Lost and Found This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category.

August 5, 2008
I liked being a mess. The desk that should have been clear so I could do my homework was always besieged with bowls of cereal and spoiled milk, old magazines, and Post-it notes I had forgotten to remember. My floor was a vacuum in itself, eating anything entering my room. It consumed sweaters, stuffed animals, socks, shoes. When I occasionally did laundry, I would dig up clothes I couldn't even recall purchasing. My shelves overflowed with containers of little odds and ends: hair bands, chapstick, matches, loose mints, coins, earring backings. I couldn't always see these things, but I knew that they were safe, nestled somewhere on a shelf. Like old friends in a phone book, I figured that someday I would find all the loose strings and tie them together.

One lonely day in August when all of my friends had yet to return from camp in Maine, visiting family in Florida, or some community-service trip in Mexico, something inside me began to itch. I tried taking a shower, scrubbing myself with every bodywash and bar of soap I could find. I brushed my hair and my teeth, but didn't feel any cleaner. I checked my e-mail, which was empty. I checked the DVR to see if any new shows had been recorded, but I had already seen everything.

I went downstairs and found my brother playing video games, my mom on the phone, and my dad in his office – everyone in their right place. I told my mom that something didn't feel right, and she suggested that for once I should clean my room. The thought itself made me nauseous. I went upstairs to sulk, feeling so overwhelmed that I might as well have been floundering without a boat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

When I opened the door to my bedroom, everything was in its usual cluttered arrangement. A plate of half-eaten pancakes sat on my desk, soggy with syrup from the morning. My bikini hung lifelessly from my doorknob, dripping pool water. My heavy covers lay crumpled and cold across my bed, molded by the twists and turns of the previous night. Piles of dirty clothes sat unsorted, collecting dust.

I stood in the middle of the cluttered room, breathing in the filthy air that I had become so used to. In the silence of that moment, I began to hear the clock ticking. I became aware of the moldy smell. I noticed that a spider had spun a shimmering line from my lamp to the top of my mirror. I shivered in disgust. I remembered that winter how my stuffed animal, Vanilla, had fallen behind my dresser and I hadn't noticed until I caught the repulsive scent of her fur burning against the heater, until it was too late and she was permanently covered in brown spots.

I suddenly felt sympathy for everything in my room that I had buried, never to be seen again. Lost items I had blocked out for years made their way back into my consciousness: my favorite yellow tank top, the picture of my mom and me on that boat in Jamaica, my baseball card collection.

I had an urge to dive under my bed and uncover everything lurking in the murky depths of dust, and to climb up into the highest corners of my closet and rescue items that had been mingling with the spiders. The innocent piles were growing higher and higher until they were looming monsters before my eyes. They were threatening to swallow me whole. I had to get rid of them. And so I started to clean.

In a box buried under old textbooks, I found a letter that my Poppy had written me at camp. I hadn't thought of him since his funeral. I suddenly remembered the thrill of running naked through cold sprinklers with my cousins, the spicy smell of barbecue mixing with the salty air at his beach house, and the distinct feel of his soft sweater rubbing warmly against my cheek each time he enveloped me in a hug. I remembered my dad rocking me to sleep the night Poppy died, and how the tears wouldn't stop.

I sat with his picture, blocking out the rest of the mess around me. I was in the middle of a storm, but I sat there and studied him until I had memorized every line in his face. Tears began to roll down my cheeks again, and the relief was like the sound of heavy rain pounding on a roof at the end of a drought.

In the drawer next to my bed, I found a friendship bracelet my childhood best friend, Aubrey, had given to me before she moved to California. I traced the green and purple pattern with my thumb, realizing that I hadn't spoken to her in years. The next day I called her, and we talked all night, laughing about memories like dressing up as the Spice Girls for Halloween. She reminded me of the time we built a family of snowmen in my backyard and had a funeral for them when they'd melted. I had lost so many precious childhood memories over time, letting them slip away into the tide like grains of sand. It was the kind of conversation you never want to end because for each moment we talked, it felt like a bucket collecting droplets of water from a leak.

