Writing 101, Day 16
Imagine you had a job in which you had to sift through forgotten or lost belongings. Describe a day in which you come upon something peculiar, or tell a story about something interesting you find in a pile. Today’s twist: If you’d like to continue our serial challenge, also reflect on the theme of “lost and found” more generally in this post.
Note: This is a longer post than normal, but I couldn’t bring myself to divide it into multiple parts…
“I’m sorry, Sir,” the boredom practically oozed from Marisol’s voice as she stared blankly at the wall phone perched at her shoulder, “but nothing of that description has been found” a pause, “Yes, we encourage you to call back, however we cannot call you if it appears. Uh-huh, you too.”
“It’s that simple,” she said, turning to look at me as she ended the call, pasting on that fake smile she had worn for most of the day, “identify the item type, look it up in the database, narrow your search based on the details they provide. Watch out for the talkers, they’ll gab your ear off forever, and you’ll never even find out what they’re looking for. Waste of time, and boring as hell. Get them to the point as fast as you can. If it looks like we have a match grab the catalog number, get the contact number for the caller, and toss that information to Processing. Returns usually take 2 weeks, but we tell them 3 to 4 to cover our asses. Got it?” Marisol looked at me expectantly, and for some reasons I expected her to snap gum to punctuate the sentence. She didn’t, of course, because gum chewing was strictly forbidden in the Lost and Found office. I nodded, adding her information to the already swimming mix of what I had learned in my three-day orientation; passwords and user IDs, site-names and basic categorizations, key-codes, extension numbers and a slew of names. I was pretty sure that very little of it would stick.
“And I’m right here,” she commented, already turning back to her computer, “if you need anything.” I would be hard pressed to imagine a time I had heard anyone sound less sincere. But I thanked her anyhow, and scooted my chair over to my own desk, a little space partitioned off by half-walls; it barely even qualified as a cubicle.
It didn’t take long for the phone to ring, and I snatched it up, before I could lose my nerve or begin to think about all the things that I could do wrong. “It’s that simple.” Marisol’s bored voice rang through my memory. Yes.. simple.
“Hello, this is McIntire’s the Lost-and-Found experts, if it has been lost, we’re sure to find it,” I cringed, as I knew I would, at the ridiculous greeting, “this is Kiana, how can I be of assistance?”
“Oh, hello Dear. Kiana, you said?” The woman on the other end sounded distraught, “I spoke to a Mercedes the other day, such unusual names you all have.” I bite my tongue to keep from giving her an honest response.
“How may I help you?”
“Oh, Dear, I hope that you can. My name is Beulah,” I keep the firm grip on my tongue, “and I am desperately hoping that you have what I am looking for.”
“Let me see what we can do, ma’am. ” I pull up the database where all searching customers are logged, “and what is your last name?”
“Engelbrook. With and “E,” Dear. E-N-G-E-L-B-R-O-O-K.” She speaks crisply and clearly and I have no troubles looking her up in the database. A quick glance tells me she not only spoke to Mercedes to days previous, but Marisol two days before that, and Elianna two days prior to that. The notes made it clear this was the type of caller that would, in Marisol’s words, waste my time: “Long-winded old bat,” “item can’t even be properly categorized,” and most colorfully, “chasing rainbows.”
But, despite my coworkers obvious difference of opinion on the matter, Mr. McIntire (the fourth) had made it clear that part of the McIntire brand was our willingness to take time with our customers, to properly listen to what they had lost and so every effort could be made to find it. He had spoken, extensively, how McIntires was looking to expand, with an exclusive branch of Finders, tasked with searching for those more unique lost items that had not found their way to our warehouses.
“Yes, Ma’m, I see here that you spoke to a couple of my colleagues in the past. However, the notes on just what you are looking for is somewhat vague, perhaps you can explain it to me so that I can see what we might be able to do.”
“Dear, I can try,” she sighed, and I could practically see her leaning back in a chair, one of those old-fashioned ones with the dark wood frame that look impossible to get truly comfortable in. “You see, I didn’t even realize it at first, everything was just the same as normal. I would wake up in the morning and make my tea, sit and enjoy it while watching the cats play in the moving sunlight. I would meet friends for lunch, we’d play cribbage, I’d take walks around the neighborhood and chat with the neighbors. Nothing unusual, you see Dear?”
