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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This article has 295 comments. Post your own now!

LifesIllusion said...
Nov. 22, 2011 at 6:23 pm
one of the best nonfiction stories ive ever read. Loved it!
Chantelle G. said...
Nov. 13, 2011 at 10:45 am
This is brilliant. The last line's my favourite. Keep writing!
Mystiecub said...
Oct. 25, 2011 at 6:20 pm


I have no idea what to say.

TeamTamani said...
Oct. 25, 2011 at 6:05 pm
Amazing, just amazing.
candy12 said...
Oct. 25, 2011 at 4:54 pm
I really like this it really does touch your heart. you should become a writer! your really good.
Bloozagurl said...
Oct. 25, 2011 at 9:54 am

Oh gosh, this really does touch the heart in so many ways. I have a room like yours too--or rather, I have a room like yours was previously. Your room is clean now--mine is not. In the rare instances that I do clean my room--not the quick once-overs, but the back breaking, nostalgia inducing clean ups--I too find myself floating along in a tie of memories. Whether they make me cry or laugh depends on the item I have found in my sea of trash. I read this story, and I had the urge to look in my... (more »)

she-is-a-strange-duck said...
Oct. 13, 2011 at 5:17 pm
... I do believe I'll go clean my room. LOVE IT! <3!
Cloudyday92 replied...
Nov. 16, 2011 at 3:01 am
Oh my goodness! I know right?? Great read.
zadiekatie23 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Oct. 3, 2011 at 7:29 pm
Leave me speechless why don't you! :D Naw, it's okay. It's BRILLIANT, in fact. This writing is brilliant. This story is brilliant. It radiates light and envelops you in warmth and creates a sanctuary amidst chaos. The ending really tied it together, and that last line alone made me connect to your character. Brilliant, brilliant indeed.
Kidlet This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Oct. 3, 2011 at 9:23 am
This reminds me of the times I actually decided to seriously clean and re-organize my room. I remember just sitting in the middle of the mess staring at old pictures or mementos I'd found that I thought I'd thrown away or lost. I also remember the wave of emotions that would follow. This is very well written, and very accurately descriptive. Well done! :)
Sexy/foxygmal said...
Sept. 26, 2011 at 12:48 pm
Yah this made me really want to clean my room.
BlueBubbles95 said...
Sept. 11, 2011 at 3:02 pm
Awesome, keep writing.
Pedophobic said...
Jul. 30, 2011 at 12:01 am
Im still not gonna clean my room.
cheetoz45680 replied...
Jul. 30, 2011 at 10:36 pm
wow my room is such a mmeeessssssssssssss. i clean it like one in 3 or 4 months. and the so be sincere, it's as dirty as it was in less then a week after i clean it. awesome story though. i can relate to this.
RanaHewezi1998 said...
Jul. 29, 2011 at 10:24 am
 wow great story! keep it up!
SaritaFajita said...
Jul. 7, 2011 at 2:30 pm
Love it! So many people can relatee to this, you might even encourage some kids to clean their own rooms!(;
. said...
Jul. 7, 2011 at 2:28 pm
Love it! So many people can relatee to this, you might even encourage some kids to clean their own rooms !(;
SaritaFajita replied...
Jul. 7, 2011 at 2:31 pm
[ That posted by me BTW)
nutmeg123 said...
Jul. 7, 2011 at 12:19 pm
huh. this strangely reminds me of myself...i love it! Theres so much detail, but not too much that its overwhelming. perfect!
Dia.dreamer said...
Jul. 7, 2011 at 8:37 am

.....how is it possible for people to be so talented?? i am speechless!

this didn't just touch me - it slammed headlong into my soul!! keep writing more!!

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