Nearly a week ago, I lost my watch. The prevailing theory is that I left it in one of the cubbyholes in the room where kickboxing class is held at the gym. At the time and for several days afterward, the property misplacement was devastating in ways that had nothing to do with net worth. The timepiece was an eight year-old Fossil watch with a scratched face that survived multiple battery changes and journeys overseas to India, Israel and England. It was a trusty companion that served me well in perpetuating the lie that being able to check the time asserted some form of control over the universe.
In years past, the deprivation of my wristwatch produced a Pavlovian response. As if pulled to the nearest kiosk by tractor beam, I would plunk down the money for a new monitoring device that met the same relative specifications: waterproof (so I never had to remove it in the shower or while swimming), tight-fitting with a metal band (so it never required adjusting or displayed visible wear and tear) with a face small enough to be tucked under the sleeve without creating an unsightly bump.
Subsequent to the loss of the latest tether to a 24/7 lifestyle, I have come to realize that I viewed my watch as something much more than a way to track hours and minutes. It was, quite literally, a part of my body, a vital organ requiring replacement in the event of defect or bereavement (the latter word chosen purposefully). Rather than a tool of empowerment, the watch had become a merciless taskmaster, and I an obsessive devotee to marking the passage of time, breaking the units down into pieces of evidence of industry, self-worth and value. The evaluation of the day and my own use of it was reduced to how much time I had wasted.
As I mature, it’s become glaringly obvious that some of the coping mechanisms I historically used to make sense of the world and navigate through it are not as effective as they once were. And in this case, I wasn’t able to fool myself into accepting the ego’s hypothesis that a naked left wrist required redress simply because digging a Blackberry out of my purse to tell the time was a hassle. Instead I forced an awareness of the knee-jerk panic experienced as I emptied my gym bag and sat down to think it out.
Raised in a home of disorder, chaos and cruelty, where regular tollgates and deadlines were treated as annoying encumbrances to be discarded, I don’t need to lie on Freud’s couch to draw the conclusion that consistent watch ownership lulled me into a false sense of security. The tax man, the angry bookie and the repossessing bank could never show up at my door with an enforced system of hypervigilance.
I have not purchased a new watch and I am not going to. Somehow the Earth has not rotated off its axis without the instant ability to know where I am in the 24-hour cycle of human existence. My latest fixation is to wonder how long the phantom limb sensation will persist. When will I cease checking my unadorned wrist for the accessory my subconscious was trained to believe it cannot do without?