Shelly and I had been dating for about six weeks before she invited me to have a home-cooked meal with her and her eleven-year-old son. (Shelly introduced him to a new boyfriend only after the boyfriend had passed muster.) She cooked a splendid dinner. The main course was some bass her son had caught. He seemed very proud of this.

After dinner, I suggested that we rent a movie. At the large video store, Shelly’s son went off by himself. A few minutes later, Shelly pointed him out several aisles away, looking for us. “Don’t let him see you,” she said, observing his growing distress. “He looks just like a deer caught in the headlights.”

I suddenly felt uneasy; if Shelly could find entertainment in her son’s discomfort, I thought, she would eventually seek enjoyment in mine.

Name Withheld

Traveling to another town to purchase a replacement part for my computer, I took a wrong turn and got lost. I passed through a quiet neighborhood of large, stately homes with sprawling, landscaped lawns and wrought-iron gates at the driveways. Then I came to a quaint, Disneyesque downtown with small shops and boutiques, brick sidewalks, and plenty of flowers.

After driving around for ten minutes, I noticed I was being followed by a police car. The officer stopped me, checked my license and registration, and politely asked if I was lost. I said yes and gave him the address. He got in his car and led me back to the main road, where he pointed me in the right direction. I smiled as I waved goodbye.

My good mood evaporated, though, when I looked in my rearview mirror and saw the officer standing sternly alongside his car, arms folded, watching me drive away. I wondered if I had been assisted, or merely escorted out of a neighborhood where I wasn’t welcome because of my black skin.

Name Withheld

We called my father’s mother “Grandma from Manhattan.” She spoke with a thick brogue and wore bifocals, square-toed black shoes, and musty-smelling dresses. We couldn’t climb on her lap the way we did with our other grandmother.

When I was ten, Grandma from Manhattan came to stay at our house. She was too sick to live alone in her apartment anymore. I had to move into my brothers’ room, and her hospital bed was set up in mine. The musty smell came with her.

One day, I returned from school to find that my grandmother had disappeared and my father was off searching the neighborhood for her. The police finally brought her home. As she stepped out of the patrol car wearing a gray coat over her nightgown, my brothers and I watched from the living-room window, whispering to each other in admiration. She had done what we secretly longed to do: run away from home. When my father scolded her, she said she had gone “to get soda for the kids.” She held out a paper bag with a lemon soda in it — bitter lemon soda, the kind used to make whiskey sours. Nevertheless, it made us feel good to be accomplices to her flight.

That evening, my grandmother sat with us in the living room and watched Hee-Haw, her favorite program. For once, my brothers and I didn’t groan about having to watch a “stupid hillbilly show” instead of The Wonderful World of Disney. The fiddles reminded Grandma of her younger days, when she would dance on a barn floor, her hard heels tamping the dirt. That was before she was “from Manhattan,” before she got lost.

Karen Sullivan
New York, New York

At fifty, my husband wanted children. I was thirty, and didn’t know what I wanted. The only children I knew were my three nieces, who were six, eight, and ten. I enjoyed their company — certainly more than that of their housewife mother and trucker father.

When my in-laws visited us in the country, the girls followed me everywhere. One Sunday, I set out to find the Appalachian Trail marker that a neighbor had told me was a few miles into the woods near my house. Accompanied by the dog and several cats, the three girls and I climbed up past the barn to the abandoned logging road.

A little ways down the road were the deep stone cisterns for watering livestock. The barn cats abandoned us there, but we walked on, along intersecting trails that corkscrewed into dead ends. My old, out-of-shape collie started to limp, and I began to have second thoughts about the expedition. When we arrived yet again at what looked to be the same copse of maples (how would I know? I’m originally from the Bronx), the dog was no longer with us.

“Are we lost?” asked the middle girl. I said we weren’t. How could we be lost this close to the house? “Of course we’re lost,” said the eldest. “I’m hungry,” the six-year-old said, “and I can’t walk anymore.” Picking her up, I announced, “All right, we’ll go home now” — as if I hadn’t been trying to do that all along.

