I have this awful habit of losing things.
Redness from windburn crept up my cheeks and numbed my nose on a chilly evening last December. As I kicked the leaves from side to side on the front lawn of a house on South Forest, the only thing running through my mind was “Thank god no one is home to judge the random girl roaming private property” because I looked utterly ridiculous. The sleet frosted each individual blade of grass in a wintry camouflage, ebbing at my resolve to prove Android Device Manager a worthy invention.
“It’s not here.”
“Yeah definitely not here.”
My two friends huddled on the sidewalk, the tallest boys I know, though height was unfortunately useless in this situation. As we trudged back toward South U, making new tracks in the crystal white snow, the lingering emptiness in my right back pocket brought to mind the nefarious qualities of tequila, salt and lime, but the panic and sadness that usually accompanies loss was entirely absent.
Loss is something I am much too familiar with.
After 27 room keys from Bursley hall, three MCards, four phones in one semester, my dignity every weekend, my trust in religion, my belief in love, any sense of direction in life, two good friends in high school, my grandparents and even my own stability every couple weeks or so, I have come to accept losing things as a fact of life.
The day after I lost my phone, I received an e-mail from my mom telling me my grandmother had approximately two weeks left to live — I felt numb. The emotions behind the chance of losing the woman who taught me how to cherish morning walks, to be strong and persevering despite low beginnings, to cook with a liberal amount of love and a dash of salt, to smile through language barriers and so much more felt synonymous to losing something as material and meaningless as my phone.
I’ve come to believe that we choose to lose certain things because we are afraid of what they will do to us when we find them again, and at some point in my life I ended up losing loss.
After a week of working double shifts, I bought myself a new phone, and as I dialed the numbers I hadn’t dialed in months, I stopped before I could press “call” because I didn’t know what to say or how to say it even if I did know. As I grew older and more concerned with my own life, I eventually stopped calling my grandmother every Sunday, and stopped flying out to California every summer. In hindsight I chose to lose that relationship — it was my fault. My grandmother had always represented a part of my biracial Chinese American identity, and when in high school I felt like I had to stop embracing the other half of my very mixed cultural identity, I let go of her as well. Wrapped up in trying to find belonging, I chose to lose everything that was ever actually important to me. Being numb isn’t as convenient as it sounds.
That night, I ended up dialing my mother’s number instead, and as she expressed her guilt to me over her tumultuous relationship with her own mother, she begged me to call my grandmother to advocate dialysis for prolonging her life. At that moment, finding myself between two eras, two people who loved each other so much they could not show they loved each other, between misunderstandings and an earnest desire to seek an impossible reconciliation, it all came down on me at once.
I was supposed to go into studio to work on my finals, but I sat in my car in front of the art school and cried three years of pent up tears in three hours. Crumbling the resolve I carefully built by calcifying loss over brittle bones, they broke.
Pain is cathartic, a sign of healing, admitting that it’s OK to not be OK.
We get used to hurting after it becomes so familiar. The first pang of great loss knocks the wind out of us. Holding our fists to sternums we sway for a few moments, testing the impact by teetering on the edge of a downward spiral. But like unconsciously bracing a body against the wind, humans adapt: We become prepared and forget it’s even there. We settle for always being cold.
I once held this solipsistic ideal that in the end, I was the only thing I was sure of and could count on because when everything seems to fail you, it’s easy to pretend you’re in control of yourself. In reality, I was the last thing I could control.
What are we but relative to everything else?
In embracing loss, I grew to value the people around me and the power I had in my place in the world, and to let myself risk the pain in caring. I am slowly understanding that without loss, we surrender our empathy, our passion and our relation to a greater society. I lost my grandmother earlier the next year, but with her passing I gained a newfound sense of honesty to myself.
We must acknowledge loss to let ourselves meander toward what it means to be alive.