The Lost & Found for Memories

Photo Credit: Facundo Gastiazoro

The Lost & Found for Memories

👤Matt J. Simmons 🕔Jul 31, 2018

In the corner under the desk, shoved in a little too hard so its edges are bent and bruised, sits a cardboard box. It once held apples and a faint musty odour carries that past purpose into the present. Now, it’s the lost and found—for memories. When we forget, memories fall away from our minds like seeds dropping from trees, floating off in search of some patch of dirt to start fresh. Some are just gone forever, and some come here to sit in the box, in the corner, under the desk, smelling like old apples. There are so many memories in this box. They don’t take up much space. It would be nice to return them someday, but for now they’re safe. Little seeds. Go on, pick one out, try it on...

You’re at the fair, cutting underneath the ferris wheel. The smells of oil and diesel and cotton candy and hot dogs mingle with a whiff of the ocean. It’s too hot for the jeans you’re wearing. Your dad ducks low as he follows you, a melting ice cream cone in his hand.


She’s dying and knows it, but still has a smile for you. The eyes tucked in amongst all those wrinkles shine hello and the piano concerto on the radio in the other room drifts in through the open door. Her blanket is scratchy; she’s so frail.


The day the pigeon crapped on your head.


The butterflies in your stomach are so intense you feel like you’re going to vomit. But there’s nowhere to go and doing the shuffle down the aisle—excuse me, pardon me, sorry, can I just sneak past—is about as appealing as sticking your head in a pool of piranhas. So you sip your coke, trying to be quiet, drying your hands on your pants, or making an attempt at least. And then her fingers find your hand in the dark and you think, “Oh my god, my hand’s so clammy, it’s disgusting” but she doesn’t seem to mind, or at least is pretending not to, and maybe you’ll get a kiss tonight? That would be amazing, and super scary, but mostly amazing. What is this movie anyway? It’s terrible. Your feet stick to the floor but now all you can think of is her hand in yours and oh, her hair smells so good. But it’s not your dad. You were never there. And you hated jeans when you were a kid. That woman was not your grandmother. That blanket was from somebody else’s past. No pigeon has ever defecated on you from above. That night you didn’t have your first kiss. You never even saw that movie.

What would it be like to try on someone else’s memories? An intrusion? Or the ultimate intimacy?  

For a time, I collected rocks from the tops of mountains I summited and from supposedly memorable outdoor excursions. Each one that sat on the shelf was like a memory in the box I could pluck out on a whim and wear like a warm hat. The rough patch of lichen that somehow survived the harsh and unforgiving alpine climate—I know it. I know the feeling of my feet (sore) at the moment I bent over and picked it up. Or the smoothness of the black stone that travelled from who knows where, washed by waves and pocketed while sitting on the beach with my kids, wrapped in a wool sweater, wind ripping at my hair—happy.

And then there were too many. The pile wavered, and then tumbled. Stones became just stones again. And the memories attached to them went someplace else. Fragments remain, but like shards of stone that were knapped by some long-gone human, they aren’t the thing itself anymore, just a hint at what the thing was.

If you could pick up one of those rocks right now and hold it in your hand, would you have any inkling of the hours of being alive that made it possible? The semi-chaotic avalanche of thoughts that rolled on and on and on as I put one foot in front of the other, up and up and up. The off and on of coolness in the air, drifting clouds. The delight.

Try on a memory. Wiggle inside someone’s head and think their thoughts, feel their emotions. Find their version of blank space, staring into nothing and just simply being. It’s the ultimate in empathy. Who knows, maybe this is an app coming soon to a smartphone near you.

Now, making memories, that’s what it’s all about. Experiencing life—now. Sure, you might be able to look back later and think what a time that was, but even if that “might” becomes a “will,” time changes memories anyway. They’re not the same as actually being there. We colour them with perspective and distance, painting over the painting with hues that are oh so close, but you can never get it perfect, can you?

So maybe this lost-and-found box is a good place to lay them down. Let go. Make space for making new memories. Donate the box to the Salvation Army. Especially if you’ve got some good ones. There are people who need these things.

— Matt J. Simmons