As we wandered down one dead end after another, I kept up a line of chatter about how I’d been in these woods many times and knew exactly where we were. The ten-year-old still didn’t believe me, but she was now too hot and worn out to waste her breath complaining. We listened for the family’s calls without much hope — they were heavy beer drinkers and were usually sodden by late afternoon. I felt like crying, but I couldn’t give in to despair with the children depending on me. The silence deepened as the sun’s rays slanted lower and lower. I was starting to worry we’d be spending the night outdoors when one of the girls thought she heard a horn. We walked in the direction of the sound and soon heard voices, which led us to the cisterns and the logging road.

It was dusk; we’d been gone five hours. My sister-in-law was frantic and grabbed all three girls in her arms. The men (who never walked past the barn themselves) laughed at my getting lost in the woods an hour and a half from New York City. I said nothing, my face hot. My husband took me in his arms and, with beery breath, called me his “wild woodswoman.”

Soon after that, I headed west, alone, into deeper woods, to make a new life.

Name Withheld

As a girl, thirty-five years ago, I was idealistic, energetic, imaginative, and uncompromising in my convictions. My heart went out to the poor, the oppressed, the suffering in body or spirit. I fought for civil rights, prayed for world peace, and donated my lunch money to help stop the clubbing of baby seals.

Now, after two divorces, raising a daughter, and years of trying to balance work and home life, I am too tired to notice what needs fixing in the world, and too disillusioned to believe it can be fixed, anyway. I rarely read the papers. “Ignorance is bliss” has become my motto.

Where is that young girl with her lofty ideals? Where did she lose her way?

Jo-Anne Rowley
Englewood, Colorado

My mother’s dogs were trained to be obedient. Every dog she ever owned came when she called it, sat when she directed, and stayed when she ordered. She put choke chains on them to let them know that she was the boss. My mother never let her dogs run free, but kept them in kennels in her fenced back yard. As a child, I thought this was because she was afraid they would get lost.

Then one day, my mother became convinced that Lad, a Siberian husky, was trying to run away from her. In a fury, she loaded the dog and me in the car and drove us to the park. There, she unhooked Lad’s leash and shouted, “Go if you want to run away so bad! Go!” Lad zigzagged across the field, stopping to sniff mysterious smells. He looked back at us, wagging his tail uncertainly. Then he put his nose to the ground and raced over the crest of a hill, out of sight.

My mother and I waited in silence. The muscles in my throat were clenched. I smelled pine trees and listened to the wind combing the grass. After a while, Lad reappeared, walked over to the car, and stood there with his tail wagging, waiting for my mother to refasten the leash. My mother’s hand shook as she lit a cigarette, dragged hard, and released a long, acrid trail of smoke. We drove home, and Lad was deposited in his kennel. I tried hard to be a good girl.

Name Withheld

I never expected anything would come of my crush on Mr. M., my high-school biology teacher. After all, he was a thirty-one year-old man, and I was an awkward, skinny seventeen-year-old with braces. But his wife was in the process of divorcing him, and apparently my attraction to him soothed his ego. We met at a park over winter vacation, walked around a bit, and kissed outside his car.

When school started up again, Mr. M. was distant and wouldn’t talk to me. I wondered what I had done. My English teacher, Mr. B., noticed my distress and asked what was wrong. Not realizing the two men were enemies, I told him about my little liaison with Mr. M.

Mr. B. confronted Mr. M., and the accusations flew. It was clearly all my fault. I shouldn’t have had anything to do with Mr. M., and I certainly should never have said anything about it to Mr. B.

At home, my parents yelled at me for being mopey, for not eating, for making stupid mistakes, for being a pain in the ass. I cut my fingers with razor blades, little slashes, practicing for the day when I’d cut my wrists and the tops of my feet. Nobody noticed my shredded fingers, or the deepening circles around my eyes, or how I kept losing weight. My gloominess annoyed my friends and frustrated my parents. I just made life worse for everybody. Surely, the best thing would be for me to get out of everyone’s way.

Feeling lost and alone, I went to confession. “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned,” I began. “I’ve been so depressed, I’m thinking of killing myself. I know it’s a sin, but I don’t know what else to do. I just feel so bad all the time. I want to be dead.” I told him about my “affair.” When I was done, he shifted in his chair, cleared his throat, and said, “Isn’t there anyone you can talk to about this?”

