I know it’s happened to many others many times. They seem to weather it without permanent physical or psychological damage. But it has happened only twice to me, and I haven’t gotten used to the tremor of terror that courses through the body — like the burning sensation of radioactive dye injected for an angiogram. It flares across the collarbone, around the heart, over the stomach, and down into the groin.
I am talking, of course, about the miserable moment you realize you have lost your cell phone.
The first time it happened to me I was at work, having attended a tedious meeting on information technology. Three of us — Alice, Connie and I — had been in a far corner, doing email on our phones to pass the time. Meeting finally finished and Connie gone, Alice and I dumped our lunch trays and returned to our things at the table. That’s when it hit. My most important “thing” was not among my things. My cell phone was gone.
I could feel the blood drain from my face and, feeling faint, I clutched Alice’s arm. How could I carry on without my phone? We looked all around the seats, up and down the tables. “Could I have accidentally thrown it away when we cleared our trays?” I wailed.
Alice watched in stunned silence as I raced to the trash bin in the conference room and began dumpster-diving, a 60-year-old university administrator, head down, clawing through crumpled napkins, greasy potato chip bags, and half-finished sandwiches.
When I came up for air, phone-less, Alice suggested that maybe Connie had scooped it up with her things. She offered me her mobile to call Connie’s campus office, but my hands were shaking so badly that I couldn’t type (or thumb). Alice gently took her phone back and called Connie’s office for me, but Connie wasn’t there. We left a message.
What to do? I couldn’t go back to my office in a panic. And home was 60 miles away, so I couldn’t just go there and come back. The only choice was to walk the half mile across campus to Connie’s office and wait out her return. Alice offered to go with me, but I bravely said that I could manage alone. Twelve minutes later I arrived to learn that Connie had texted her secretary. Yes, she did have my phone. Would I wait or return later to pick it up?
I waited. I wasn’t going to leave that building until my phone and I were re-united.
The second time, it was a pleasant day at home with time to run some errands at the bank, the Acme, the post office. Once home and the groceries put away, I headed up to my desk for 30 minutes of work. Then time to check email on my phone.
I could have sworn it had been right there on the desk while I was working! Where was it? I tumbled downstairs. It wasn’t in my pocketbook, or on the kitchen table, or next to my computer on the counter. I went out to the car to see if it might have fallen from my bag. I searched around and under all the seats.
Although I did find three wizened Stayman Winesap apples and an unopened ball of twine.
Back inside, I shifted from panic to anger. I had only been in two rooms since returning, for crying out loud! I called my number from the landline. Silence. I ran back up and again scanned the surface of my desk. The clock read 2:20. The post office had been my last stop, and I had used my phone to find an address! I had 10 minutes before closing time.
Back down the steps, I grabbed my keys and headed out the door — no coat, no glasses, no license. I floored my Subaru Outback and dashed in with minutes to spare. I pushed my way to the front of a a long line at the window. “Did I leave my phone here? Did anyone turn it in?”
The other post office patrons sympathetically waved the clerk off to check lost & found, and they all began to share their stories of lost keys and wallets. I don’t care about them. I want my phone.
The carrier came in to collect the mail from the big mailbox just as the clerk returned, shaking her head. “Maybe you dropped it in that mailbox with your letters,” she said.
Surely I wouldn’t have done that, but the carrier kindly offered to look through the bin. And once again, there I was: head down, bent over a plastic container, pawing through piles of paper — although at least this time none of the paper is soaked in pickle juice from a recently unwrapped hoagie. The result was the same: no phone.
Back home, I trudged upstairs. I resigned myself to a trip the next morning to the Apple Store to stand in line, bear the condescension of Mac Geniuses, and acquire a new phone.
But for now I am in my own house, at my own desk, and can get back to work. I pick up my notebook — and there’s my phone.
With the ringer turned off.
Kathryn Taylor lives in Wallingford, Pennsylvania.