When you lose your favorite sock

Submitted into Contest #129 in response to: Write about a skier who accidentally strays off-piste.... view prompt

15 comments

Creative Nonfiction Sad American

CW: cancer


My dog follows me into the hallway as I’m crunching on a stick of ants-on-a-log. If only she knew raisins were terrible for her and that I wasn’t going to give her a bite anyways. I see my mom losing steam on folding a pile of laundry, so I sit cross-legged next to her and start matching socks. She’s scrolling through social media and leaning against the wall, rubbing the spot under her eyes where the rim of her glasses made a red imprint. She doesn’t notice me at first but then watches me as I sort the mismatched socks away. Sometimes, I bunch two socks that don’t match together just so they aren’t lonely. 

She joins me, and I see her nose wrinkling when she layers my brother’s underwear, even though it’s clean. My dog collapses beside us, scooting near to hint that she wants to be rubbed. I run my hand down her belly, and she sighs, content. 

To break the silence, which is beginning to become uncomfortable, I ask, “Are we driving up to Sugarbowl this weekend?” Skiing should be a neutral topic, but my dad wants us to be that “skiing family,” and my mom does not.

“I don’t think so,” my mom answers and lays down on her back. She plays with a sweatband, slingshotting it into the wall and catching it after it bounces back. “Besides, that’d be the first time I’ve gone there in, like, almost thirty years.” 

“Really?” I inquire, pretending to pay attention. My dog nips at my toes and tries to wrestle the sock off them, causing me to giggle and push her away. 

My mom continues: “Not many good memories from there. I remember how we’d have to get up so early just to drive the four hours and pay $100 a ticket to ride the gondola up and ski. My brothers didn’t ski, though; they boarded.” She rakes a hand through her hair and breathes in and out through her nose. 

I can hear my brother falling asleep to an audiobook version of Harry Potter from across the hall. Sometimes I wonder if he’s ever gotten past the first book, even the first chapter. Maybe my dad just plays it on a loop, so he doesn’t have to put him to bed himself. The British woman’s voice is calming, and I want to drown in the Hogwarts adventures. Alas, I’m merely a muggle. 

“That sounds like a pain.” I position my hands behind my head and lean on the mound of laundry. It makes for a nice cushion so I can take a “company 5,” as my dad likes to call them. The only problem is that he takes too many “company 5”s, which is why he isn’t folding clothes with us right now. 

“There was this one time at Sugarbowl,” my mom gulps, “after my dad got sick. We drove the four hours and had prepaid gondola tickets and everything.”

I never met Grandpa Kent, but I wish I did. My mom’s dad died when she was 23 from Multiple myeloma, a type of cancer caused by infected white blood cells in your bone marrow. It tore her family apart, including her relationship with my grandma. Since then, my grandma has been dating odd old men who eat nothing but butter with papery lips that cover their dentures and high-up jobs at banks. 

My mom closed her eyes like she was seeing the event unfold in her mind, unfolding like the pair of shorts she left in a heap beside her. She picked up her phone again like she would turn it on, but then she just held onto it. “We bought four gondola tickets instead of five because my dad wasn’t going to ski. He couldn’t, he was going through chemo, and the doctor said it was important not to overextend himself because he was already so fatigued.” 

I could imagine it all as I lay there with the bright hues of clothing in my peripheral vision: the mountains of snow, the built-up excitement like one chunk of a snowman on top of another. I could see them all bundled up, breathing circles onto the window as Grandpa Kent drove them into the parking lot. 

My mom didn’t mention what kind of car they drove, but I can imagine it as an old Ford Festiva with all three boys and the only girl squeezed into the back. As they pull into the parking lot, I can see them poking each other and gasping at the glistening snow. They get in line for the gondola, and Grandpa Kent is adjusting his paperboy cap atop his head. The kids hold on tight to their skis and boards with their small mittened hands. 

“I was overjoyed,” my mom described, “but I don’t remember why. We didn’t get to go skiing often.” She opens her phone and scrolls through the Nordstrom website, occasionally pausing to glance at winter hats with pom-poms. 

