I was folding the laundry the other day and I tossed a few uncoupled socks into my lost sock basket. Then, I paused to stare long and hard at the basket that had been slowly accumulating lonely socks for years. Various ones had begun their desperate climb for freedom, standing on the toes of the fallen and beginning their accidental accent over the lip of the basket. Their tragic limbo beckoned me to begin the arduous task of trying to find their lost mates.
Twenty minutes later I had created two piles: a small one where rediscovered twins embraced in mangled balls and a much larger one that held a jumble of sizes, colors and fabrics. I kneeled in front of my bed to behold my past. There were my older son’s black & white, black & grey, striped, and white socks that had anti-slip lettering embossed with T4-T5 and which were now being used by his younger sister. A few of his present day socks presented the same sad engendered palette of black but with daring blues and reds on the heels and toes. There were her socklets with ice cream cones, flowers, decorative ankle trim in hues of lavender, green, pink and orange. I was baffled how a multitude of highly eye catching socks could go missing. Did our dog have a penchant for purple? My husband’s single sports socks were a timeline of his changing tastes: black calf socks had given way to black ankle socks and finally to black below-shoe-rim socks, a shortening struggle to avoid the fate of being yet another old man wearing calf socks with shorts. A few of my socks were thrown into the mix but not many: I tended towards more color and patterns and these were always sold in singles such that upon discovery of a hole I often chucked the pair. I also habitually wore my husband’s black socks since my ‘nice’ socks never lasted long. His rapidly changing taste in style might have been a subversive attempt at dissuading my borrowing.
There the pile sat and taunted me with an overwhelming question: were these single socks a metaphor for all the leftover items in my past that I had failed to discard? Was I hoping I would find the elusive missing part to the whole; would I find resolution to relationships and events that had ended in whimper? These thoughts flowed over my consciousness on a particularly grey and snowy day (if it had been sunny and warm, I would not be writing this blog. I would have ignored the sock basket and gone for a walk instead).
Socks are a funny covering for our bodies. It absorbs our foot sweat and odor and is an intimate olfactory trace of our existence. This might explain why our dog rifles through the laundry looking for socks to parade around the house. She is either getting sensory comfort from her pack’s smells or she is thumbing her nose at our authority by reminding us we shit, eat and smell just like her.
Unlike underwear, we freely flash an odd assortment of patterns and colors on our ankles and for reasons I have yet to fathom, they appear to be an acceptable flamboyance on buttoned down men. Whenever I have sat through a terribly long and boring meeting, my gaze inevitably wandered to the foot and sock wear of the attendees, trying to ascertain some hidden character traits I may have overlooked, followed by a skittish attempt to hide my own socks, which were often black and borrowed from my husband. Based on my own boring proclivities and an unimpressive collection of practical cotton underwear, I assumed anyone with fabulously colorful socks must harbor kinky tendencies – at least that is what I imagined to get me through those terribly long and boring meetings.
Imagining the character and history of people and their socks probably led to my soul searching on that fateful laundry day. Letting go of socks with holes is easy: it has obviously come to its demise through ample contact, you may have even let it go on a bit too long because the hole wasn’t too big and wasn’t too worrisome, and one day you realize some part of you is being strangled or exposed by the irregularity and raggedness of the hole. I think the metaphor is self-explanatory: abusive or annoying people that are black holes, sucking the light from our lives while emitting harmful radiation until they themselves evaporate and disappear.
Missing socks are another matter. They are the epitome of unfinished business. Should I wait for their return? Should I try to improve their functionality by creating a mismatched pair? Will people judge me because I am wearing one striped sock and one polka-dot sock? Or does the idiosyncrasy of the mismatch prove charming? There are no easy answers to the dilemma but I think for each one of us, the answer is in the basket. On a quiet laundry day, lay out those burdensome socks on your bed and look, I mean really look at the possibilities and the dead-ends. Don’t be afraid to throw away those dusty socks that have no wearability – neon yellow was just a passing fancy but a bold move nonetheless, the Eiffel Tower motif was super cool in the gift shop but this year we are traveling to new sights unseen, gray is just so….gray and can’t be mismatched successfully with any of my husband’s black socks. Today is the day of reckoning and once the pile has been cleared in fitful starts and stops of anxiety and pondering, wander to the garbage bin and finish the job. Then, take your wonderful self and go shopping for a new pair of socks. Nothing is more cathartic than starting fresh.