Lisa Van Orman Hadley

Lost Things

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We’ve lost teeth, for one thing. One hundred and sixty baby teeth among us, not counting wisdom teeth. Some of them fell out easily. When they didn’t, my father gave us two options: the pliers or the door. Each choice inflicted its own particular kind of pain. The pliers bore a pain of certainty—the pain of knowing that once they were clamped down tight, the tooth would come out carefully, slowly, achingly. The door held a pain of surprise. My father would tie one end of a piece of string to the tooth and then tie the other end to a door handle. Then he would pretend to slam the door several times until he finally did it for real and the tooth would go with it. If we were lucky, the suddenness of it all would override any actual pain. I, thankfully, lost my first tooth at six while eating an apple in my parents’ bedroom.

We’ve lost twenty-eight wisdom teeth collectively. Mine never grew in and I felt that I lost out on the experience of missing school, watching movies, and eating popsicles all day long. My father suggested that I might be a more evolved species, outgrowing the need for wisdom teeth altogether, which is strange because my father says he doesn’t believe in evolution. His wisdom teeth were yanked out by the military when he was in his mid-twenties. He was given no anesthesia.

My father lost part of his right index finger on the band saw in the garage while making us a Barbie house one Christmas and then paraded the finger in front of my mother, who fainted.

Sara, after winning the Junior Miss pageant, lost the Miss Florida pageant.
We lost at least five cats and three dogs.

We’ve lost loved ones to cancer, drugs, dementia, accidents. We once lost a woman we loved to murder.

When we were kids, my mother lost her purse at least once a day. We were often late for things because of it. She would say frantically, “Kids, quick! I’ll give a quarter to whoever finds my purse!” and then we would run off, pushing each other out of the way, so we could get to the purse first. We would finally find it tucked away in some messy corner of the kitchen or caged beneath an inverted laundry basket. At some point, we got smart and started hiding the purse so we could get a quarter. My mother, to my knowledge, never found out.

We’ve lost, over the years, the desire to hurt one another, compete for attention, be right all the time.

We’ve lost weight. Jimmy lost it before every wrestling match. Amy and Sara lost it in high school by sucking on ice cubes when they were hungry. My mother lost it by counting calories and eating carrots. My mother, Sara, and Amy lost it quickly after their babies came, fitting into their old jeans the week after they got home from the hospital. Since reaching adulthood, I’ve gained as much weight as I’ve lost.

We’ve lost four pregnancies.

I’ve lost countless embryos. Lost them to medical waste bins labeled “biohazard” because they didn’t have enough cells or because they weren’t symmetrical enough or because they were too fragmented. They’ve been frozen and thawed and I imagine that, like me, they just didn’t like the cold. Dozens of others have been lost inside me, unable to attach to my uterine walls. In my mind, my uterus is an ocean, large and impenetrable, a Bermuda triangle for embryos. Once they are placed there by the physician, carefully squirted into just the right spot, they disappear forever.

I’ve lost sleep thinking about where those embryos go. I wake up suddenly, in the middle of the night, and need to know whether they were absorbed into my uterine lining or whether they were expulsed by my body. I need to know whether they came out in the toilet or landed in my underwear at night. I need to know the exact moment this happened. These are the things the nurse doesn’t say. She doesn’t talk about what really matters, like when was the exact moment of loss and what happens to all these things once we’ve lost them?

Sometimes we’ve had an overwhelming sense that we’ve lost something but, when pressed, can’t describe exactly what it was. We’ve come to the slow realization that it’s possible to lose things we’ve never had.

We’ve lost friends because we moved or they moved or because we said something mean or because their parents didn’t want them playing with us because we were Mormons. I lost touch with my best friend Ashley when we left Florida.
In high school, Jonny lost control of the car and totaled it.

When he was five, we lost Mark at a truck stop in Tennessee. We were all the way to Arkansas by the time we realized that one of us was missing. While we were gone, the man behind the counter gave him a candy bar and a Coke and let him help pump gas. Mark remembers that as one of the best days of his life.

Sometimes growing up in a big family, it was easy to feel lost in the shuffle. Other times, though, we found comfort in being absorbed by the collective body. For example, when my father wanted to know: “Heavens to Betsy, which one of you got into the asbestos insulation in the attic?” No one said a word or ratted anyone out. The truth was, we all played in it together. The truth was, we didn’t know what that fluffy stuff was when we jumped and rolled around in it.

We all, sooner or later, lost our vision. Then we lost our glasses and our contact lenses.
Some of us lost our virginity on our wedding day. I’m not sure what the exact number is.
My father lost faith briefly in college. And maybe it’s related, but all three of the boys lost faith at one time or another. The girls, though, we are unwavering.

We’ve lost ourselves in our work, our love lives, school. We’ve lost focus. We’ve lost homework assignments. Some of us have lost our patience and our tempers pretty easily. We get that from our father.

My father has lost brain mass. His cerebral cortex is shrinking—he’s lost tissue, nerve cells, synapses. In other words, he’s losing his marbles. He lost his sense of independence when they took away his driver’s license. He admits, in moments of clarity, to feeling lost, confused, depressed. But then, a few minutes later, he forgets and all those bad feelings disappear again. I wonder whether there is a space, a locked room, somewhere in his brain where all those memories are kept or whether they are just gone. He has forgotten what year he was born, how many children he has, the names of his brothers and sisters. When I call him on the phone, I say, “Hello, Dad. It’s Lisa. Your youngest daughter.” He doesn’t recognize my voice anymore.

We’ve had to grieve the loss of our father before we’ve lost him.

But my father has a tenderness to him now that he never had before. He comes up behind my mother and surprises her with kisses on the back of her neck. He says, “You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. Are we married?” He follows her around the house, wants to be near her all the time. He has lost the need to get ahead.

Sometimes we think we’ve lost things, only to find them again, or to realize that they were never missing in the first place. We’ve probably lost things and never even noticed they were gone. We have wondered: Do we only lose things if we realize they are missing? The meanings of all these things are sometimes lost on us.

We lost our cherry tree in the backyard several years ago. We thought it looked fine—it was still flowering and bearing fruit—but my father chopped it down and showed us the rot on the inside of the trunk. He said we were going to lose it sooner or later anyway, may as well cut our losses and make room to plant something else.

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