Kathleen S.
Warwick, New York

I was nearly twenty when I came out of the closet and had my first relationship with a man. After that, however, I ended up becoming involved with a woman, L. We loved each other, but I broke up with her because I was afraid I was simply trying to avoid my attraction to men.

Gradually, I grew comfortable with being gay. I became politically active, studied queer theory, and helped start a chapter of Queer Nation. Then, after five years of wandering, I settled down in a gay-and-lesbian commune in Tennessee. I had been with only men since L., and I felt pretty certain it would stay that way — until the day a young lesbian from California walked up the drive, and we instantly fell in love with each other.

It took only a couple of days for us to overcome our initial hesitation and begin sleeping together in her little shelter in the woods. We didn’t tell any of the other commune members; we were afraid of what they might think of us. But as we grew more involved, hiding our relationship became difficult. It was like coming out all over again — not just to those around me, but to myself. The identity I had struggled so hard to forge no longer fit. I felt lost. It was both frightening and exciting.

Nathan Long
Richmond, Virginia

Occasionally, at the nursing home where I work, a resident will turn up missing. We’ll usually find the person asleep in someone else’s room. If not, we start checking the tub room, the closets, the kitchenette, the bathrooms, the other units, and the outside doors. Sometimes a resident slips out of the facility.

Once, I had to run two blocks into town to bring back a woman found lying in an alley; she’d escaped carrying a stack of the green plastic lids that fit over our meal trays. Another was discovered limping along the sidewalk, pushing a wheelchair loaded with her clothes. I’ve retrieved patients from the bus stop, the movie house, and the liquor store. One evening at dusk, a nurse glanced outside and spotted a patient lying in the snow. Another nurse heard a knock on a window and found a woman trying to get back into the building, her skin ice-cold.

So far, I’ve found all my lost residents, but I once heard about a man who wandered into a field when the corn was high. They didn’t discover his body until the autumn harvest.

Anita S.
West Lafayette, Indiana

I can have been to a place several times, have a map in front of me with every road I will take highlighted, along with excellent directions written in bold letters on a large piece of paper, and I will still get lost.

My husband can listen to a vague description of a route replete with unmarked roads and turnoffs, in a state where he has never set foot, and he will not make one wrong turn.

“How do you do it?” I ask him.

“I look at where the sun is,” he says.

I don’t see what the sun has to do with it.

Anjelina Citron
Bellingham, Washington

When I was five years old, my father discovered his spiritual home in the Episcopal Church and brought me with him into the fold. Flattered by his company and lured by the promise of ice cream on the way home, I attended church with him every Sunday for years. But sometime during my early teens, my questions outgrew the answers the church offered, and I struck out in search of my own spirituality. Dad, on the other hand, never wavered in his belief.

Three weeks before his death, however, my eighty-four-year-old father telephoned me and tearfully admitted that he needed to talk about his faith, to figure out what he believed. Somehow he had lost his way at this, the worst-possible time, and now he was asking the one child who hadn’t shared his zeal for the church to help him find it again. Never had I wanted to be an Episcopalian more than I did that day, but parroting the beliefs of a church I had left years before would have been wrong, and my father would have seen right through it. Instead, for the first time, I told him my own ideas about life and death, and together we cried.

Deborah Miller O’Bryan
Houston, Texas

As a kid, I used to get lost a lot — deliberately. I’d take unfamiliar streets just because I’d never been down them before. In time, I could no longer get lost near home, so I’d ride the subway into Manhattan, but the streets there were clearly numbered, making it hard to lose my way for more than a few minutes.

Finding my way back was part of the fun. According to the rules I made for myself, I couldn’t ask directions. (Most women fail to understand that finding your way without asking directions gives one a sense of accomplishment.) I’d often end up at one of my favorite spots, like above the reservoir along the Kill Van Kull, where hulks of old sailing ships lay submerged, their skeletal timbers emerging when the tide was low. Another was a coffeehouse in Greenwich Village, where I’d sip hot, spiced wine, listen to Beat music and poetry, and feel smug as only a thirteen-year-old can.

