Sunday, April 10, 2011

lost and found

Here's a good story.

About a year ago a writing acquaintance, Steve Arnt, called me up out of the blue to ask if I was missing a particular book from my shelf. I drew a blank, because I have several hundred books: some on shelves, some in boxes, some in tubs.

He'd been looking for an out-of-print book by a writer named Peter Christopher. The book was called Campfires of the Dead, put out by Knopf in 1989.

"Yes, yes," I said. "I know that book. I have that book. I knew Peter."

"You certainly did have that book," he said. "It's inscribed to a Suzy V. That has to be you."

I was in Hawaii when I got the call, on a deeply-anticipated holiday, one my husband and I had planned for over a year. We didn't know when we planned the trip that our house would be on the market, and, in particular, that our house would be on the market with a flooded basement, and that we would need to retroactively permit an addition put on illegally by my ex-husband years earlier.

Why all of this is important to the story is, about a month before our trip, during staging and dismembering hell, in the worst real estate market in two decades, my current husband and I hauled three truckloads of "yours, mine and ours" crap from the basement. Lots of it mildewed, moistened, stinky and ruined. But some of it merely heavy and cumbersome.

What I'm getting at is that Pete's book, the one you see in the picture with the very personal, lovely inscription, was a casualty of the dysfunctional triage. Where did Steve Arnt find it? Goodwill.

Now, I've done a lot of stupid, irresponsible things in my life. Once, I left my four-year-old daughter locked in the car while I ran into a coffee shop for an espresso. A cop was at the car's window when I returned, two seconds from hauling me to some sort of bad parenting jail. Back in college, I often swam naked in a local reservoir, and often there were drugs involved, or alcohol, or both. I was a poor swimmer and prone, at that time, to anxiety attacks. Drowning was a real possibility. And I won't even go into all the usual post-adolescent hyjinks. But being careless with something as sacred as a rare book--a rare, personally inscribed book at that, is inexcusably egregious.

So anyway, what happened next was, I conveyed my embarrassment and thanked Steve, who had called me so he could return my book, finished my holiday, sold the house, moved into a new house, and failed to follow up with Steve about my Campfires of the Dead.

But last week, at Lidia Yuknavitch's Powell's reading, there, sitting full-faced across the room, was Steve. And guess what? He still, after a year, was eager to return the book to me. So, we met for coffee, and there, on the cafe table, was Pete's book, not one bit mildewed, water-logged or otherwise ruined. And I'd forgotten how lovely the inscription was, and how it referred to a particularly glorious summer in 1993 when I'd met him on the Oregon Coast during a writing workshop given by Tom Spanbauer, and that I had continually dropped food on my feet while we shared writing and nuthorns and laughs.


  1. i love stories like this. they prove that the universe is a living, breathing friend who not only helps you get what you need, but will give you back things you forgot you wanted.

    i had a similar (but not really) thing happen today. i've been searching for a writing retreat place. we live in a neighborhood that is in the middle of nowhere. behind our house is a sweeping view of an 150+ acre farm with ponds, an old rustic barn, and a white farm house. when i go for long walks, i pass by the front of this farm acreage on a neighboring street. it's got an old fence and tree-lined gravel road just like it's supposed to. on the fence today was a sign: campgrounds and hiking trails available for rent. ask about renting the suite.

    looks like i may have a writing retreat location right in my backyard.

  2. Sounds like heaven, Amy. Wow.


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