A man wakes up and before he has even gotten himself out of bed the memory pushes itself into his groggy mind. Perhaps his mind was still in dream mode, rearranging memories to make room for more, and that one, of the watch, was left behind as his mind returned to consciousness. Whatever the reason for the memory surfacing was, he spent a large part of his morning contemplating it.
It wasn’t the first time he had thought of the watch, but he had never thought so deeply about it before. He had always just pushed the memory aside with a sigh of shame and regret. Why shame and regret? Because losing your grandfather’s watch, which had been given to you upon his death by your father, is not something you can take lightly nor easily accept.
He can’t really remember what the watch looked like; maybe silver with a white face and a tan leather band. But, he can remember how it was lost, although saying it was lost is not entirely accurate. The loss was a combination of negligence and thievery. It involved gym class, a jewelry box and absent-mindedness.
It was some two decades earlier, and the man was a boy in grade school. His school’s gym teacher had a rule that all students had to put any rings, earrings, necklaces or watches into a little box he kept on the small stage in the gym. The logic being that your valuables would be safer in the box, which could be seen by everyone, than left in the unmonitored change room. The boy agreed with this logic and dutifully put the watch in the box. What he didn’t take into account was that he would have to remember to collect the watch after class.
He left the gym without his grandfather’s watch. Sometime later that same day he remembered with a sudden panic that he had left the watch behind. He went back to the gym his heart in his throat; a sense of doom hovering over him. He told the gym teacher that he had forgotten his watch earlier and asked to check the box. The watch was not there, of course. In his heart he had known that it wouldn’t be. He walked home alone, knowing that he would have to explain the loss to his father who had trusted him with the watch. He had wanted to show that he was old enough to be trusted with such a valuable object, but he had failed, and now felt that shame that only little boys can feel when they have disappointed their fathers.
And now 20 years later he sits wondering where the watch ended up. Someone took it that day long ago, but who and why? Was it another kid just trying out what it feels like to steal something who took the watch and then later felt scared and guilty and threw the watch into the garbage or the woods or the lake? Was it the gym teacher? That’s highly unlikely as an adult who steals doesn’t just steal once and surely he would have been caught at some point. Did someone take it by accident, thinking it was theirs? Who knows.
More haunting than the thought of who took the watch, is where is it now? Did it end up buried in a landfill, still ticking for months in the dark, under the earth until one day the battery died? Is it at the cold bottom of a lake or stream, corroding away? Is it in a box or drawer somewhere, forgotten after all these years? Does it sit wrapped around someone’s wrist at this very moment? Worn with pride by a man who has no idea where it came from, just like the boy who lost the watch has no idea where it’s gone.