R. S. Bennett
Reno, Nevada

Mom was sitting at the table, hunched in her brother’s wheelchair, when she leaned forward and quietly asked, “Do you ever get lost in your house?”

The question caught me off guard, and I struggled for words. “No,” I answered. “Does it happen to you?”

I waited, searching her soft, lined face for the independent woman who could always find her way, even over snowy roads on moonless nights. The woman in the wheelchair reached for her cigarette and said, “Yes, sometimes I can’t find the bathroom.”

I suddenly wanted to hold her, but I remained in my chair across the table. “Mom,” I asked, “does it scare you when you can’t find the bathroom?”

She paused and looked down, as though trying to hide behind the bottles of pills and stacks of mail on the table between us. Then, almost inaudibly, she replied, “Yes.”

Not long after that, my mom moved to a nursing home. Each day when I went to see her, she would look at me in surprise and ask, “How did you know where to find me?”

Linda Williamson
Corvallis, Oregon

Our dog, Silver, has not finished growing, yet it is hard to imagine him getting any bigger. When he stands on his hind legs, he is already taller than my sister Mindy and I. As we open the front door to take him for a walk, he lunges forward, and we both have to hold on to the leash to keep him from getting away.

Outside, there is a crackle in the air, as if it’s thinking of snowing. The trees have shed their leaves. Mindy and I lean way back as Silver strains against his collar, stopping at every tree. We walk past where Becky Sue lives, with her lispy way of talking, past where Pauly Minetti throws snowballs at us when there is snow, and past where old Mr. Papadopoulis went crazy one year because someone pulled on his handle-bar mustache. We walk until our feet hurt and the temperature drops, but we are still not sure whether enough time has passed that we can go home. And so we walk on. Eventually, the houses change and the yards are different and the people have faces we’ve never seen before. We have to turn back, but Silver has other ideas. He is stronger than we are, and he pulls us farther away from home. We yell for him to stop, looking at the sky, where the sun has almost disappeared. We start to cry.

A red pickup pulls alongside us, and a man gets out. Silver stops and sniffs the man’s hand. He pats Silver on the head, then gets down on one knee to look into our sad brown eyes with his kind blue ones. He asks us why we are crying. We tell him we are lost. He puts Silver in the back of his pickup and opens the door for us. We get in — we don’t know what else to do. He asks for our address, and we give it to him. The strange houses slip away and the familiar ones come back. The man stops in front of our house. We hold our breath, hoping no one opens the curtains and sees us getting out of a stranger’s car. We thank the man. He hugs us, and is gone.

We watch the house carefully to see if it is still shaking the way it was when we left. It’s hard to tell. The car is not in the driveway. We are not sure if this is a good or a bad sign. We go to the back door. Inside, all is quiet except for the sound of our mother sniffling in another room. The chairs are standing in their places by the table again. The drawers are back in their cabinets, and the things that were thrown all over the floor have been cleaned up.

We find our mother lying on the bedroom rug. Her closet door is open, and her dresses are ripped and lying in a pile on the floor. She looks up at us, her eyes red and swollen, and we go to her, relieved that there is no blood. Finally, she gets up and walks toward the kitchen. It must be dinner time.

R. Kain
Santa Barbara, California

My husband loved maps. He collected old Colorado Forest Service maps, and we’d spend our vacations searching out long-forgotten roads and ghost towns. Each trip should have been an adventure, but he plotted our course so thoroughly that all the mystery and thrill of discovery were lost. We were bound to his yellow-highlighted routes. I’d stare at the maps, trying to understand his fascination, but I could make no sense of them. He told me I was too stupid to read a map, and I believed him.

When I left him to explore the country in search of a new life, I didn’t even take a road atlas — just a little pocket guide that showed only the main highways. Even those I hardly ever found, but I figured out how to get to New York, Florida, and Texas. Eventually, I came to Oregon and stayed put.

I’ve learned to read maps since then, but I usually don’t bother with them. I’d rather head off in the general direction of a place and wander around until I discover it on my own. I get lost a lot, but never as lost as I was while married to a man who loved maps.

