Two years ago I started collecting pennies. Not just any pennies: found pennies. It began when the agency I worked for took a devastating turn.
My co-workers and I would huddle in private discourse trying to make sense of the changes happening around us. We wondered privately: what would happen and where would we go? During this upheaval, I began finding pennies in the most random places, unexpected but obvious.
So I’d pick them up.
I didn’t give it any thought at first until it manifested: I became convinced each penny held meaning.
Once when I walked through the parking lot toward my car engrossed in thought, hopeful for a positive outcome suddenly I noticed a bright penny on the ground next to the drivers side door. Instances continued to occur. Another time a penny sat Lincoln side up directly outside my closed office door perfectly centered on the floor.
It happened so often that I’d began looking for pennies. But, as soon as I became aware of looking, I never found a penny. It’s only occured when I wasn’t thinking about seeking pennies, but when I was wholly focused on something else. A worry, seeking closure, or looking for answers. Rushing towards or away from these concerns, a penny would be in my line of sight.
Like the time, at the end of a long and tumultuous day, I discovered a penny on the seat of my office chair. I had been in and out, up and down all day long,
I began saving the special pennies.
I had this sugar skull shaped piggy bank, bright yellow with flowers and hearts for eyes. It sat on a shelf simply because I liked it. I began dropping these found pennies into it. Finding change continued to happen to me.
I’d experience numerous occasions where I was talking in my head to whomever would listen: God, self, the universe of thought and ideas. About a concern of mine, seeking guidance, affirmation when a piece of change would appear in my path, sometimes a nickel or a dime but most often a penny.
The skull became fuller. A quarter. A half. Three-quarters full..
I began getting hopeful for the day it would be totally full. I thought, maybe with the money I’ll purchase a piece of local, outsider art to serve as a reminder. Maybe I’ll create a piece of outsider art! Maybe I’ll hand it all to a homeless person. I had time to decide as I still had a forehead to fill.
Not everyone in my life was aware of this penny-endeavor but some were, my children knew, a few co-workers and friends.
I came home from work on a typical Wednesday and remembered I had some found change in my purse. It’d been sitting in there for a couple months so I gathered it up (17 pennies and 1 dime). When I dropped the first piece of change in I noticed the sound first.
It took a second for it to register in my brain, the hair-breadth of added time for the first coin to stop it’s falling at the bridge of a nose and land instead where a throat might end.
The skull was empty.
Addiction acts in a person. The person then is forced to react or take the blow. It’s like standing perfectly still with a wall coming at you eighty, ninety miles an hour. It’s falling from a great height at high speed, hearing the splat of organs on impact before feeling it.
Addiction has needs. It can not be satisfied with acts of containment, measures of control. My son is an addict; he is always hungry. There are bad days and then there are worse days.
The missing pennies could not have amounted to much in a dealers hand, one hit maybe, powder residue from a suboxone tab. My son is an expert at reacting to addiction.
I’m sure, with the pennies he found redemption, enough to take the razor-sharp edge off for an hour, maybe two.
My mind told me to be furious, to rage, to scream injustice until my throat bled. My body refused; it collapsed onto a sofa and wept, deserted by the ability to feel anger.
The coins, I thought, are better off. No longer piled and compacted in a glass head. They’re free to roam, to offer, to serve those much needier than I. I envisioned the tending each penny would do, like a silk thread stitching a wound.
Every penny that slipped from dealers palm to dealers palm, fell by the wayside, came to a stop in a gutter outside a convenience store held more value than its monetary equivalent.
I knew these pennies would be found again. Picked up by hands that had no idea this coin is suffused in hope, this one has strength. This coin freedom, that one grace.
This wasn’t me being tender or forgiving. This wasn’t letting go. This was me not reacting as a wall came at me eighty miles an hour, as I fell from a great height.
About the Author: Lisa Zaran
Lisa Zaran is the author of eight collections of poetry including Dear Bob Dylan, If It We, The Blondes Lay Content and the sometimes girl. She is the founder and editor of Contemporary American Voices. When not writing, Zaran spends her days in Maricopa county jails assisting women with remembering their lost selves.