When I was younger, I had some really messed up teeth.  They bled a lot, and were very crooked.  The teasing I endured on the playground was beyond belief, but I found comfort in books and baseball, two things that truly saved me.  When I was 14, I went to the dentist to begin the process of straightening my teeth.  It was painful, I have to tell you.  I felt like I was being violated.  I still remember that first day in the office, coming out to a lolipop I couldn’t suck on, and applying ice to my cheeks that made my skin freeze.  The dentist, Dr. Robertson, handed me a file for me to fill in, to track my progress.  On the top left corner was a paperclip.

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Over the next few days, I filled in my observations – how I felt, how much I bled, that type of thing.  When I was done, I handed Dr. Robertson the file but kept the paperclip.  It was in my pocket for the next procedure.  And the one after that.  And all the rest.  It saw me through that time, always against my skin.  At night, I put it next to my reading lamp and used it as a bookmark as I read and sponged away the blood.

My teeth were fixed by the time I was 18.  I went to college.  I played sports.  I did well.  But I kept that paperclip with me, in my pocket at every lecture and on the edge of my desk at every exam.  Ever rub a paperclip between your fingers?  You come away with a metallic smell.  That smell guided me through my college years.

When I was 24, I met a girl.  She was locked out of her car, keys inside, car running.  Canada is cold in February, no matter where you are.  She didn’t even have a jacket.  I found her in the parking lot and offered to help.  I twisted that paperclip into a shape and snaked around the lock until it clicked.  She got in and asked if I wanted to warm up as well.  I sat with her for the next ten minutes, enough time to get her phone number.  Three years later, we were married.

In med school, that paperclip was what I used to attach my badge to my coat: it was better than a safety pin, and much more reliable.  Five years I spent there, learning medicine from people who cared more about the medicine than about people.  You might be surprised to hear that I did actually think about being a dentist at one point, but all those memories of bloody rags wouldn’t let that pass.  I graduated poor but happy, married and with the world before me.  And it was before me.  I had everything I wanted, and I made good decisions.  It wasn’t always smooth sailing, but it worked out.

Three days ago, in my home office, I was reading journal papers.  One moment, that paperclip was in my hand, being rubbed raw as usual; the next minute, I was making coffee, and when I came back, the paperclip was gone.  I got on my hands and knees and searched the hardwood.  Checked every drawer of my desk.  Checked every pocket and even the duct vent.  Eventually, I got out the vacuum cleaner and went over the whole room top to bottom, hoping the paperclip would show up.  But it didn’t.  It was gone.

I look back on it now, as though I’m missing a friend.  As though I had a relationship with this thing, however small and temporary.  As though I owe it something, for being there with me through all those years.  Time passes.  We grow up.  We gain and lose.  We succeed and fail.  And we make friends that sometimes stay with us, sometimes not.  So three days later, I take my hat off to a little friend that stayed with me for so long, and that has now gone off to do other things in other places, wherever they may be.  Thank you, my friend.

Dream hard, rage hard.

117 thoughts on “Clip

  1. Very good. It’s never been the same paper clip, but particularly when I’m at work, I always need something in my hands to fiddle with. A paper clip, a binder clip, something, anything.

  2. I went online to and ordered a box of 100 paper clips for you. They are on their way. I hope they’re the right size.

    Seriously, though, nice story. I have a Cross ballpoint pen that I’ve had for years. I’m never without it (well, I don’t take it in the shower with me, but otherwise…). I have misplaced it a few times and I get very upset and spend an inordinate amount of time searching for it. If someone asks to borrow my Cross pen, I refuse, out of fear that they’ll never return it. They think I’m an asshole, but c’est la vie. Yes, I know I could also go to and order a half a dozen exact replicas of MY Cross pen. But it just wouldn’t be the same. So I can relate to your paper clip story.

    Well, not really. It’s just a friggin’ paper clip. Jeez, get real.

      1. Hey, don’t mind me. I’m just a little cross this morning. Ha! Get it? A little “cross” this morning. As in Cross pen. You get it, right? OMG, I’m so witty. I am, right?

      1. There’s nothing wrong with befriending an inanimate object. At least you know certain things will never happen with such and object. It won’t betray you or sleep with your significant other, for instance. There are all kinds of advantages to this sort of friendship if you look for them.

      1. I will come to your house, and attach the two of us together… with paperclips, rubber bands, and staples… by the clothing, not through the skin… I am not crazy…

          1. There is something wrong with someone who doesn’t love hugs… Hugs to you guys!

  3. The tears roll down my cheeks and silently drop onto my nightgown as I leak memories your sad but loving tale evoked. Alas, mine was not so multifunctional or useful as your cherished PC, but wanted, needed, trusted just the same…and missed as much. Lo these long, long years have not seen the end of my suffering…I can only wish you the closure that has eluded me dear NB. In sympathy…your devoted fan and friend…SB.