Mary Zelinka
Albany, Oregon

The first time I went to Japan, I stayed in the beautiful temple town of Nara. My hosts, the Fujiwaras, lived in a tiny neighborhood surrounded by rice fields and accessible only by a maze of narrow roads. To help me get around, they drew me a map of the route between the train station and their house.

One evening, after getting off the train, I accidentally entered the road maze at a different point than usual and got hopelessly lost. Close to tears, I came upon a noodle shop that looked inviting. I decided to go inside and wait until 11 P.M., when my friends were due home. Then I could call them to come pick me up.

When I opened the door, a bell sounded, and three men sitting at the counter slurping big bowls of noodles looked up in surprise.

“Konichiwa,” I said. “Dozo, dozo” — which almost completely exhausted my repertoire of Japanese.

Approaching the pretty, middle-aged woman behind the counter, I laid my hand-drawn map before her, pointed to the square that represented my friends’ house, and said, with a hopeful rise in my voice, “Fujiwara-san?”

The woman picked up the map, which was marked in English, and studied it. Then she placed it on the counter, and all four of them hunched over it. There was much grunting, shaking of heads, and rapid-fire Japanese. I waited, not very optimistic, but happy to be inside this good-smelling place.

After a few minutes, the three men got up and left, and the woman ushered me outside, locking the door behind us. I seemed to have shut the place down. She led me to her car and drove me through the rice fields, turning this way and that, talking to me occasionally in Japanese. I dutifully responded, “Hai, hai,” as if I understood.

When she stopped, we were at my friends’ front door. I bowed to my deliverer in gratitude, hoping she’d never find herself lost in New York City, where I’d once heard a well-heeled woman snarl at a foreign tourist, “Don’t talk to me if you can’t speak English.”

Lani Wright
Brattleboro, Vermont

I used to think getting lost meant losing track of what I needed to do, straying from my list of chores, not staying on task. Now, in my fifties, I find that definition reversed. It’s when I devote all my time to the practical details of this life, rushing about to get things done, that I am lost to the greater reality. Getting lost now is not noticing, for example, that the supermarket cashier is human, too, a person who will die, and that the goods lined up by the register — the vegetables, the detergent, the juice — are, in essence, gifts.

Gene Zeiger
Shelburne, Massachusetts

I feel lost. Things are not going so well for me here in the land of plenty. I have come to terms with the fact that my living and studying in America is a lot more exciting to my friends and relatives back home than it is to me. “What is different about life in America?” they ask. For starters, before coming here I had never been stared at in the subway, nor told I was “Hispanic-looking” or “Asian-looking.” I seem to be too light skinned for some people and too dark skinned for others. I pay my taxes, yet I am treated like someone looking for a handout.

I long to speak my native tongue. I’m unable to express subtle shades of meaning in this foreign language. Often I do not understand jokes and cultural references. I had no idea that it was wrong to hang clothes out the windows to dry. In this land of “freedom,” I’ve found more regulations than I can memorize, and have learned to appease others in order to get by.

I have come to hate this place. Though I can afford more material goods than I ever dreamed possible, I have no real friends. The people I do like are often not from here. When strangers bluntly ask me, “Are you going to marry an American and stay here?” I think, No, but I may marry an American and take him back home with me. I don’t say this to them, though; they wouldn’t understand. What better place could there be, they’d think, than this one?

Name Withheld

On the way home from a picnic, I became separated from my family. We were returning on the train over the Mississippi River to Missouri. It had been a long, hot day, and I had nodded off in the high-backed coach seat. When I awoke, I was alone in the car at the end of the line in downtown St. Louis. I was nine years old and had no money and no idea how to get back to my house. I couldn’t call home because we had no phone. I couldn’t ask an adult for help, because my father had taught me to avoid anyone who was “different.” To him, this included most of the world’s population.

Pulling myself together, I decided to pick one direction and walk for ten blocks, looking for familiar landmarks. If I found something I recognized, I would repeat the process; if I didn’t, I would retrace my steps and head off in another direction.

