer was ours. There was nothing we could do about it.
If a solid a stainless-steel, double-bodied clasp could snap without our noticing, who knows what else would break apart so easily? Who knows what else could be lost irretrievably?
Everything, obviously. Everything we still had.
Including my kids, my marriage, and those old gray socks that were slowly drying out as I stuck them under the dashboard on the way home.