Sunday, August 30, 2015
I was walking to work a few weeks ago when my phone rang. It was a police officer in Milpitas.
"When did you lose your blue wallet?" he asked. Just like that.
"The day before my mother died. November 23," I answered. (Just like that.)
The Milpitas PD had found the wallet lying in a parking lot in an industrial part of town. The officer speculated that it had "gone down the rivers," and asked me whether I knew a person whose discount card was stored in the wallet. I didn't.
He said my bar card was there, and my driver's license, and several other cards.
"Can you send it to me?" I asked him.
"I don't think you want it back," he said. "It's pretty beat up."
Oh, but I did. I certainly did want it.
It arrived a while later, looking like it does in the picture, but a little more roughed up. I opened it. Everything was there--bar card, bar association card, driver's license, insurance cards, credit cards (all of them), HSA card, Exploratorium card, library cards (SFPL and UC), random notes. Everything of mine, and a few remnants of another life.
A Subway receipt from February 15, 2015, from Montague Expressway in San Jose (meatball sub and a cookie, paid with $20 cash).
A Banana Republic merchandise certificate issued to a Katharine Alfond on March 28, 2005--endorsed on the back, apparently unsuccessfully.
A green card thanking my mystery wallet-holder for celebrating Olivia's birthday at Vanguard Bingo. $5 buy-in discount if used by November 14, 2014.
A battered lottery ticket.
A Home Depot store credit.
The return of my wallet triggered many more questions than it answered, of course. How and when did I lose it? I'd always thought I dropped it somewhere in the house in a state of distraction as my mother was dying, that we'd find it when we sold the house. Nope. I thought when I cleaned out our cars, I'd see it hiding under a seat. Not there either.
I remember putting on my mother's red leather jacket and driving to the pharmacy down the street to buy what turned out to be the last set of home hospice supplies we'd need. That was the last time I paid for anything until I realized I no longer had my wallet. I must have dropped it in the parking lot or left it on the ledge outside Starbucks. I'd have been too distracted to notice.
So that's probably how I lost it. But what happened next is far less explicable. When people pick up wallets, normally they either return them in some way, or take possession of them and their contents, which includes taking the things of value and ditching the wallet. But my wallet-holder didn't do either. The address on my driver's license is current, and anyone can find me through the California Bar website, so she intentionally didn't return it. But she also didn't take anything or use any of the cards--two Visa cards, AmEx, Nordstrom, MasterCard (HSA). And she didn't ditch the wallet, either, at least not for several months.
Instead, my wallet-holder walked around with me in her pocket, undisturbed. Did she show my ID as hers? Does she look like me? Was she homeless, like the officer speculated? If so, why bother carrying a large wallet if she didn't intend to use anything it held? The wallet is beat up, indicating exposure--was its bearer ever tempted to buy a jacket, some hot coffee, a hotel room to get inside for a night?
How did it end up lying in a parking lot in Milpitas one day in July? Was there a struggle? Or did my wallet-holder simply drop it? Why didn't someone else pick it up?
I'll never know, obviously. But I feel some amount of kinship with both the battered wallet and its wandering temporary custodian. I tried cleaning the wallet up, but it won't be the same; some degrees of loss and damage cannot be undone. And, orphaned, I've also been wandering under a new identity not entirely mine.
Lost, and found? No, that's too neat.
And I think this is only the first chapter.
Dear single friends and friends without children,
Lately, more than one of you has shared with me stories of things that are said to you by married women with children. Women like me. Apparently, my tribe actually says things to you that indicate a pretended incomprehension of your state. Why are you still single? Why don't you have children? And implied: What's wrong with you? Don't you see how blessed I am? How I've made the right choice? Don't you see how safe and protected I am?
When you tell me these things, when I hear that mothers have tried for some reason to make you think you are lesser, my heart aches for you--but I also feel angry. Because those women have no right to tell anyone how to live.
And I want to tell you something. Children are a blessing, of course. But many things in life are a blessing. Meaningful work is a blessing. The chance to develop your talents is a blessing. Giving to others is a blessing. We are many-dimensioned creatures; parenthood is one limited dimension only, and at least for me it can never be the whole of my life. The compass of our lives is measured out in intentional participation in the world; in creativity, projects, endeavors, improvement. In love.
Children might make your life fuller. And they might not. We parents do not own our children. We bring them into the world and do our best to love them; but their thoughts and their actions are not, and never can be, ours. They are their own people, if we do our jobs correctly, just as we belong irreducibly and inalienably to ourselves. Every person is ultimately a mystery to others. Our children are no exception. Any woman who has children so that she will not die alone is a fool.
It could well be that you feel grief because of your childless state. And if you do, my heart aches again for you, and much more sharply this time. I am so sorry for the empty space that you contemplate. And no words of mine will fill it. But I am sorry for your pain.
We all walk an unpredictable path in this life, and parenthood does not change that. You and I are in every essential the same.
There's something else I want to tell you. I treasure you in part precisely because you don't have children. I love my daughters, of course, but with my adult friends I want to talk about things other than the world of children. I want to know what interests and drives you, what projects you're engaged in, where you are headed. I want to know where you're going on vacation and what you're doing for fun. Yes, of course I have mom-friends with whom I talk about these things, but part of our relationship is always consumed by logistics and playdates and birthday parties. Those conversations always carry the comfort of mutual experience. But you, my single and child-free friends, are never encumbered by such things. And you and I can therefore be together without the encumbrances.
I am not defined by my children, and in some quarters of our society this is rank heresy. So be it. Virginia Woolf declared the necessity of a room of one's own and five hundred pounds, and so do I. You, my friends, are one of my keys to that room.
With my love.