My first and second attempts failed, but the third brought me to a bridge across the Mississippi. I knew that our house was up river from there and about fifteen blocks west. Elated, I decided to run. It was dark by now, and there were a lot of “different” people around. Every time I saw one of them, I would cross to the opposite side of the street. Several people called out to me, but I just ran faster.

I sprinted the last few blocks home, envisioning the hero’s welcome I would receive: the cries of joy at my safe return; the trip to the police station to call off the search; the warm hugs; the delicious dinner; the gentle kiss good night.

I burst through the front door and skidded to a halt in the kitchen, where the adults were talking and drinking. (At least they weren’t drunk and arguing.) My mother turned from the sink, took one look at me, and said, “I told you kids it was time for bed! How did you get so filthy? Clean yourself up right this minute!”

I was stunned. They didn’t know I’d been lost. They had left the train, gotten on and off the bus, walked several blocks, and eaten the evening meal, and in all that time no one had said, “Where’s Norman?”

Norman C.
Staunton, Illinois

My greatest fear as a parent is that one of my children will be kidnapped. When I was in college, I earned extra money helping Julie run a day-care in her loft apartment, and I witnessed firsthand the disappearance of her child, saw her unbearable panic, felt her loss. Her six-year-old son was last seen walking down Prince Street in SoHo, on the way to catch the school bus; it was the first time Julie had allowed him to walk the block alone. He never made it onto the bus.

That was eighteen years ago. This past August, my four-year-old son disappeared at Jones Beach. I’d taken him and his younger sister for a walk to see a sand castle. The beach was packed with families and teenagers squeezing the most out of the last days of summer. When we returned to our blanket, where a neighbor was looking after my third child, not yet two, I automatically made a count: Paulina, check; Kara, check; Andrew, . . . Andrew? I scanned the area. No Andrew.

I immediately went into action. “My son is missing,” I told people lying on their blankets. “His name is Andrew. He’s four years old. He’s wearing blue shorts with fish on them. He has dirty blond hair.” I repeated my litany every few feet, each time more desperately. In my panic, people seemed completely unresponsive. “My son is missing!” I began screaming.

My neighbor notified the lifeguards, but I wasn’t worried that my son had drowned; he’s terrified of the ocean and won’t go near it, even holding my hand. No, my fear was that he’d been stolen from me. Someone, some pedophile, some evil person had taken my precious boy, and I would never see him again.

It couldn’t have been four minutes from the time I noticed Andrew was missing until he was returned to me, sobbing, by a kind stranger. He had kept walking when my daughter and I had veered back to our blanket. I held his warm, sweaty, heaving body and, crying myself, kissed away his tears.

Julie still lives on Prince Street in SoHo. Her telephone number is still the same. I asked her once if she had ever considered moving, or at least changing her telephone number to avoid all the calls she continues to receive from people seeking the reward. No, she told me. At six, her son had just learned his address and phone number. If he called home someday, she wanted to be there waiting.

Donna Cornachio
Hastings-on-Hudson, New York

In my second month as a social worker, I pick up a case in a Philadelphia public-housing project named for William Penn. I’ve never been to the projects, and don’t know exactly what to expect. A client warns me that the projects are too dangerous for a “little white chick” like me. The custodian at our agency says, “Don’t look at anyone, don’t talk to anyone, and maybe you’ll get out alive.” A fellow case-worker advises, “Just make sure you know where you’re going. You don’t want to get lost down there.” Before long, my usual confidence gives way to abject fear. I decide to call my client, Mrs. Hamilton, and cancel my visit. Then I remember she doesn’t have a phone.

At one o’clock, armed with directions and a Philadelphia street atlas, I leave for the appointment. With the directions in my lap, I drive by a row of graffiti-covered, boarded-up houses. Shards of glass glitter on the cracked, uneven sidewalk. I turn left onto Seventh Street and inch my way past abandoned cars and the charred hulks of buildings. According to my directions, the next turn is a left onto Kerlin Street, but there are no street signs. Someone has ripped them all down.

I stop in front of the City Rescue Mission and reach for my dogeared street atlas. As I search the index for Kerlin, a thin boy saunters over to my door and motions for me to roll down my window. I open it an inch.