Under my bed I even found that picture of my mom and me in Jamaica. I had forgotten how turquoise the water had looked from our ship, but what really caught my attention, though, was my image. I had buck teeth, short hair, and pimples covering my face. I stared at that girl, barely able to recognize this person who had drowned in the mess of my room so many years before. I decided to completely re­organize and revamp my room so that all the books, belts, and baskets were in their right place. It was like finding the missing pieces of the puzzle.

The finishing touch was framing that photo and hanging it high up on my wall. After all, it was me I had been searching for.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category. This piece won the May 2009 Teen Ink Nonfiction Contest.

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crzybookworm said...
Jul. 20, 2010 at 5:19 pm
It makes me wanna clean my messy room. Lol. It always interesting to what we may find in the forgotten pits of the closet. Awesome job!
xovanillatwilightxo This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jul. 20, 2010 at 4:27 pm
This is so motivating and just awesome! I'm actually cleaning my room right now but I took a break haha =]
koalabear said...
Jul. 20, 2010 at 3:07 pm
in this story, i expeced the author to take us through her experience of cleaning her room but  was happily surprised when she was bringing back old memories because n the end that s all you have.
TuffGurl said...
Jul. 20, 2010 at 8:18 am
Great article! That's exactly how my room is: messy, dusty, closet chock full of books in mine, and how I would get faintly naseous at the idea of cleaning my room. My friends and I used to think, "if we clean our room, how do we know where everything is?!"
Healing_Angel said...
Jul. 16, 2010 at 11:04 pm
I love the concept of each thing in the room having a special memory. I can relate to lost memories and forgotton things. Great Work.
LittleMissWhimsical This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jul. 16, 2010 at 8:59 pm
Wow! Oh my gosh you write so well! I just had to tell you, you are awesome at what you do...replaying scenes in people's minds, and I loved reading your work. Lovely! I really loved this a lot.
christycakess said...
Jul. 3, 2010 at 10:01 am

wow, i feel just like this.

my room may not be that exagerrated of a mess, but its always good to clean it out.

you never know what you may find.

[i loved reading this]

IamtheStargirl said...
Jun. 28, 2010 at 4:23 pm
Wow. I love the ending.
love2run said...
Jun. 28, 2010 at 3:06 pm
This is such a fun read! And there is a deeper meaning when you look closely. Great Job!!! =)
iluvnacho said...
Jun. 28, 2010 at 2:26 pm
It describes exactly what you feel like when cleaning your room. An outstanding piece of work. Kudos :D
Lil'Gurl replied...
Jul. 20, 2010 at 8:19 am
what does "kudos" mean? a lot of ppl say it and i just don't know what it means.
iluvnacho replied...
Jul. 20, 2010 at 3:53 pm
I think its just a way of saying 'good job' i'm not really sure, but i know it means something good. plus, i like the way it sounds. haha
Lil'Gurl replied...
Jul. 20, 2010 at 8:19 pm
ok thanx i hear it a lot
SophieP. replied...
Aug. 11, 2010 at 7:40 pm
sounds like a kudos bar. they're covered in chocolate :) and very yummy :D
easy-as-123-ABC said...
Jun. 28, 2010 at 12:34 pm
This is a really thoughtful and wonderfully written piece. I can personally relate to this story. You have talent! Keep up the great work. :)
Emerald said...
Jun. 28, 2010 at 9:12 am
K9_Typical_Islander said...
Jun. 28, 2010 at 8:00 am
The thought of that room made me remember my very own cousin's room . Gosh, everything was everywhere and I was always amazed at how she knew what item she wanted was where at! She never did see the bottom of her floor once, things just ended up donated if she tried. Well this article is great and fun to read- keep it up  :D
Earthlingmaybe said...
Jun. 28, 2010 at 7:46 am
This makes me want to clean my room and at the moment I'm not even staying in it. Maybe when my Aunts leave...
KillerButterfly said...
Jun. 6, 2010 at 6:57 pm
That's really a cleansing thought, I very much enjoyed this story. Lovely. ^.^
GatoPoeta said...
Jun. 6, 2010 at 6:55 pm
i like the story so much. its very entertaining. my room can get like that too, and then i eventually clean it.. i wish i could find little memories like that in my mess, but sadly i never do.. i really love your story. i enjoyed it very much
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