The Age of Forgetting

It was always so funny to watch my mother's panic rise when she misplaced something—until it happened to me

The missing painting

When my mom was the age I am now, my sister and I teased her unmercifully about her "special places." These were the black holes into which my mother deposited important items: her passport, an overdue bill, a wedding invitation and so on.

"I'll find it. I'll find it," she cried, scurrying from room to room, pulling open drawers. The problem is that Mom had so many special places that the odds of ever finding the lost item were somewhere between her locating her G-spot and her finding Jimmy Hoffa.

Every room in our three-story house had mystery drawers containing a bizarre array of clutter that made sense to Mom but would've stymied a Nobel Prize-winning archeologist: plastic combs, matchbooks, department store receipts, keys that opened car doors and houses sold a decade ago, prehistoric chewing gum, falsies, lipsticks as dry as plaster, pens without ink, ink without pens. You get the idea.

The more important the missing object, the more likely it wasn't in a drawer. It could be under a mattress, tucked beneath a pile of towels or Scotch-taped to a mayonnaise jar. It was screamingly funny to watch my mother's panic rise. That is, until the other day when it happened to me.

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I couldn't find a watercolor painting that I knew I had left in the kitchen. How did I know? Because I took up watercolor a little over a year ago and my kitchen doubles as my "studio." The painting was so new, I hadn't signed it yet and had propped it up by the kitchen door, along with other works-in-progress. I was unusually excited about it because it was the largest painting I had attempted and, in my humble estimation, it was the best. It depicted a young couple in the first blush of love. But it wasn't soppy. I like to think it was Fine Art.

I looked in all the places where I store completed paintings: in a plastic container under my bed, in a huge cardboard portfolio and a smaller vinyl portfolio. Nada! I got down on my hands and knees and looked under the sofa. I crawled through closets. I looked everywhere but in the cat's litter box. Then, I circled back and went through the portfolios again and again.

That's when a lightbulb clicked in my befuddled brain. The painting did not walk out of my home by itself. It was on full display when two workmen recently installed a new kitchen sink. Now, it's probably a Valentine gift for a girlfriend or wife! While I was complimented that my artwork was worthy of theft, I was heartsick.

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Friends urged me to make a police report. At first, I resisted. Even my best effort is not a Picasso. Basically, it has no value. Mr. Sticky Fingers would've done better if he had taken my toaster oven. But I gave in, thinking it was the "right" thing to do. Later, two police officers knocked at my door. One was so young, he could've passed for a high school senior. The other was so old and frail, he looked like he had been pried out of a Barcalounger. The older one asked me the year of my birth. He wrote it down without raising a brow.

The next morning, I did what Da Vinci would've done (after he had coffee.) I started to re-create the missing painting. I got as far as making a preliminary sketch, when I decided to use better quality paper. I keep the good stuff, imported French paper, in the large cardboard container in which it comes. Peeling back the cardboard flaps, I removed the huge piece of cardboard that protects the paper. The cardboard was perfectly unblemished on one side. And on the other? My missing painting was taped to the other side!

My relief was mixed with bewilderment. Sure, I tape paintings to cardboard or Masonite while working on them. But I would never store them in the box where I keep fresh paper. Or would I?

I'm hoping there's a life lesson in this. Perhaps it is that creativity is about process, not about the end result. I shouldn't get so attached to my paintings. In the event that they sell, it's unlikely I will be granted weekend visiting privileges. Maybe I need to get serious about art storage cabinets. Keeping my stuff under the sofa or bed is an imposition to my cat. This is where she stockpiles her treasures. Or maybe the lesson is simply to have compassion for myself and to accept that I, too, have special places. Just like Mom.

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