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Summer Stories - The Lost Year: ‘Nothing Lost’ by Kris Dinnison

 (Molly Quinn/The Spokesman-Review)
(Molly Quinn/The Spokesman-Review)
By Kris Dinnison For The Spokesman-Review

I n January, I lost my motivation. That didn’t seem so weird. It always happens in January. First, I make the resolution, then I lose the motivation. It’s an annual thing, like those swallows at Capistrano or how everyone is suddenly Irish in March.

This January, I’d resolved to make new friends. Not that there was anything wrong with my old ones. I just wanted to spice things up. There’s something magical about that early stage in a relationship when you haven’t gotten on each other’s nerves yet.

A woman at the gym always got a mango smoothie after her workout, just like me. So one day, I suggested we share a table. She said yes, and so we sat, sipping smoothies, neither of us sure what came next. Unfortunately, when I’d imagined the early stage of a relationship, which I enjoy, I’d forgotten the early, early stage of a friendship, which is filled with awkward silences and potential minefields. I froze. I faked a forgotten appointment and fled. I never went back to that gym. I also never tried to make another new friend.

So January didn’t ring any alarm bells, and frankly neither did February, when I lost my car keys at least seven times, once in a snowbank that I had to dig through with my bare hands. They’d dropped straight through the soft snow since, as my husband will tell you, I have way too many keys on my key ring. “Why do you have so many keys?” he’ll ask, shaking his slender, three-key ring at me. “Because I need them,” I usually snap. Anyway, the lost keys didn’t register, and neither did March’s lost weight, which I welcomed and tried not to think about too much lest it find its way back to me. It wasn’t until April that the losses started to add up.

In April, I lost my job. And by that I don’t mean I got fired or laid off or that the company closed. I mean I lost my job as in I couldn’t find it. I was the first one at the office, but my key didn’t work.

When Alec, the recently hired former intern arrived, he asked. “Oh, hi, there. Can I help you?”

I laughed, thinking he was joking, but he didn’t laugh. “Alec?” I said. “It’s me. Samantha. I work here?”

He smiled awkwardly. “Oh. OK. Well, we’ll be open in about a half an hour, and you can come back then and talk to my manager. I’m new, so I don’t know everyone yet.”

But then the manager showed up, and she didn’t know me. And then I noticed the name of the company printed on the door had changed. And then I realized the office had been transformed into one of those open-concept rooms with couches and an espresso machine and beanbags in th e corner. I mean, on Wednesday it was all gray cubicles and instant coffee. Thursday I show up, and it’s like a movie set.

It’s not that I liked my job. I didn’t. But I was a little concerned I was losing my mind. Losing keys and even friends are one thing. But a mind is something you want to hang on to.

When I got home, I told my husband I’d lost my job.

“What happened?” he asked.

I didn’t know what to say. “Restructuring, I guess?”

“Sorry, babe,” he said. “Oh, by the way, the cat is missing.”

“Figures,” I said.

The cat came back in May. We’d put up fliers and checked the local shelters. Nobody had seen her. But then one day she just showed up at the back door. Healthy and fed. She smelled of lavender.

June and July and August, it was all little things that disappeared: the mate to my favorite pair of socks, the remote control, the garlic peeler gadget someone gave me, my aunt’s phone number. I found I didn’t mind. Instead of watching TV, I made my way through the stack of books I’d been meaning to read. I’d never used the garlic peeler. My aunt was annoying. Summer’s disappearances seemed almost a relief. But it turned out to be the lull before the storm.

“The car’s gone,” My husband said. I was at the kitchen table playing solitaire on my phone, still in my pajamas, still unemployed. Turns out getting a job with no reference was not easy, so I’d pretty much given up.

“What? What do you mean it’s gone?”

He shrugged. “It’s just not there.”

“Well, should we call the police?”

He nodded. “Probably?”

They didn’t find the car, which was probably fine since it was a crappy car. The insurance company paid out, and we bought another, slightly less crappy car. By then I’d started to take stock of the year. I made a spreadsheet including all the things that had gone missing. I color coded it: Things I lost permanently, things I found again, things that seemed normal, things that didn’t. I crunched and rearranged and made charts and graphs. I added what I’d lost in past years. Was this year different? Or just weirder? Nothing emerged: no patterns or explanations for the things that had evaporated.