“I see Ma’am…” I hesitated, trying to think of the best way to further inquire as to just what was missing.
“And then, one day, it was gone. Just gone. I got out of bed, just the same, watched the cats and had my tea. I had lunch with an old friend, and watched the neighborhood kids play out front. But that night, I realized it wasn’t there anymore. So important, and it was gone.” Her voice got increasingly anxious.
“I understand Ma’am,” I tried my best to sound soothing, “perhaps you can describe for me what it is missing?”
“It is… it is a challenge to describe, Dear. I have lost it before, but always I found it again quickly, but it has been months now. Months without it, I never realized just how hard it would be. “
I hold back a sigh, suddenly realizing why Marisol urged pushing them to say what was missing. “Ma’am, I cannot even begin to search for it, see if it has been found, if you don’t tell me more. What is it? Some object that went missing while you were out? A piece of jewelry?”
“Oh, Dear, nothing like that, don’t be silly,” she scoffed, “I suppose that is what most people call you looking for though, isn’t it?”
“Well… yes Ma’am.” My eyes skimmed over the initial list of item categories: Jewelry, Kitchenware, Clothing, Books, Nic-Nacs, Containers, Cars, etc.
“I see, Dear. And have you helped many people find such things? Material objects?” She sounds truly curious, and it is my turn to sigh.
“No, Ma’am…” I know it is not the proper response, that I should speak of the high success levels that McIntires has in restoring people’s lost items. But I find myself being honest with Beulah Englebrook, “you are my first call.”
“Oh. Dear.” She gives a small laugh, “I mean no offense, but perhaps then you should hand my call to someone with a bit more experience? I can wait.”
I listen to the voices around me a moment, Marisol was droning through the typical questions, “And what color was the water bottle? Um-hmm… and it was plastic you say? Any identifying markers? Scratches on the bottom, uh-huh, anything else?” I looked back to the screen, all these people who had half-listened to Beulah before, made notes about what a waste her calls were. It was my first call, perhaps it was just because I didn’t know any better, but I wanted to help her find whatever it was she had lost. This thing that weighed so heavily on her.
“I will do my best to help you Ma’am,” I try to put as much confidence behind my words as I can muster. “Please, tell me a little more about what you have lost.”
There is a moments silence, and I imagine her shifting in that uncomfortable chair, her eyes roaming around the room as she debates if this new-girl on the other end of the phone might actually be able to help her.
“Well….” It is one of those drawn out words that stretch an entire sentence, “Have you ever watched cats play in an early morning sunbeam, Dear?”
“Have I…” I find a smile making its way across my face, “Yes, I have.”
“Tell me about it, one of those times, tell me about what you saw, and how you felt, watching those cats play.”
I look around again quickly, certain that someone will hear me speaking and tell me that I am doing the job wrong. I need this job, and it’s a good job. But, I rationalize, I am helping this woman in her search for something lost, and that is my job. “We have cats, when I was growing up. I remember one morning late in the winter, one of those cold mornings when you were certain that it will forever be cold and the sun is never going to shine again. I was curled up in a blanket, listening to my dad read from my favorite storybook, I must have been rather young.”
I glance around again, but no one has so much as glanced in my direction, “and as I was letting my mind wander in the fantasy world of princesses and dragons, I spotted our pet cat. She was stretched out in this little patch of light that had managed to find its way through the window, rolling around on her back and then stretching out to about ten times her size. She looked so happy, so calm and peaceful, and I had this sense of warmth. That moment, with Dad’s soothing deep voice narrating the dragons race across the mountains to help the princess save the day, watching the cat lounge in that stream of light, alive with floating bits of dust. I knew that winter would be done soon, and that no matter what happened I would have that memory of warmth.”
There is silence on the other end of the line and I am fairly sure that I have over-shared. I glance around nervously, expecting to find one of my co-workers glaring at me, or messaging me to get the caller off the phone so I can go on to a “real” client.
