When I was in my twenties, I collected objects I found on the sidewalks of Los Angeles. An early find was a hand-written letter from a mother to her incarcerated son explaining why she wouldn’t bail him out of jail. “I have the money,” she wrote. “But you need to learn a lesson. You need to save yourself.” I felt as if the note was intended for me.
On another occasion, I found a series of 35 mm film negatives depicting an old man with a young boy. The images reminded me of my grandfather whom I loved dearly. I enlarged the negatives and made them into greeting cards for family and friends. My grandfather mailed me back a card. On the inside he wrote, “Keep your heart pure and you’ll find your way.”
I found a CD of bird sounds. I went home and discovered the beautiful song of the Swainson’s Thrush. I played the disc so often that birds gathered outside my window.
The search for objects was like a treasure hunt and each find felt important. I told friends about my hobby. They wanted to know why I was collecting trash. One friend recommended I get a tetanus shot. Another said I should consider “talking to someone.”
While walking through Los Feliz, I found a book on a bus bench. I recognized the cover. It was a nutrition guide written by my ex-girlfriend’s aunt. This was a lighting strike moment for me. I’d been reeling from a recent breakup. The odds I’d find this obscure book in the middle of the city were slim. This was some sort of sign.
I told my therapist about my hobby. She wanted to know why I was attracted to discarded objects. “I know what you’re trying to do,” I said. “You want me to say I feel abandoned and my search for objects is a really a search for myself.”
“I don’t want you to say anything,” she said.
I confessed the finds forced me to revisit places I’d been hurt.
“Who’s forcing you,” she asked.
“You think God forces people to do things?” She was doing her best Julia Child but I wasn’t ready to peel the onion. “I don’t know how it all works,” I said. “But someone’s trying to tell me something.”
I found a Zippo lighter on the sidewalk. It was etched with the image of a lighthouse pummeled by…