Always the Last Place You Look
I spent a good part of the morning on Christmas Eve searching our apartment for a book. The missing book was a collection of fairy tales that I received for Christmas in 1968, when I was eight years old. The book was a present from my parents, and I first saw it while it was still wrapped in a Treasure City shopping bag and lying on the floorboard of our Oldsmobile. I remember teasing it carefully from the brown paper sack while I kept an eye out to make sure my mother, in her place in the front passenger seat, didn’t spot me. After I flipped the book over and traced the outline of Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf on the back cover, I stuffed it back under the car seat. On Christmas morning I pretended that it had been placed there by a generous elf, but I knew the truth. I convinced myself that my parents were in direct communication with Santa, and were merely helping him out by picking up a few things on their own.
Now, half a century later, I couldn’t find it. It sounds odd to consider the loss of a fifty year old book unusual, especially from someone who regularly misplaces her wallet, but this book had followed me from childhood. My fiancé Andrew and I searched every book case and every stack of books in our 1200 square foot apartment. “Where could it have got to?” I asked as I bent over to look under the couch.
“Did you put it up here with the children’s books?” Andrew pulled out and glanced behind Richard Scarry’s “Best Word Book EVER” before sliding it back on the shelf in our dining room. I walked back to our bedroom, to look once more at the small bookcase there. I hoped that the book had somehow found its way back to the last place where I had seen it. It seems we are often falling into this, some version of “Have you seen my…” The older I get, the more things seem to go missing. I am either growing more forgetful or my possessions have decided to free themselves before the inevitable estate sale.
“No, it’s gone, I don’t think we’ll find it.” I continued to drift from room to room, including the bathrooms, in case I had tucked the book away amongst the collection of toilet paper I had stashed under the sink. Andrew followed along behind me, a terry cloth sweatband stretched across his forehead as though he were about to go for a jog. He is good like that, he often puts aside whatever he is working on to help me look for my phone, my purse, that book I was reading. He has adjusted very well to the responsibility of looking after another person’s possessions, while I drag along, resenting the imposition of caring for anything that can’t look after itself. I’m often setting down my phone next to a sink full of water, or leaving a plastic cup too close to the hot stove top.
I pictured the worn green and white cardboard cover of the misplaced collection, patched with clear tape. As I described the book to Andrew, he mentioned that I could probably buy a replacement on eBay. “But it won’t be the same!” I protested as I recalled the black and white illustrations that I colored in with crayons. I prepared to gather myself into a ball of self-pity, moaning something about lost childhood treasures, when Andrew asked where I had last seen the book.
“I think I put it with my photo albums,” I answered from under the bed. A moment passed and then Andrew called out.
“Here it is!” He found the book tucked away in a cardboard box in our spare closet. He handed it to me, and I flipped through the pages. Just as I remembered, every story began with “Once Upon a Time”, and generally each had a happy ending, but in between there was danger, often in the form of wolves or a wicked sorceress. Most had a handsome prince, trying to win the love of a beautiful princess. Sometimes the hero wandered lost in a dark forest, in need of enchantment to discover the magic castle. I put the fairy tale book back on the shelf and thought that this is what love really is, just two people, helping each other find things.