The four kids and their dad arrive at the ski bum with the nose ring who’s checking tickets right before the gondola lifts off. They hand over their four tickets, and the guy counts them, scratching his nose when he measures the number of people in their group. 

“There’s only four tickets here,” my mom recalls him saying, “and there’s five of you.” 

My mom and her three brothers glance over at Grandpa Kent, who steps forward and gives his signature broad smile. I’ve seen this smile in pictures but oh, to be there and witness it. “Sorry, I’m not skiing, I’m just going to sit and wait while my children ski.” 

The ski bum exhales, and it makes clouds in the air. “I’m sorry, sir, but we can’t allow you to do that. You need a ticket to go up.” 

I imagine my grandpa shifting his weight from one foot to another and looking the guy square in the eye, “You don’t understand. I can’t ski. Doctor’s orders.” 

“Sorry, sir—” The guy starts. 

My mom’s voice catches at this part in the tale, but she clears her throat. To distract herself, she takes mismatched wool ski socks, rolls them up to her arms, and snaps her thumb against her other fingers like she’s miming sock puppets. “My dad never wanted to admit he was sick. He wanted to feel strong and in control. But I remember him that day when he took off his cap, rubbed his bald head, and exclaimed, ‘I have fucking cancer!’ for the whole world to hear.” My mom shivered and closed her eyes. “It just made it seem so . . . real.” I could tell how scared she felt and how much she missed her dad. I watched her patiently and felt my stomach swirl into knots. It’s not fair she had to go through this, all of it, even this particular moment. 

“I’m sorry, sir,” the ski bum says in a raspy voice, “you’ll still need to pay for a ticket.” 

Grandpa Kent stomps over to the ticket booth, demands an adult ticket, whips out his wallet and comes stomping right back. He fits his cap back onto his head to keep it warm, scowls at the gondola guy, and waves his new ticket in his face. 

“When I get off this gondola, I’m going straight to customer service and complaining about the hard time you put an old, sick man through. Let’s go, kiddos.” 

I could feel my eyes watering, so I sat up straight and buried myself in the laundry, carefully tying the shirts together like linen origami. My mom rubbed that same spot under her eyes. 

Her nails clicked against her phone screen. “I don’t remember what happened—if my dad got his money back or not. But I remember I couldn’t focus for the rest of the day. I was dodging skiers left and right and even flew off the run and into a patch of trees.”

I could envision my mom tucking her tears into her goggles and pushing forward with those skinny little poles, leaving the problems to travel back down in the ski lift. I couldn’t imagine how she felt when her dad faced defeat. I guess my grandpa is a muggle, but aren’t we all? Life isn’t magical, but at least we can believe like Harry did until it’s too late. 

My dog licked her lips and got up from her little rest. She decided to trample the piles of folded laundry, causing us to chuckle and scold her. I excused myself to the bathroom but headed in the other direction. Only when I was in my room with the door closed did I let myself cry. 

It was a silent cry because I didn’t want anyone to hear. I settled on my knees and cried for my mom and her brothers and my grandpa, who I never got to meet. He sounds so brave, I think to myself, unlike me. I barely got through the story without crying. 

I love you, I think to the sky, and wipe my tears away. I open my door to go back to the laundry and know that Grandpa Kent isn’t a topic I can just fold away. I need to learn more.

January 18, 2022 04:59

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15 comments

Scout Tahoe
05:05 Jan 18, 2022

For Grandpa Kent: we love you, we miss you. This is a true story. I'm submitting this late at night and I know it's not my best. It doesn't really fit the prompt but I wanted to write about him and I'm open to critique. Other title ideas I had, give me your opinion: -Brave -Snowmen Can Die, Too -28 years later -Muggles -One sock, two sock, red sock, blue sock -Doing laundry with my mom *credit to Shea West for current title*

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Okashi Kashi
19:57 Jan 23, 2022

I'm a big believer that the prompt should be a larger part of the story. That being said, the story was very touching. At the end of the day, the story you write shouldn't be bridled due to a prompt.

