from Desire Line
Lost is a word one sinks into, then tries to find a way out of. A slippery word. A heavy one, bloated with meaning, like a raincloud.
Lost keeps all the ways of being lost inside of it, the way a black hole holds everything it has eaten—belly full, mass undetectable from the outside. The smallest black hole, scientists say, is the size of just one atom but has the mass of a mountain.
Lost can be a past participle, an adjective, or a verb. It can be a state of being, concrete or metaphorical; it can be vast or small.
Lost can be a relationship, tying the subject, who suffers the loss, to the missing object—as in a transitive verb.
In all of them, a separation is being outlined: Lost comes after something, and starts somewhere else. A word that already contains, inside of it, a story.
As a daily practice, I pretend I have no mother. Or that the mother one possesses is incidental, a biological notation in the background, like a tiny drawing on a wall panel one is standing in front of, hardly large enough to notice.
I don’t look like anyone in my family. Our similarities are the kinds of things you see when you aren’t looking directly, fragments illuminated by a particular gaze. In the science of telescopes, the technique of looking off to the side in order to learn more about the object in front of you is called “averted vision” and shows you things you otherwise would not see.
I smile like my father did: off center at half-mast, faint dimples at full grin. I have his height, his musculature, his slightly drooping eye, the texture of his skin.
I have my mother’s brows. Her quiet voice. Her carefully legible script, slightly rounded; her sense of wonder. We share the same preoccupation with health and art; the fact that she, in her family, never fit in.
But there are enough other people in my raising that I am as much the world’s as anyone’s, a collage with everything thrown in—and deeper than that, a slow refusal—there’s a way in which you belong only to yourself, friends say to me; different ones, in different places.
I can tell by the way they say it—it’s not entirely a good thing.
In Brooklyn, I inhabit my life like a stranger.
I walk, and read in my room, and wander the city. I live among families of immigrants speaking other languages, share an apartment with someone I’ve never met, layers of anonymity accumulating around me like the cloudy white matter insulating walls. I buy cheap groceries and experiment with veganism, shedding more things. I work a series of menial jobs: bookstore; nanny; uptown barista; eat at small cafes and visit places I never see again, so unplaced in my mind, they might have been anywhere, any city or state, blurry islands on empty maps. When in your life were you most alone? a friend asks years later. Here; this time. But I am not lonely, or even sad—it is a feeling beyond grief, closer to the impersonal.
I come to NYC the way people in stories rove the earth after an apocalypse—to see what’s left.
My mother says something bad will happen in New York. I’m going to get beaten, mugged; I’ll wind up homeless. In my mother’s dream, I live in Gotham City. The skyline gets darker and darker. Drug lords hang out on every corner, and to get through the neighborhood, I must push a wheelbarrow of dollar bills to make it down the block.
We talk on the phone. How do you do it? she says, every day? I can’t imagine, and pauses to eat from her can of spinach and I hear the scrape of the spoon. Is it true you’ve lost your hair? she asks. I touch my ponytail. No, I tell her. It’s perfectly fine to wear a wig, she says. Did you know there are hospitals so small—the beds are the length of your finger?
Our voices are connected by a network of copper wire spanning the country across mountains and farmland, sifting through the messy grid of cities that sprawl between us, dotted among the states, linking coasts; space; time. In her late 60s, my mother has lived in the same place for nearly a decade now: a convalescent home in a small agricultural town in California, room 40b, the place I last saw her circa 2010, wearing a pale orange shirt gathered at the sides that I fancied slightly Grecian, and knew would please her—Do you have any pretty outfits? Are you wearing nice dresses or tops? she likes to ask—and when I went, I went alone, holding a carton of blueberries.
But I could also say she is somewhere less tangible, wandering around 1998 maybe, or lost somewhere inside her mind, and the scene she’s in is out of focus, like the flickering of old film reels, marred by static and erasure. The whites of her eyes are slightly blue, a characteristic of osteogenesis imperfecta, the bone disease she was born with, furthering her sense of removal—and, of course, the schizophrenia.
Like a polar bear on an orphaned plane of ice that is rapidly melting, my mother inhabits a place that is impossible to get to and impossible to leave.
In the years after her disappearance, the conspiracy theories around Amelia Earhart start to grow, generating new limbs in weird places, like deep sea creatures taking on fantastical shapes in the dark.
In the most feasible theory, Earhart’s flight plan, set for a tiny US territory called Howland but off by a hair, strands her on a remote island: Nikumaroro, also known as Gardner, 350 nautical miles south of her intended target, far enough to be outside of the initial search radius. This theory includes a human skeleton discovered in the 1940s and incorrectly determined to be male, precisely matching the ratio of Earhart’s arm bones; a scattering of SOS transmissions initially thought to be fake. In this scenario, a desperate Earhart visits the wreckage of the plane at low tide, sending SOS with weak transmissions, before the plane drifts impossibly out of reach.
But in the most seductive theories, she doesn’t die.
She is taken hostage by the Japanese and taken prisoner—
She is rescued from the crash by the U.S. Military, and repatriated to a secret life in New Jersey—
In the Marshall Islands theory, a photo of a woman taken from behind—anonymous silhouette near Japanese officers—is taken as proof.
It is not the absence of evidence that’s confounding, it’s the profusion of contradictory and incomplete evidence, the blurred weaving of fact and falsehood that is inextricable from an attempt to make sense of her life.
The official U.S. stance is that Earhart ran out of fuel and crashed in the open ocean: all traces of somewhere lost at sea.
no longer possessed or retained:
no longer to be found:
having gone astray or missed the way; bewildered as to place, direction, etc.:
not used to good purpose, as opportunities, time, or labor; wasted:
a lost advantage.
being something that someone has failed to win:
a lost prize.
ending in or attended with defeat:
a lost battle.
destroyed or ruined:
Originally from California, Raquel Dorman lives in Brooklyn and holds an M.F.A. in poetry from N.Y.U. In her other life, she works at a yoga studio and wanders around the city.