  4. That paper clip is like Wilson the soccer ball in the movie Castaway.

    This is an excellent meditative experience. Do you know what a sand mandala is? It’s a beautiful, intricate design made from colorful grains of sand that’s destroyed upon completion. It’s used to teach about the impermanence of material things. How it’s okay to love and appreciate something, but to not be sad when it’s gone.

    1. That guy was a hellavu ball. I think he was a volleyball though. I love volleyball.

      Meditative, eh Mark. Interesting. I don’t know what a sand mandala is, I’m about to look it up… hmmm… there’s something cyclical about such a tendency to create and destroy beauty. Perhaps it’s the god particle in each of us. But I didn’t even get to destroy my little paperclip. He just wandered away, without so much as a goodbye.

        1. Hommage to Clip
          (With apologies to The Bard)

          What’s Trent’s paperclip? it is not glue, nor paste,
          Nor pushpin, nor staple, nor any other part
          Belonging to an office supply store.
          O, be some other paper fastening device!
          What’s in a name? that which we call a paper clip
          By any other name would still smell like a fucking paper clip;
          So Trent would, were his paperclip not call’d,
          Retain that dear perfection which he owes
          Without that paper clip.

          1. Hey! Wow! I am flattered that my little paperclip engendered a poem. So the question is legit – what is the paperclip? What manner of fastening device does over yonder horizon call to me; that, or none at all, or something different that marches through these mindful halls? Does a paperclip not have feelings? Does a paperclip not have the right to its sins? Wherefore hast thou gone, my delightful bit of metal, once so shiny and now so deflated with my endless rubbings that you once so liked, and now not at all?

          2. I bow to your skills. I’m a mere piker—person of meager talents—as compared to you. You, who can spew such a splendid tsunami of words, words, words and work in references, not from ONE Shakespeare play, as I did, but from multiple. I will light a novena candle, for no good reason.

            Years ago, I watched a gaggle of Tibetan monks create a sand mandala in the courtyard of the (old) World Trade Center. It took a long, long, long time. Then I went back later and watched them sweep it away. It’s something that’s stayed with me all these years.

            1. That’s basically all the Bard-like references I remember. Funny enough, I tend to remember more the more I drink.

              Image about the WTC… that’s amazing. I can see why that would stick to you. It’s just incredible, there is so much beauty in making beauty, and then only to rub it all away. That says something. I don’t know what, but it must be something.

              Are you from New York, Mark? I love that place. I go there a few times a year for work, but have never made a permanent connection there. I am also a huge Yankees fan, believe it or not.

          3. I grew up in lovely Cleveland, but fled and spent +/-20 years in New York. First in downtown Brooklyn and then a long stretch on the Lower East Side. My Bride and I had a baby and they threw us out. Some thin, pierced, hipster wannabes dressed in all black told us to get that fucking stroller off Avenue B and take it to the suburbs where it belongs, so we did. We departed for the suburban wastelands of New Jersey. I still work in Manhattan, though, so I get to see my beloved adopted city every day.

            I spit on the Yankees. I have been reveling in their recent ineptness and futility, and will continue to do so in the coming seasons. However, go GIANTS!

            1. I love Manhattan. I bid some work in Queens… kind of a depressing place. A lot of dead people.

              Giants? Well I guess you can’t knock them, they’ve been pretty good of late, I just got to get the taint of B. Bonds out. What a putz he was. If it’s any consolation, my actual team is the Montreal Expos. But that didn’t go so good for us Montreal folks. There are a few people pushing for a comeback though… If that happens, I drop the Yankees like nobody’s business.

          4. A misunderstanding. I was referring to the New York football Giants. If we’re still on baseball, then I have a confession. I harbor a horrible curse. An affliction I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. My name is Mark and I’m an Indians fan. I grew up in Cleveland and they got under my skin. If you’re an Indians fan, there is no past, present or future. All they offer is unrelenting futility. If the Indians could have put together a few winning seasons when I was a kid, I probably wouldn’t have all these self esteem issues. When you follow a loser season after season after season, it starts to rub off. It’s most of the reason why I can’t stand the Yankees.

            1. Jesus, an Indians fan. You don’t meet many of those. But there are more of those than Expos fans, if it means anything. I remember those teams in the 90’s, with Lofton and Belle and Baerga and the like, they had such potential and got so close… but I guess that was after you were a kid. 80’s, 70’s, that was a wasteland from what I recall.

              Well, at least you still have a team over which to have esteem issues. I got nothing.

        2. Crike, that’s so interesting, how come I never heard of these? Have to thank you for the reference, I’m intrigued.

          For me, it’s the booze. Lakes and lakes worth of rye and wine, funnelled through a river into my gorge. I remember shit.

  5. i so love this! it’s like i could hear your voice while i was reading it, even though i don’t even know what your voice sound like, but i could hear your ‘inner’ voice. just love love this, please write a book filled with all your stories incl cavegirl. maybe it was time for the paperclip to become a butterfly…

    1. Oh my friend, so good of you to say… Now a book would be interesting… I think of all the posts I’ve put on WordPress, that Cavegirl one still stands out in my mind. I have to find a way to continue that story.

