Everything I've Ever Lost
Updated: Apr 26, 2018
Elizabeth Bishop, in her poem “One Art”, said ‘lose something every day’ and I think have followed her advice to the T. But not by choice.
I first heard the poem, weirdly, in underrated 2005 chick flick ‘In Her Shoes’. I immediately looked it up and read it over and over again, trying to absorb it. It seemed to ease some abstract self-loathing inside of me I could never articulate.
This feeling began when I was a child. I lost everything. Constantly. I was frustrating presence, with my head in the clouds and my school bag full of the wrong textbooks and no pen. Losing things was central to my personality and it was innately, unavoidably annoying.
I remember once, at the age of 19, I went to Barclays for my regular jaunt to request a new bank card. The teller looked at his screen.
“Wow”, he said.
As, presumably, he wasn’t reacting to the vast wealth contained in my bank account, I breathed in.
His eyes moved down and down and down the screen as he scrolled.
“You’ve just...lost a lot of cards”.
A few weeks later, a friend from university, after a falling-out, snapped that the amount of things I lost was evidence that I was selfish and spoiled. I didn’t care about my things, she was implying, because I had been given everything.
Like most cruel moments, this one contained abrupt and unwelcome self-awareness. I suddenly thought: is this how my scattiness looks from the outside?
At 19, I had no idea who I was, so I was quick to believe anyone who tried to tell me. I wanted so desperately to be another kind of person. I felt inadequate and sad. I saw my whole life until that moment as a series of tiny losses, each standing out as a little black mark against my character.
1. My first watch (blue and beautiful)
2. The plot between the ages of 18 and 22.
3. My virginity in the first term of university to a boy who, immediately afterwards, lay back and said ‘well...that was sex’.
4. My first best friend when I sent her a message in Year 8 that she was fat because a mean girl told me to.
5. A white ball gown (somehow).
6. 231 oyster cards.
7. 47 wool winter hats.
8. 344, 673 pairs of cheap earphones.
9. 31 red lipsticks.
10. My house keys.
11. Every word of German I ever learned between 2005 and 2008 except EINS ZWEI DREI VIER FUNF SECHS SIEBEN ACHT NEUN ZEHN.
12. My passport and all my money on my first holiday without family, to Paris aged 17, when we were still young enough to find that glamorous, forcing me and my friend to live on bread and ‘beurre’ for 3 days.
13. My paternal Grandpa, who used to dress up as an elf every Christmas and burst out of the garden shed to the delight and genuine shock of all the children, when he died of a heart attack.
14. The pure, unadulterated pleasure of being able to buy an alcoholic drink in a pub unquestioned.
15. 1 pair of Year 7 glasses (round, large, translucent).
16. A wonderful pair of silver shoes at the notorious Piers Gaviston party, in a secret location in Oxfordshire, forcing me to take someone else’s Primark sandals instead.
17. My first boyfriend when I dumped him in a tent dressed as an electric eel.
18. My second boyfriend when he told me he thought we should ‘take an extended break’.
19. The extreme confidence and sense of self I had at 10.
20. The perfect skin I had at 14.
21. The sense of self-righteous injustice I had at 15.
22. The poster, signed by the cast, for my first play at 19.
23. That feeling of waking up in America, aged 7, at 4AM because of jet-lag and running around my Grandma’s garden with my little sister as the sun rose and feeling like fairies in our own mystical dreamland.
24. Everything I ever learnt for GCSE Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Maths except simultaneous equations which will be etched into my brain for as long as I live.
25. The need to impress people I do not like.
26. The compulsive need to be doing something on a Friday or Saturday.
27. My first attempt at a novel, aged 16, when my computer crashed.
28. My mind the one time I took Ketamine and refused to stop sitting on the stairs.
30. My phone on my first day in Tokyo, the most Instagrammable city on Earth.
31. Another phone in Dubai.
32. That feeling of being 13 in a hockey lesson and laughing so hard with my girl friends at something stupid my stomach cramped up, I collapsed on the astroturf, and couldn’t breathe. (We still won the game.)
33. The feeling of watching Girls for the first time at 18.
34. Every netball match I ever played in during my brief sojourn on the squad in Year 7, before I was politely dismissed for my lack of talent by Miss Roncken who sat me down and tactfully asked me if I had “any other hobbies I enjoyed”. (“No”, I replied, “pretty much just netball”.)
35. A ring I bought in India
36. Everything I ever wrote on the laptop I had between 2009 and 2013 because I never backed it up.
37. Two fairground goldfish, Rodney and Del, who died of natural causes after one day on Earth, inciting such an extreme emotional reaction in me my family have teased me about it ever since. (We still have a plate, decorated by my then four-year-old sister at “Art 4 Fun”, documenting the tragedy.)
38. The feeling that any sense of unease in a social situation is always my fault.
39. My family dog Maisy, a half-bald Yorkshire Terrier.
40. 100, 000 hours of my life scrolling through my Facebook news feed, which I could have used to learn Russian or master the classical violin.
As I have moved into adulthood proper, I have worked hard on the ‘losing all my stuff’ thing. I can keep the same phone, the same wallet, the same bank card, for years on end. I lose things at the same rate, or even less, than most of my friends. I am a normal, functioning adult human and no one can prove otherwise. I feel prouder of this than any other achievement.
But I have also worked hard in another way. I have tried to accept this aspect of myself. I have tried to treat the disorganisation, so central to my nature, as an exciting adventure. Because, ultimately, losing things is annoying. But it is not some great moral failing. It’s often just the scenic route to the same destination.
Life, boiled down to its essence, is a constant cycle of taking in the new and letting go the old. Everything I have ever lost is out there, somewhere in world. And everything I have now will one day follow. So loss is natural and inevitable but also necessary. To move onto the next stage, we must shed our old skin.
So, as Bishop wrote, lose something every day. Accept the fluster of lost door keys, the hour badly spent. The art of losing isn’t hard to master, although it may feel (Write it!) like disaster.
Written by Matilda Curtis
Illustrated by Josh King