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Kunin: The Missing Towel

I was surprisingly upset with the loss of my towel. It was a generous, blue and white striped beach towel, the kind that I could completely wrap around my body, like a warm cape.

I had turned my back to comb my hair, for just a minute in the locker room and and when I turned around the towel was gone.

"Is this yours?” the teen-age girl closing her locker, asked, pointing to the polka dotted blue and white one, rolled up neatly, with frayed worn edges sticking out the sides.

“No, that’s not mine.”

Could the thief have taken my towel by mistake? Not likely, Polka dots and stripes are too easy to distinguish. Besides, mine was almost too thick to roll up.

Who would steal my towel and why? I considered putting up a notice on the bulletin board. “Lost Towel. Will the person who took my new towel and left their old one, please return it." But that sounded petty.

For days, whenever I went to the pool I would look for my towel. Would the towel thief be bold enough to bring it back to the pool? I feel a bit silly looking suspiciously at innocent girls carrying towels. And even if I caught her, towel-handed, she might deny it.

I know I’m becoming obsessed by my lost towel. I have two other fairly new beach towels which I can use. It’s only a towel – and I can easily buy another one, probably on sale now that it’s the end of the season. But I want my towel back.

The locker room is believed to be a safe place. We women are discreet in the locker room. We try not to look directly at one another as we’re getting in and out of our bathing suits. Yet, there is a level of intimacy. We have short conversations, about how good we feel after having exercised, what the weather forecast is, someone’s new bathing suit and occasionally about a tragedy or a comedy that happened the day before or might happen the day after. We act like friends, even if we don’t know one another well enough to actually be friends.

None of us would steal from one another. But my towel thief betrayed us and got away with it. She took my towel and left me something in return that I did not want; a worn thin polka dotted towel, and a frayed sense of trust. Come now, I tell myself, get over it. It’s only a towel.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont, and author of "The New Feminist Agenda, Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work and Family," published by Chelsea Green.
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