  6. I am sitting shiva for your paper clip right now. I’ve covered the mirrors, put on my best funereal black, and set out a nice catered lunch. It’s awful to lose a memento you’ve had for so long. Shit happens, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a bummer.

    I too had fucked up teeth, but at a much younger age. Buck teeth. Then braces from age 9-11. My orthodontist probably bought a few Porsches and maybe a new pool with the money from my time as a patient.

    1. Weebles, I appreciate your mourning. Save a couple of sandwiches for me, we’ll split em next I’m in NYC.

      Here’s to dentists, those evil life-sucking bastards. I heard they have the highest suicide rate amongst all professions. Wonder why that is. Oh wait, could be because they stick their fingers in other peoples’ mouths all day.

      Hope you’re staying warm down there. My ass if entirely frozen right now.

  7. You have been rubbing that clip for so long that the metal particles have mixed with your DNA. don’t worry. It will always be with you.

    1. Do paperclips dream of electronic filing?

      Boy am I ever glad that you said “clip”. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I blame it on the wine. My DNA is already heavily tainted by various substances… where to begin… where to end…

      Thanks for the kind words. I rather like you.

  8. Trent gets up one morning and goes into his home office. “What the? What’s this stupid paper clip doing on my desk? For crying out loud! No matter what I do it keeps coming back! That does it!” Trent drives to the Grand Canyon and chucks it into the abyss.” –Trent Lewin from the parallel universe the morning he accidentally switched universes

    Trent, what a wonderful story! I’ll never look at a paper clip the same way again.

    1. I prefer your account in the parallel universe much more, it’s more my style to tell the truth. Plus, quite frankly, I’ve never actually owned a paperclip.

      1. Aha! I thought maybe that was the case but you’re so convincing! Especially the part about how you came to find the paper clip in the first place. I could almost see myself doing that. But then again, every time I buy sunglasses (those are things we put over our eyes here in California to keep this thing called sun out of them — you probably know it up there in Canada as venus) I lose them the same day. I could keep track of a paper clip for about .04 seconds.

          1. I just got back from a walk in the sunshine. 66 degrees! And spring starts in February. Just one month of more of this miserable under 70 degrees weather.

              1. Oh buy my little harlot Queen is. She’s cruising for a good rodgering, I’ll warrant.

                This is getting weird. What have you done to the good Trent?

              2. Um, well, that wasn’t the ass. It was a different private part. In Canadaland, we often have to chop down our trees using body parts. There was this one immense poplar on the back forty that I had a go at, and, well, I didn’t check the weather, and, well, suffice it to say, there’s a couple edges a bit duller than others at the moment.

                The only time this gets awkward is when the neighbours want to borrow tools.

  9. Whoa…just, whoa. And yes, it’s a good whoa. The attachment here is so..moving. AHH!!!! This is amazing! I have this little – no joke, it’s absolutely teeny zeeny weeny – peg which I carry about!

  10. I once had a pen I used throughout the entire sixth grade. It was the only pen I didn’t lose within a week, and I began to grow an emotional attachment to it. I was so upset when I lost it.

    Of course, I got over it after thirty seconds or so, but I would hate to lose something I’ve held onto for decades, even if it is useless. You have my condolences.

        1. I knew you were lying. I’m an internet lie detector.

          I may never have had a paperclip, but I can imagine having had one and then putting together a slighly sentimental post about one.

  11. Sometimes, a man and a paperclip must go their separate ways. And sometimes, it’s better for a man to not know why the paperclip had to leave.

      1. I am a man, for the record. But I will probably change your impression of me, since my natural instinct is to disagree with people. (See? I’m doing this already!!!)

    1. It’s amazing how many people have said something along those lines… honestly, man, I just made the paperclip thing up. Wanted to write a schmaltzy sentimental everyday-blog type of post (not my forte). This is tongue firmly in cheek. I may even have bitten off a piece.

  12. Enjoyed the clip, but oh my gosh, what a story!! What a story!!

    I’ve always loved learning how people met, but I’ve never heard of anything so special as this. I’m so glad your teeth were straightened, though it meant you were ‘normalised’. You know David Bowie’s gorgeous odd teeth – always loved them, always. I was disappointed when I saw he’d had them done to perfection, really disappointed. Also Chrissy Amphlett of The Divinyls – loved her odd teeth. They were sort of “ugly” but so engaging. And really added to her music (somehow) – or expression of what she sang.

    But anyway! Enough about teeth! The story on the clip is great! 🙂

  13. wow..that was very emotional..i can totally understand that.Sometimes in our lives, we get attached to such little things. These things might be very little or some other person would found it totally crazy but it holds so much importance for us because we are attached to it by our certain life incidences or experiences.

    1. Yeah that was a writing exercise from long ago… wanted to create emotion around something very trivial. Wasn’t sure I could do it. For the record, it’s not a real story, there’s no clip, but it was fun imagining that there was one.

      1. well..You did really well and it was imaginary but there are things in every persons life i guess that holds a special thing in his heart even if people think that the person is fool for getting attached to that little unimportant thing..

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