“Ma’am?” I ask timidly as the silence stretches uncomfortably long.
“Dear,” her own voice is somewhat distant, “I do believe you might be able to help me.”
“I’m… glad to hear that?”
“You see, Dear,” she sounded as though she were settling back in her chair again, I hear her take a sip of something, tea I imagined, before continuing, “I used to watch the cats like that, feel the warmth they were feeling. When I would chat with my friends I could sense the joy and excitement they were experiencing about the new Grandbabies, or their children’s accomplishments; I could sense those fears and concerns unspoken as they talked blandly about doctors visits or ‘making arrangements.’ I would watch the neighborhood children playing their chaotic games and imagine the rules by which the game was played; sometimes I could even see the make-believe worlds that they came up with, the few trees at the end of the lane a vast forest full of monsters and mythical beasts….”
I hesitate as she drifts off, recognizing in her voice the tone of someone losing themselves in a time long past.
“I don’t see that anymore. You see, Dear?” Beulah’s voice is very quiet and I have to pump up the volume on my phone to hear her as she continues, “I once could imagine the joy of the cats in the sunbeam, could imagine what that felt like. I once could step back from a moment and place myself in the place of the others there, let my mind wander through speculation about what they thought, what they felt. You see, Dear?” Frustration rises in her voice, “I could be content to sit sipping tea and looking out the window for hours, just entertained by the thoughts in my mind. And then, one day. It was no more. No more. Just gone.”
“I see,” my own voice is now a whisper, as I feel her anger pulse through the phone, a manifestation of her inwardly turned frustration. As I feel the pain that is clear around the loss of something so important. No wonder she called us every few days, desperation driving her to look everywhere, to seek out every possibility.
A silence hangs between us and I begin to hear the noises in my office begin to amplify. I can hear Marisol’s pen tapping on the edge of her desk as she “uh-huh”s her way through another call. I hear the phone ringing at another, more distant, cubical. Footsteps in the hallway. Bustle all around. As I listen, I hear it begin to form together; not quite a tune, but something musical about it all none-the-less.
I remember reading about some musicians who take this kind of ambient noise, the everyday sounds that fade together in the background of our daily lives, and turned them into actual songs, music people listen to.
“Ma’am,” it is just a speck of an idea, but a speck can sometimes be all it takes, “what do you hear right now?”
“What do I hear? Dear, how is that relevant? I have not lost my hearing, I have lost my –” She stops abruptly, again at a loss for just how to describe what it is that she had lost.
“Please, if you will, humor me?”
“Very well.” She sighs and then lapses into a time of silence. I wait. “I can hear the cars in the street. And some of the children, they must be out playing again, I can hear them yelling.”
“What else?” I prod gently.
“Well, there is that infernal racket of the neighbors washing machine, they still haven’t gotten it fixed, though it sounds as though it must jump halfway across their laundry room every time they run a load.”
She pauses a moment longer, “birds, I can hear the birds. Though they are not singing, so much as cawing, must be crows… yes… that sounds like a crow, and that, there, that is a seagull.”
“Now, ma’am, if you’ll humor me, just listen to it all.”
“I’m sorry? That is what I have been doing,” indignation clear in her voice.
“Yes but… instead of listening to each thing, the washing-machine, the cars, the children, the crows…. just listen to the sounds. Separate them from what you know them to be, and just listen for their own innate quality.” I hope this makes sense as she lapses into silence again.
“I see, Dear,” as she speaks I realize that I had begun to do just what I advised her, I had stopped identifying the tapping of a pen, the typing on a keyboard, the shuffle of feet, the hum of the air-conditioning. Somewhere along the line my eyes had closed and I had begun to hear music, completely forgetting where I was. When I don’t immediately respond she continues tentatively, “would you like me to tell you what I heard?”
Excitement ran through her voice as she spoke, “I heard the roaring ocean, as a thunderstorm raged overhead. The cries of the crows and the laughter of the children blended into the other-worldly cries of creatures unknown.”
As she spoke I smiled. Though I doubted that Mr. McIntire would recognize this as a “successful encounter,” I knew that I had helped this woman begin to rediscover what she had lost.