I have memories of me in elementary school, sitting at our dining room table, gripping a pencil, and glaring at a piece of paper with jumbled letters organized into the shape of a square. Some of the letters formed words. The goal was to find the ones that did. I used to get so frustrated when I could not find the word. I would start crying. “It’s not here. The word search puzzle makers messed up!” My dad was standing over my shoulder, “I’m looking at the word right now!” I would begin to cry harder. I would get a headache from staring at the jumbled letters. I felt tired. I wanted to be done. I was likely looking for words like “sports” or “camel.” I probably began to hate camels.
Sometimes we do not know what we are looking for. For example, last weekend I went to Ralph’s grocery store with a list of supplies for a Harry Potter themed party my roommate and I were throwing. I was cruising through the list but got stumped on the last item: condensed milk. I looked in the milk refrigerators. Two-percent, one-percent, skim, whole, chocolate, soy, Ralph’s brand, fancy not-Ralph’s brand, gallon, quart, personal size. I think we have over-complicated milk.
I pulled out my phone and Google image searched “condensed milk.” Pictures of cans and small, rectangular containers popped up. I realized it was not going to be in the refrigerator section. I started walking down random aisles. Cereal, beans, chips, soda, shampoo, birthday cards. Where did condensed milk fit into all of this? I saw a red vest. “Excuse me do you work here?” She glared back at me “Ya.” I remembered why I never ask for help. “Where is the condensed milk?” “Five.” I wandered to aisle 5.
Granola, tea, granola, dried fruit, nuts, granola, quinoa, granola. I walked up and down it multiple times. I stood on my tip toes to see the tops of shelves. I squatted down to look at the bottoms. Nothing I was seeing matched the images my Google app had pulled up. I started to feel the same way I used to while sitting at the dining room table. “It’s not here. The condensed milk makers messed up!” I imagined my dad peering over my shoulder “I’m looking at the condensed milk right now!” I started feeling tears come to my eyes. We could have a Harry Potter party without Butterbeer, right?
In that moment, I began to miss the Safeway down the street from my parent’s house. I missed the comfort of knowing where everything is. I missed knowing which self-checkout stand is always on the fritz. I missed knowing where the Burt’s Bees chapstick is. I missed knowing which section of the card section the birthday cards for an uncle are located. I missed Billy, the Starbucks barista who knew my name, order, and always asked how school was. I missed knowing where the granola is.
Missing things and people is, for lack of a better term, weird. Missing things and people is a physical experience. It touches the five senses. We miss the way someone’s eyes look when they laugh. We miss the smell of a favorite place. We miss the taste of something. Or someone. We miss the sound of a door opening, signaling that someone we love is home. We miss the little touches that remind us someone is there, even when it is silent. Missing things and people shows us how detailed memories are. We may not even realize a characteristic about a thing or person until we miss it or him or her. You learn a lot about something or someone when you miss it or him or her.
Sometimes we have to search for what we miss. We know we miss the something or someone, but we cannot figure out what exactly it is we miss about that something or someone. We stand on our tip toes. We squat down. We begin to cry. “It’s not here.” We need someone to peer over our shoulder to confirm that what we are looking for is in fact there. That we are valid in missing that something or someone. That it is okay to miss the way your mom looks when she laughs. That is okay to miss the smell of your favorite childhood stuffed animal. That it is okay to miss the overly salty popcorn from Max’s tavern. That it is okay to miss the sound of the door opening to your house you lived in during college. That it is okay to miss the one you love reaching over and grabbing your hand while driving down the street in silence.
There is no use in crying over condensed milk. There is no use in crying over words like “sports” and “camel.” There is use in crying over missing something or someone. You learn a lot about yourself when you miss something or someone. For future reference, you can find condensed milk at Ralph’s in aisle 6 on the bottom shelf. It comes in cans and cardboard, rectangular boxes. It comes in a variety of sizes. I think we have over-complicated condensed milk.