Hundreds of Thousands of Leaves
I lost my glasses. No, they weren’t on my forehead. And, yes, I checked all the usual places multiple times. In fact, I knew exactly where I’d lost them. With a dust filter covering my mouth, my glasses kept steaming up as I raced to get our fallen foliage to the curb before the county vacuumed them up. I could hear their trucks coming but I couldn’t see a thing so I put them in my pocket. And, without warning, my tortoise shell glasses were now completely camouflaged in piles of brown debris neatly awaiting removal. To be clear, they were buried under hundreds of thousands of leaves. As the sound of the vacuums grew louder, I yelled for my family to join the search. We raced to find my specs before they ended up as mulch in someone’s spring garden.
The commotion brought the neighborhood out en masse. “Oh, it’s the needle in the haystack,” everyone yelled above the growing din of the vacuum trucks. One came with her rake; another volunteered his metal detector. Every person thought they could, no, they would find those glasses. They stomped amongst the piles, thinking they could will them to appear. The county crew arrived and I begged them to skip our house. The foreman snickered and moved on.
I knew they were there somewhere. I just couldn’t see them —yet. Denial shifted to anger as I retraced my steps again and again. Why did I put them in my pocket? I knew they would fall out. Finally, with my neighbors gathered around, I declared my leaves would not defeat me. “I will find those glasses if I have to look under each and every leaf!” I proclaimed. And that became my plan.
When you lose something really important, you feel like you’ve lost control over your entire life. To counter that, the next morning I got my rake and started turning over every single leaf. Every single leaf! After Hour One my eyes glazed over, overwhelmed by the wide swath of brown before me. The occasional wet leaf brought me back: a reflection of my lenses in the morning sun? I refused to pay for a new pair of glasses.
To the accompaniment of Laurie Anderson’s O Superman, I raked to the cadence of her background riff. I was sure Superman’s X-ray vision would help me find those glasses. At Hour Three I moved into the existential: why did really I lose my glasses? Inevitably, I ended at the resurrection, waiting for them to miraculously rise up and present themselves. God surely must be laughing at me. My neighbor, Carol, came by and asked what I was doing (obviously, the news hadn’t traveled to her part of the street). When I recounted my tale she replied, “Whether you find your glasses or not, you will be enlightened.” Yes, she really said that. So, I convinced myself the act of looking would be my reward. However, any enlightenment my obsessive-compulsive leaf turning yielded lasted only minutes before it —poof— got caught up in a gust of wind and was gone.
At the four-hour mark, my wife came out and asked if I’d found them yet. “Would I be still be raking?” I asked incredulously. I was resolute but getting testy. At Hour Six my neighbor with the metal detector returned. “Found them yet?”
I pictured the find. I imagined yelling: “I found them! I found them!” I would post a sign on that spot and document the discovery with my camera. My neighbors would come running out of their homes to slap me on the back saying, “I knew we could do it!”
It was a team effort in spirit but I was doing all the work. Hour Eight brought me to the final piles. I was nearing the pinnacle of Mt. Everest. Slowly I brushed each leaf to the ground. A branch made me stop. I found albino plants, which, despite the lack of sun, had survived for weeks under my earlier work. But my will was waning. By the middle of the ninth hour I had had it. Completely depleted, I couldn’t stand straight. My body was listing to the left from raking for so long. Utter exhaustion replaced the exhilaration finding them would bring. I simply didn’t have the strength to ruminate, nor did I care.
Years ago I left a ruby ring my father had given me in a faculty washroom. Two hours later I suddenly realized it wasn’t on my finger. I rushed back but it was gone. When I returned to class a student pronounced, “If it’s really yours, it will come back to you.” Yeah, right, I thought. But two weeks later a fellow teacher walked into my classroom and asked, “Is this yours?” My tortoise shell glasses were made just for me. No one else could see out of them. Why didn’t they come back to me? I put away the rake. I hobbled into the house, threw my leaf-encrusted clothes into the washer, and took a hot shower.
The whole neighborhood knows those glasses are still out there. “I’m sure we’ll find them in the spring,” they say. Yeah, right.