Like most people I know, I have had the problem of the occasional widowed sock. Losing a sock every now and again is understandable if you use shared laundry facilities. Socks are relatively small, and it’s easy to see how one might get left behind from time to time. Even if you have your own washer and dryer, losing socks for some period of time is understandable. Sometimes, mates get separated during the laundry sorting process. One black sock emerges clean but mateless and must wait until you do another load of darks to be reunited with its partner. Socks can also become tangled up in sheets or other garments and resurface the next time you change your linens or wear that grey sweatshirt.
The socks that stay missing, the ones that seemingly vanish into thin air, are the ones that puzzle me. I have frequently sorted through my pile of widowed socks and wondered, not only how I could possibly have eleven white socks but no actual pairs among them (different weights, different lengths, different colored logs, etc), but also–where do all the freakin’ socks go?
I was in elementary school when I first learned that matter cannot be created or destroyed. Was there some footnote* that I missed?
As I have pondered this question over the years, I have noticed that, if you walk around enough and pay attention, you are bound to notice a sock sitting on a roadside every so often. Once you are attuned to this, you will pay even closer attention and find that, damn, there are a lot of roadside socks in this country. It’s as if motorists frequently fall victim to urgent itches or extremely localized hot flashes that prompt them to take off a shoe and remove a sock with such frenzied vigor that it flies out of the car window and lands on the side of the road.
That’s one possible explanation, but at some point, an idea occurred to me that would explain both disappearing laundry socks and roadside sock appearances. What if, I reasoned, something about the the combination of hot air, damp clothing, and tumbling occasionally created dryer wormholes? These wormholes would be small and short-lived, but if the timing was right, a sock could slip through. Also, what if these wormholes were somehow connected to roadsides across the country (or the world, I’m not sure if I’m well traveled enough to speculate about roadside socks abroad)? One second, a sock could be tumbling about in the dryer, and then zap! Suddenly, it’s on the side of a highway in rural Wisconsin! This explanation might be unlikely, but it would explain a lot.
There was a point when I became all but convinced that this, or something equally nutty, was actually happening. When I moved into my house, I had my own appliances. Surely, no more shared laundry facilities meant the end of permanently widowed socks. A few months after I moved, a sock was widowed in a load of laundry. I really liked this particular pair of socks (the were a dark and light brown herringbone pattern and like no other socks I had), and I distinctly remember that both socks went into the washing machine but only one came out of the dryer. I checked the washing machine and the dryer. I checked the hampers, thinking that maybe I had imagined the complete pair going into the washer. I checked all of these places three more times, and then, with a sigh, I set the widowed sock aside, thinking it’s mate would turn up eventually.
I kept that sock for years. The mate had to be somewhere, after all! I’d mused about dryer wormholes, but that was all just silliness, right? But then, where was my damn brown herringbone sock? Finally, in one of my closet purges, I threw the lonely sock away. My heart was heavy as I did so. It hadn’t been an expensive pair of socks, but I had liked them, and I somehow felt defeated as I bid that sock adieu.
Not one month later, I was in the laundry room when one of my earrings fell off and rolled underneath the dryer. I moved the dryer to retrieve the earring, and there it was–the long-missing herringbone sock! Of course, by now, the other one was long gone, but at least the mystery had been solved.
Now, when I discover widowed socks, I remember to check underneath and behind the dryer for wayward mates. I still have a quite a few mateless socks, though, so I’m not totally discounting the wormhole idea.
*Except socks. Those will totally defy the laws of physics and disappear.