by Miep O’Brien
New Mexico, USA
Twenty-five years ago, I went traveling with my first boyfriend, “John”, traveling light. His parents were kind enough to store some papers and photos for me, and off we went. Several years later we returned to Los Angeles, separately. We kept in touch, but our relationship was over.
By the early 90s, John had left Los Angeles and was out of my life — except for the boxes. I had asked about them, but he said he couldn’t find them. I figured they’d keep, they would return to me sooner or later.
Then I got a call. I’d just moved, suffered some losses, and here was John on the phone. He was having problems too, and would like to be rescued. It was bad timing; I was having enough trouble just trying to rescue myself.
Sorry, I can’t help, I said. That was the last time we ever spoke.
Several months later I moved back to my parents’ house, to try to get things together. I got another phone call, this time from a stranger, “Hector”.
Hector had been hired by the landlady to clean out the last house John had lived in. He’d been looking for me for a long time, tracking me down from notes and numbers. Among the mess inside the house, this man had found my papers and photos. When he found the photos, he thought; “Surely these are important? Surely whoever owned these didn’t want them thrown away.”
He wished to send me back my irreplaceable family photographs, some going back for many decades. He wouldn’t let me pay him back for anything. I got the photos back in the mail the next week.
The week after that, I was bicycling down the street and saw a manila envelope lying in the middle of it. “Photos Enclosed!” it was marked. “Do Not Bend!” It was even already stamped. I was only too happy to get this package back on its way.
I bicycle everywhere, and find things. Sometimes just pennies, sometimes stray hand tools. Sometimes a checkbook, driver’s license, or something with an address.
If there’s a phone number I call it. If there’s a local address, I go there. Otherwise I mail these stray things to the address on them and hope for the best.
I get some gruff acknowledgments, some suspicious looks. One lady picked up her checkbook around Christmas, and
merrily gave me five bucks and a bag full of sugar cookies. I delivered one ID to a head-shaking bartender, dropped down the street from the bar.
Things get lost. People get lost. I can’t bring back lost people, but at least I can bring back small things to strangers, like a stranger once did for me.