expensive lessons

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Last week I made an expensive mistake.

But let me back up.

Coming out of several months of going from one intense project to the next in multiple states, driving 1400 miles at the end of October, moving residences four times in November – with all the gear I thought I might need when I packed my travel capsule in July (knowing I would have three months in Portland and a trip to Arizona, unsure of exact timing, not aware that I would also fly back to Indiana twice for business) – I found myself in Tucson “filing clothes” and other items in preparation for more travels:

These I’ll need for the 30-degree weather in Indiana so I need to take them with me; these I might need if I stay in Arizona until April when it’s warmer, so I’ll hang on to them; these I definitely need in January when I come back, so I need them to be easily accessible… these bills need to be paid, these need to be filed away… Food can stay in the car so mice can’t get to it, where’s that bottle of wine I had…?

I had just wrapped up a 10-day whirlwind production schedule for a show that I love, with people I adore, that had also been incredibly grueling – daily set-up of the stage, running 1-2 shows per day, tearing it all down and storing it so we could find it the next morning when we began it all again (a process mirrored between my work and home lives, this constant storing and unpacking, arranging and rearranging).

I had the flu for two days in the middle of all that and kept going anyway.

I was exhausted. 

Once the show closed, I had about a day and a half to get ready to leave.

Both my long-term suitcase and long-term backpack had been falling apart for months, with no time to replace them. So finally, in delirium, standing in a department store at about 10:30pm the night before I was to fly out, I chose potentially the wrong suitcase and backpack – because at some point you have to choose something so you can go home to actually pack – which I did, finishing around 2am. 

I got up early the next morning to drop off some things for a friend to store at his house while I’m away for a few weeks, cleaned my room and bathroom for the next guests, cleared out my food from cabinets, gathered my new suitcase and backpack, and got ready to call the Lyft to take me to the airport with minutes to spare.

And… My phone wasn’t in my pocket. Or in my backpack. Or on the ledge by the door next to my suitcase.

I ran from room to room, checking my pockets, my bags, my car, all again. I searched the street, the sidewalk, the yard. I thought of calling my phone, but there was no landline and no one else around to help me.

I considered going to the theatre – did I leave my phone there when I dropped off some things half an hour earlier? But with time running out to get to the airport, I didn’t want to waste time returning somewhere that my phone might not be. So I pulled out my laptop and opened the Find My Phone app.

And there I saw it – a little green dot, half a block away, down the alley behind the house.

I ran outside but couldn’t figure out which direction to go. I went back inside to look at my laptop and reorient. The phone had moved; now it looked like it was next door. I went over and knocked, and someone looked out a window but wouldn’t come to the door.

Back in the house, on my laptop, I started sending threatening messages about calling the police to the person who apparently had my phone. 

The phone (the little green dot) moved again.

I frantically texted my friend Bryan, who was at the theatre. “I have to catch a flight in an hour, and I can’t figure out where my phone is! It’s moving around the neighborhood!” I texted him in a panic.

Now, let me clarify here that I normally don’t panic. Generally in emergencies I am the calm one, the one who maintains steadiness and patience, figuring out the next steps, knowing it will all somehow be okay. But as I watched the minutes ticking away, closer and closer to the time my flight was to leave, I didn’t seem able to access my usual centered focus.

Have I mentioned I was exhausted?

I knocked on another neighbor’s door – a friend. She and her husband came out and began looking in trash cans, walking up and down the alley. Bryan showed up to help too.

I ran back inside to check my computer again, which now listed a specific address a couple blocks away where my phone now appeared to be. So we all went to that house.

There was a man in a car outside the house. He said he didn’t have my phone. He was waiting for his friend, who was inside. The friend came out and said he didn’t have it either.

The two men offered me internet connections through their phones so I could access my laptop away from the house. They opened up trash lids and began looking in the alley around their house. 

Could I trust them? Were they looking over my shoulder as I typed in my password on my computer? When they offered me an internet connection, were they going to skim my information? Were they just pretending to search in the trash cans, or was it for real? 

