April 2018

Friday, August 24, 2012


I have been lost so often that I am good at it.

When I was seven, I was supposed to direct my grandfather to my ballet studio for my lessons, but I got lost, so we went home to pick up four year-old Sister Jen, who directed us to the right spot.

That was early in my life, when I showed an aptitude for being lost but was not yet so good at it. The adventure turned out fine, so it was good early training. 

I continued to build this skill as I grew up.

When I lived in Dallas in my twenties, I often got lost when I was driving, so I would follow the road that most cars were taking. If the three cars in front of me turned left, I turned left, too. I figured that even if they weren't going to my destination, they must have had some destimation in mind that might be even more interesting.

My strategy didn't work out so well, as I generally ended up on a dark street in the middle of what seemed like nowhere when the car I was following turned into its driveway, but I used the strategy most of the five years that I lived in Dallas since I couldn't think of a better one.

In my final Dallas year, I bought a red Trek bicycle and rode it around town whenever I could. Sometimes I got lost. Very lost. And so I got tired. Very tired.

On one especially hot Dallas day, I rode several miles down Preston on my little red bicycle. If you don't live in Dallas and don't know Preston, imagine the busiest and narrowest four lane road you have ever been on. Then imagine that you're in a clothes dryer and the hot wind is drying you out. Pedaling in a hot wind down a narrow, busy street. 

I was dehydrated and a little loopy, so I wasn't terrified like I should have been. Miraculously, I lived to tell the tale.

Though getting lost on my bicycle excursions could be downright dangerous, I started learning the logic of streets, and directions didn't always seem so haphazard anymore. 

When I moved to Seattle, I came to love the bike trails and the bike-friendly streets, and I biked all over town, so I got to know my way around. Besides, north-south streets had numbers, and I could count. Also, I didn't get too lost because if I went the wrong way, I'd end up at some body of water and would know to turn back.

I was getting better at finding my destinations, but I was still most talented at being lost. Because I was good at being lost, whenever Ann and I needed to go someplace unfamiliar, I drove. Getting lost didn't upset me. It felt natural, so I was calm.

Then I had brain tumors, and now I can't bike around Seattle anymore. I can't drive either, but my talent at being lost still serves me well.

Now I catch the bus, but to catch the bus, it's very important to write down the correct bus number, the correct direction, and the correct address. I don't always do this.

Today, for example, I caught the #8 from home, heading towards Queen Anne, just like I was supposed to. I walked South on Broadway just like I was supposed to, and right outside of Seattle University, I ran into my friend Kim Thomas. Luckily, I was fifteen minutes early and I was almost to Pine, where the coffee shop I was heading to was, so I stopped to talk and to meet her mom and sister.

A gallant man wearing a black trench coat in the summer sun offered to give me a ride. He said that my glasses made me look intelligent. Then he offered to give me a kiss. I didn't want a kiss, but it sure was kind of him to offer.

Then I walked to Pine Street, but I couldn't find Cafe Vita at 1005 Pine Street. I walked up and down. I called information looking for the phone number so that I could ask how to get there, but the man on the phone said that he didn't have a listing for Cafe Vita on Pine. He said he'd connect me to someone else who was an expert, but I was on hold too long, and then I saw my friend Bethany, so I hung up.

Bethany was a teacher in the public school district where I last taught. She was pushing her son in his stroller. We caught up on school news, including the fact that neither of us would be in that district this year.

I said that I'd better go, since I didn't want to be late for the writing group at Cafe Vita, "which, by the way, I can't find. It should be right here."

"Oh," said Bethany, "you're on the wrong street. It's a block over."

Just then, my friend Karen walked up and said that she would walk with me there. I haven't seen Karen in a while, so we caught up a bit, and she shared the good news that Elliot Bay Book Company just bought a lot of the cards she makes with her drawings on front.

We walked a block over and parted at Cafe Vita. Though I was twenty minutes late, I felt good about such a delightful journey. I went upstairs to join the Writers' Group. Group members were already quietly into their own writiing.

I started my writing, too: "I have been lost so often that I am good at it..."

As I wrote, it occurred to me that this gift being lost also serves me well as I adjust to life after brain tumors.

I cannot travel through life in my accustomed way, but I am not panicked. I'll look around a bit, see if I stumble into a good friend and if I find some interesting spot.

I'll figure out something, and eventually I'll find my way.


  1. I'm amazed that you are able to find gifts in these episodes... the number of "angels" in the guise of friends, who run into you and guide you "one street over" so you can find your way, and your complete lack of panic. Thanks, Mary, for this....

  2. What an amazing outlook! What amazing story-telling! I'm hooked!

  3. The way you tell it, you have a friend on every street in Seattle. I'm guessing that isn't too far from the truth. My favorite parts, among many in this post, are when you and grandpa drove home to get little sister to navigate (great solution) and where you politely declined the kiss from a stranger. You are so great, Mary.


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