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Scout Tahoe
20:27 Jan 23, 2022

Thank you, O.N. Sometimes I can’t think of anything else. :)

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Anna Nonymous
17:30 Jan 23, 2022

I think it does fit the prompt, though. Yes, it's just a glancing mention, but it doesn't feel forced. Does it need to be anything more? And I think the title you've got is perfect, and I loved this passage: "Sometimes, I bunch two socks that don’t match together just so they aren’t lonely." My husband and I have called each other our "lost socks" (he's left, I'm right) for our entire relationship, so it struck a tender, personal chord for me. My only real quibble is just so silly, but a FEMALE narrator for Harry Potter?! Everyone knows J...

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Scout Tahoe
20:32 Jan 23, 2022

Hannah - I am embarrassed. I’ve listened to that HP voice so much, but from a distance. It is actually a male British voice (I asked my brother). Thank you so much for reading and I’m glad you agree once in awhile we should just let go and not focus on the prompt. I can’t edit it now, but I’m so ashamed I got the narration voice wrong! 😳

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Anna Nonymous
20:39 Jan 23, 2022

Forgiven, Scout! You're only a muggle, after all 😁

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Kathy Olson
02:57 Jan 26, 2022

This story moved me to tears. Those fragile moments when others kick our hurting loved ones, leaving a bruise that never heals, are powerful emotional touchstones. Nice work. For my mom, it was breast cancer. The moment was in the woman's bathroom after a movie. It was the Christmas season, and Mom decided to wear a Santa hat to cover her bald head, saying it was the warmest hat she had on a cold Reno day. I saw two women rolling their eyes at her as she washed her hands and then dried them under the hand dryer. I watched them as she walked ...

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Scout Tahoe
14:33 Jan 27, 2022

Kathy. Olson. Write. This. Story. Down. Now. I'm so glad my story touched you. This is a true story and actually happened a few years ago; I was folding laundry and my mom told me about my grandfather. Your story is much more powerful, and you should definitely write it down. Once Christmas rolls around again, you should pull it back out and submit it to the contest. I cried while reading your comment, which says a lot. (In a good way.) Thanks again, Kathy.

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Kay (:
06:16 Jan 23, 2022

Hey! Would you mind checking out some of my stories on my profile?(:

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Calm Shark
06:48 Jan 18, 2022

Hey Scout! Don't worry about how it didn't fit the prompt. I am too having problems with the prompt. I do have a list of titles that you can add if you want to. -A Brave Warrior -Depressed -We Weep as One I know the titles are weird but this is what I thought of. I loved the story Scout, and I am sorry for your loss. The story dealt with grief and you conveyed it very well throughout the story. Overall, it's a story that is sad and bittersweet.

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Scout Tahoe
14:20 Jan 18, 2022

Thank you, Calm Shark! These prompts are hard and I had no idea what to write about. Speaking of stories, I'm going to stop by one of yours...

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Shea West
05:29 Jan 18, 2022

This was sweet and sad and a lovely glimpse at how grief just is sometimes. I lost my grandfather in high school and it crippled me in an unusual way that I still cannot explain until this day. Watching our parents lose their parents is a sad kind of hell, especially if they're good humans. I'm sorry you never got to meet your Grandpa Kent, he sounded badass!

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Scout Tahoe
14:22 Jan 18, 2022

Shea, we're on the same boat. I can't agree more: watching our parents lose their parents and seeing them get replaced is so sad. Thank you for stopping by! If I want to read one of yours, should I just to the most recent? P.S. What did you think of the title?

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Shea West
16:50 Jan 18, 2022

I think if you'd like to read one of mine you'd dig Amplitude & Frequency. I did like the childlike energy of the title. Other titles I might consider: 4 Tickets When There Should've Been 5 When Your Parent's Parents Die When you lose your favorite sock Don't forget to use the gentle cycle *I love long titles though LOL

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Scout Tahoe
00:09 Jan 19, 2022

AHHHHH I love your titles so much. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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