We were all running around, the phone kept moving, the borrowed internet connection kept going out. Bryan tried calling my phone, but no luck. I initiated the sound option from Find My Phone, and Bryan thought he heard its “ping!” a little ways away – but then we didn’t hear it again. Was someone walking away with my phone? Or had that just been some other sound?

I was watching the clock. We all were.

Finally, the guys said they needed to leave, to get to work. The neighbors gave up and went home. Bryan told me he had left rehearsal to help me, and needed to get back. Everyone said I should call the police.

“How do I call the police?” I asked. “I don’t have a phone.”

So Bryan left his phone with me before he returned to rehearsal, and I called them. The woman who answered wouldn’t send anyone over if I couldn’t tell them exactly where my phone was, with a specific address. It took some convincing, but finally she took down the address of the house where I was staying along with a note to the officer: “The phone is moving around the blocks near this address.”

It was an absurd conversation.

The minutes were still ticking, and it was obvious at this point that I was going to miss my flight. At the moment, I only hoped to get to the airport close enough to the time of my flight that they would put me on standby for the next one.

Now I was alone, back in the house, waiting for the police. 

I plugged into Find My Phone again to figure out where it was now… it looked like it had moved to the alley directly behind the house. I went outside and looked, but saw nothing, saw no one. I came back inside. 

As I waited, I decided to try to send the sound to my phone again, just in case. I turned off a radio my housemates left on in the kitchen and clicked the sound. And then I heard:

Ping. Ping. Ping.

Oh god.

Upstairs.

Bathroom.

I had checked the bathroom counter earlier, but not the white ledge where a white phone (like mine) would blend in.

There it was.

I had missed my flight. I had inconvenienced so many people. I had been distrustful of strangers trying to help. I had kept Bryan from rehearsal. I had called the police.

And my phone was in the house, right where I had apparently left it.

I called the police and cancelled my request for them to come.

I called the airlines and they wouldn’t put me on standby. In fact, they wouldn’t help me at all. Because I had bought the cheapest ticket, I couldn’t even use the second half of my flight (the return) and just buy a one-way replacement now. I had to buy a whole new ticket.

Poof! Cash had just disappeared.

I broke down crying, finally.

In a daze, I bought a new replacement ticket for almost $600. I returned Bryan’s phone, sheepish and deeply apologetic. I went and told the neighbors the news, who cheered.

And then in my continuing daze, I found myself looking outside at the sunny day.

I had an evening I hadn’t planned for. 

I got in my car and drove to Tumamoc Hill, one of my new favorite places. As I walked up the steep hill, I listened to snatches of conversation from the walkers around me. I felt my legs moving. I felt my deep, deep exhaustion, and at one point wanted to just lie down on the trail and take a nap. But I kept going. 

I thought about what I want to keep about my life and what I want to change.

I thought about what a humbling experience this day had been, and how that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I watched the sunset, I greeted a friend on the path, I got a smoothie from the friendly guy at the bottom of the hill. 

I went home, repacked, put the sheets back on my bed for one more night, spent some time breathing, and felt… gratitude.

Gratitude that the ticket wasn’t even more expensive. Gratitude that I have an emergency fund from which to pay for that emergency replacement ticket. Gratitude that I have friends who will drop what they are doing to help me. Gratitude that in this world, strangers too will drop everything and help someone like me, even when I wasn’t entirely trusting of them. Gratitude for one more night in Tucson, and one more walk up the hill.

When I went to get ready for bed, I discovered my shirt was on inside out. Of course it was. 

Have I mentioned I was exhausted, before the day had even begun?

I went to bed early.

And then I got up, and did it all again: unmade the bed, re-cleaned the bathroom, repacked the suitcase, held on to my phone (!), made it to the airport, made it to Indiana. My sister picked me up (one day later than expected), and I met two good friends at a bar where we curled up on a couch talking and toasting each other, and one of those friends gave me milk and eggs and yogurt and cereal and mushrooms so that I would have food in the fridge when I woke up the next morning.

I made an expensive mistake last week.

But really, all I could feel after making that mistake was gratitude, for so many, many things.

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