In October, a sinkhole appeared in our backyard.

“No way,” my husband said when I told him.

“See for yourself.” I waved him toward the backyard.

“That’s so weird,” he said when he came back in.

“Yeah.”

“I mean, what do you do about a sinkhole?” he asked.

“Google it?”

We both grabbed our phones and tried to figure out what to do. Turns out the answer is “nothing.” We watched through the rest of October and all of November as the hole swallowed more and more of the yard. First the grass, then the vegetable garden and flower beds, then the maple tree we’d planted two decades before. The hole had a mineral smell, like rain on concrete or like the inside of the limestone caves we liked to hike to. Sometimes at night I stood outside just to smell it. We measured the distance between its gaping edge and the patio as it approached the house. Our neighbors occasionally invited friends over to look at the hole, whispering on their decks about the potential for catastrophe.

By December, the edge was only 4 feet from the foundation. We’d packed the new, crappy car with a few possessions, ready to flee if the hole advanced suddenly. It turns out we didn’t want most of the things we’d worked so hard to buy. We didn’t take the TV, or the giant mixer I’d saved up for. We didn’t take the 600-count sheets or the expensive wine we’d bought on vacation in Walla Walla. Just a few photos, a box of books and a quilt my grandmother had made.

Christmas Eve my husband was standing in the sliding door looking down at the hole. There were only about 18 inches of patio still teetering on the muddy edges of the hole. Beyond the mud, there was just an echoing, opaque void.

“Be careful,” I said. “Put on the harness if you’re going to stand so close.” We’d wrapped a sturdy rope around the kitchen island and promised to wear it whenever either of us were near the hole.

He sighed but fastened the harness and returned to the open door. I watched as he bent to take a measurement.

“We’ve lost 4 inches since this morning,” he said. “I don’t know if the house will last the night.”

I gazed at the fake Christmas tree we’d set up at the far end of the living room. There was nothing underneath it. Not even a tree skirt. We’d agreed not to get each other anything this year. So Christmas consisted of a fake tree, a tottering house and an escape plan.

Suddenly, a rolling rumble started from deep beneath my feet, making the decorations swing on the tree. I spun around just as my husband fell out of the back door, disappearing into the hole. I ran to the edge, laying on my stomach with my head stretched out over the empty space. The hole was even with the house now, and the rope that I hoped was still attached to my husband swung, receding into the darkness.

“Are you there?” I called, hearing my voice echo back and wondering if the sound waves would take the rest of the house, and me, down with it.

“I’m here!” he called, his voice farther away than I hoped and closer than I’d expected. But at least there was a voice. At least he hadn’t disappeared forever.

“Are you OK?” I asked.

“Um, not great,” he said. “I’d be better if you could get me out of here.”

I slid back from the edge, my stomach pressed to the hardwood floor. Looking around the kitchen didn’t help. I wasn’t going to save my husband from the sinkhole with a coffee pot or a spatula. My brain kept up an almost rhythmic chant of don’t lose him, don’t lose him, don’t lose him. Suddenly, I spied his work gloves on the counter. Putting them on, I took hold of the rope and braced myself behind the kitchen island.

“I’m going to pull you up!” I yelled.

“Thank you!” His voice was faint.

I began to pull, hand over hand, and made some progress, but my arms weren’t as strong as they once were (I’d lost muscle mass), and I knew I wouldn’t get him back this way. So, I wrapped the rope around my waist and started to struggle across the kitchen, the living room, through the front door and down the driveway. I didn’t stop, I didn’t look back, I just leaned forward, pushing through each step with everything I had. I was almost to the street when I heard his voice.

“I’m up! I’m up!”

I felt the earth beneath me roll and shudder again, and I screamed, “Get out! Now!”

A few seconds later, my husband tumbled through the front door just as the house sagged and tipped into the hole. I started to run toward him, but he caught my arm and dragged me into the center of the cul de sac, where we clung to each other and watched as the house, the driveway and the slightly less crappy car all dropped out of sight. When the roaring stopped, the sinkhole had taken everything precisely at the property line. The neighbors were snapping photos and calling the news stations.

“It’s all gone,” He whispered into my hair. “Everything’s gone.” His voice was full of wonder.

I clutched him around the waist, pressing my ear to his chest, listening to his heartbeat and mine.

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