This past Mother’s Day, I was unpacking my suitcase when I found my long lost wireless Beats earphones.
When I was in my twenties, I couldn’t understand how my grandmother kept losing things. Just when we were getting ready to go to lunch or to an appointment, she would discover that her hearing aids, or their batteries, or her keys, were missing. An all-consuming anxiety would wash over her, and it would not recede until her lost item was found. This panic attack sabotaged the general mood of the day as well as our schedule.
My elegant grandmother would work herself into a complete frenzy. I can see her sitting on the couch, impeccably composed without a hair out of place, yet rifling through her purse, tossing out its contents and asking in a bewildered voice, “Where are they? I just had them! Where can they be?”
The solution seemed simple: if she would just calm down, she could find what she was looking for, because most of the time, it was in her lap, lost in a pile of lipstick, rumpled Kleenexes, eyeglasses and coins. Her confusion shadowed the once carefree times we spent together. Or was it my dawning awareness of her as a person, not a grandparent?
I have always felt a deep connection with my grandmother, but losing my Beats renewed our ties. We were soul mates, joined for all eternity as sisters in oblivion. An air of discombobulation descended on me. I felt marked. If I couldn’t keep track of my most favorite accessory, then what could I be responsible for?
As life’s narrative unfolds, the details pile on, like an overfilled bag of popcorn. Some’s going spill out and it’s too much to keep track of each popped kernel. I can understand now why my grandfather, after juggling all his lived moments, coursed through the name of every single family member before finally arriving at the correct name.
You already told me that, say my daughters. Or, I already told you.
I berated myself for losing the earphones for a good month. I spent an exorbitant amount of time imagining where they might be–the lost and found, a pawn shop, in the desk drawer of a thief–as if, by somehow envisioning their location, I could will them back into my life.
“Don’t go buy another pair,” said my husband. “I’ve got some. You can use mine anytime.” But it wasn’t the same. Losing my Beats felt like being stranded in the subway without a Metro card. They were my ticket to freedom.
I use my Beats to do my treadmill runs, which I am addicted to. On these runs, I go through a series of drills assigned to me by my trainer. When I text him for the day’s drill, my anticipation is so great, it feels like I’m asking my dealer for a hit. The run is different each time. It could be a series of splits or intervals, a continuous run, or a fartlek.
When I get my running assignment, I feel nervous and excited, like before a track meet, except I’m only competing with myself.
The Beats play the music that fuels my run. They allow me to be hands-free as I punch in my MPH assignments.
So I felt my grandmother’s same panic when I unpacked from my daughter’s ballet competition last January. After going through my backpack, my suitcase and my car, I could not locate my Beats.
I knew just the place where I left them. In my imagination, I had replayed this mistake several times over.
The dressing room was packed with dancers who were getting ready for competition. I wasn’t supposed to be in there, but my daughter wanted her snack. I emptied my backpack on the counter amidst a jumble of hairspray, tights, lipstick, makeup bags, hairnets, and brushes. My daughter took the bag of pistachios and promptly spilled them all over the floor. I was horrified: just one of those little hard shells could cause a dancer to slip, spoiling months of training. We scrambled to retrieve the pound of nuts scattered across the room.
I must have left the Beats there, on the counter.
I started my runs around the same time my father received his fatal diagnosis. As I undertook my splits and intervals, I thought about his fight with cancer. If he has to do that, I told myself, I can do this. I simply had to follow a series of steps and I would get stronger, and maybe the strength I was building could magically be transmitted to him. Speed training is a seemingly controlled system. That semblance of control may have also been what lured my father to choose palliative chemo.
Sometimes when I go to the gym, I see my dad’s friend. He rides the stationary bicycle, but that’s not where I think of him. I see him in our ranch house, blending up a batch of Ramos Gin Fizzes.
One day, after I finished, he caught me by the water cooler. “You run just like your father. I think about him every time I see you run. I loved your dad. We had some good times, but we didn’t have enough of them,” he said.
I’ve got evidence of a few of those good times: in one picture, my dad’s friend is dressed in a one-piece tracksuit. Frozen in the middle of a dance move, he looks like he’s voguing, circa 1976.
This may be because life’s drill is not linear like a treadmill, but instead echoes the function of the brain. If, in the practice of my runs I’m pushing harder, if in life I’m looking deeper, there are revelations beyond the well-trodden paths I travel, day after day. When I lost my Beats, I invented a story and made it real for myself, but then they were coughed forth from the dark recesses of my suitcase and I realized the dressing room counter was not at all where I left them.
I felt stranded when I lost my Beats, but it was a ticket to go back in time and gain a deeper awareness of my grandmother’s experience, so foreign to me, when I was not yet thinking of getting pregnant, long before my popcorn overflowed.