There’s a classic series of family photos of me throwing out socks and underwear at famous locations in the US.
In most of these photos, I seem to be unaware of the spectacular weirdness of what’s happening. At the time, I probably thought it was normal to go to natural wonders and throw out an old sock or two, just because. It’s a family tradition, like marking your territory. Everywhere we traveled during my childhood, my father would bring along some old ratty clothes – a work t-shirt covered in paint, a sock with toe holes – and we’d throw them out. In an environmentally friendly way, of course – trash cans only for the Armstrongs. I’m not sure exactly who came up with this tradition, but I had thought I was through with it upon turning 13 and realizing with stunning clarity that, oh my God, my family is weird!
I have continued on this tradition of leaving clothing in places I’ve traveled, but not quite in the same vein as knowingly packing socks with holes and old pairs of underwear so I could throw them out when traveling. Instead, my subconscious has decided to leave beloved items of clothing in several key locations around the globe, never to be seen again.
Take, for instance, a sweatshirt that I bought in Edinburgh in September of 2014. I had seen this sweatshirt on a previous trip (August 2013), but had decided not to buy it because it was too pricey. But then I returned to Edinburgh as a college student and thought, hey, this sweatshirt is still cute. It’s still £40, but money isn’t real and someday the sun will expand and the Earth will explode.
Reader, I bought it.
And reader, I lost it.
I have a long series of excuses as to why this sweatshirt, which, may I remind you, I paid £40 for, is now in the possession of the owner of an Airbnb in Fiumicino, Italy. Suffice it to say that I decided that traveling with my brand new favorite sweatshirt wasn’t a bad idea, and that, further, it wasn’t a bad idea to put it under my flat, disappointing pillow on my last night in Italy to boost it up because I’m needy like that. One thing led to another, I was rushing to the airport in the dark at 4am for a flight back to London, I think that at some point I dropped a glass on the floor and it shattered, and if I said I left the sweatshirt as a token of my apology, would you believe me?
You shouldn’t. When I got back to London and realized what I’d done, tears were shed. Regrets were had – many of them. I vowed to always be more careful from here on out.
A second tale of woe and loss that still stings happened this past summer, June of 2016. I was staying with a friend in Mexico for a week and had packed in my backpack. It has an outside pocket where I like to slide my shoes; usually, they stay there.
This came on the heels of a heavy blow that I’d just been dealt – my beloved off-white high-top Converse, which had carried me all around Europe (twice), Seoul, and countless places in the US had officially fallen apart. The soles had come off – I couldn’t wear them in the rain, I couldn’t wear them in dirt, I could not wear them here nor there, I could not wear them anywhere.
So I retired them, and it was sad, but fortunately, I had another pair on reserve. They were green and they weren’t high-tops but they would have to do until I saved up for another pair. So I stuffed them in the outside of my backpack and set off.
They were fine all week, until the last night. The backpack ended up shoved in the underbelly of a bus I took from Carmen del Playa to Cancun. I hauled it out in Cancun and walked away. Slow pan from my smiling (sweating) face to a lone green Converse, abandoned in a bus.
I didn’t notice until I almost lost the second one, of course. I was getting out of a taxi, pulling my bag with me, and it too squirmed from the pocket and fell onto the seat. The driver said, “Oh, wait! Your shoe!” And I grabbed it and checked to see that the other one hadn’t fallen out too. It wasn’t there. It wasn’t on the seat either.
I paid the driver and he drove off, completely unaware that my world was crumbling.
Finally, this past spring. I was in Italy with my mom and aunt for two weeks of travel at the end of my most recent study abroad semester. Earlier in the year, in early March, I had spent an extremely pleasant weekend in Bolzano, Italy, learning to ski in the Alps and taking brisk morning walks in the snow.
It was a great weekend. Maybe a little too great. Remember this foreshadowing.
So now it was May and I was on a train from Rome to Florence with my mom and aunt. I was tired, having spent all night awake at the airport, and when it came time to get off the train at Firenze Santa Novella train station, I grabbed myself and my bag and got off.
It wasn’t until we were halfway to our hotel that I noticed what had happened. I’d left my coat in the overhead of the train compartment.
It was unfortunate, and I did end up managing to get it back, but the true kicker here is that the train I had been on had been the same route I took to Bolzano a few months prior. The coat had a brief stint in Bolzano before being sent back to Florence on a train. My coat was making a noble journey, the journey many of my and my family’s clothes have made before.
So to the underwear at the Grand Canyon, the sock at Lake Powell, the shoe in Cancun, and all the other items of clothing worn and loved and lost over the years: thank you for marking my path around the globe. When I stop and think about it, I’ve been to a lot of pretty cool places, and I’ve left a little bit of my heart (and a little bit of fabric) in each of them. The casualties aren’t so bad in exchange for a lifetime of traveling.
Oh, but to the £40 sweatshirt: please come back.