“How much you wanna buy?” he asks.

I laugh nervously and stammer that I don’t want to buy anything. Then I ask if he knows where Kerlin Street is. He waves his hand and impatiently repeats his question. Before I can insist that I am looking for directions, not drugs, a muscular teenager orders the boy away from my car. The two huddle for a minute, whispering furiously. Then the boy comes back to my car and tells me how to find Kerlin.

His directions lead me to a narrow, litter-strewn street occupied by a series of dilapidated, two-story brick buildings: William Penn Projects, I assume. Standing in pairs on the sidewalk, teenage boys do business with the occupants of luxury cars. I pull up behind a Lexus, get out, and lock my door behind me. My old beat-up Nissan looks out of place next to the Land Rovers and Mercedes — and I’d thought I would have the nicest car on the street. I march down the sidewalk with great determination, though I have no idea where I am going; my directions do not tell me in which building Mrs. Hamilton lives.

As I near a group of teens clustered around a gold Land Cruiser, I remember the custodian’s advice and stare straight ahead. They are quiet as I pass, but I sense that they’re watching me. For the next five minutes I parade up and down the street, hoping Mrs. Hamilton will spot me. One of the teenagers falls into step with me and extends his hand. I look away. He taps me lightly on the arm, again offers his hand, and introduces himself as Rahim. He is tall and lean with a smooth complexion and a large diamond stud in his ear. He asks if I’m looking for someone. I’m immediately suspicious.

“Hey, lady,” he says, “you just look like you’re lost. I figured you could use some help.”

I wonder what he wants in exchange for his help. But, taking a deep breath, I explain that I am a social worker looking for a Mrs. Hamilton, who lives somewhere in William Penn Projects.

Rahim laughs and shakes his head. “This is Ben Franklin Projects. You’re on the wrong street.” He gives me directions to William Penn, then asks me to repeat them back. When I make several mistakes, he offers to take me there. I hesitate. He says that I can follow him in my car.

Hopping into a cherry red Infiniti, Rahim waits until I’m ready before heading off down the street. When we reach the towering William Penn Projects, he parks, runs into the first high rise on the block, and emerges several minutes later with Mrs. Hamilton in tow.

Kathy L. Hunt
Schwenksville, Pennsylvania

My friend Nigel was in the final stages of AIDS. The last couple of months of his life, he was constantly lost. “I start out to get a spoon to eat my cereal,” he said, “and three hours later I’m on the floor of my closet looking through a cardboard box of musty pictures and thinking, Why am I here?

The sicker Nigel got, the more his brain malfunctioned. One night, around 7:30, he came out to the living room dressed for work. When I asked him why he was so dressed up, he said, “Because it’s almost eight o’clock,” as if I were some kind of idiot. I shook off a chill. “Sweetie,” I said as I took his hand in mine, “it’s bedtime. Let’s go into your room and I’ll rub your feet.”

Often in those last days, Nigel would call me at work and ask me to come over for nap time. I’d make up some excuse to leave the office, and we’d cuddle in bed, drinking mugs of chicken-noodle soup and reading articles in Vanity Fair. He’d always critique the models in the pictures. The one thing he never lost was his eye for fashion. He was even buried in a white suit and matching fedora.

Alison S. Beck
Seattle, Washington

My mother, Rae, always relished the excitement my visits brought to her isolated existence. But then, after my father died, she became withdrawn and preoccupied. She no longer cared to hear about my life, and instead assailed me with long accounts of taking out the garbage or clipping her toenails. I tried to look interested, though I sometimes thought my face would crack from the effort. Part of me understood these changes in her, but another part just wanted her mommy back.

One activity, however, could still bring us together: heading out in my car to “get lost” on the back roads of Monroe County, Wisconsin. We’d drive around for hours, pointing out birds to each other, admiring the changing colors of the hilly countryside, and enjoying long, peaceful silences. Inevitably, at some point in our wandering, I would get a bit turned around and ask, “My God, Rae, where are we?”

She’d give a soft, happy smile and say, “Why, we’re right here.”

Joanne Lehman
Milwaukee, Wisconsin