The box is a deep maroon, the texture somewhat akin to cardboard but stronger and thinner. Inside lays a wealth of memories, not forgotten, but held in the confines of four walls, protected from the elements and from my own grief. It is unknown exactly when I received this box in the mail, but it is years ago, the time it captures long gone and broken apart like the wind amongst the fallen autumn leaves. I do not expect I will ever see these two friends again, or even hear their voices. Those memories are faint now, but I hold onto them like a matter trapped in an endless stream around a black hole. Memories of a former life, lost in the dredges of time but never forgotten.
No, there are some events and people that will never be forgotten, for good or ill. These people have walked into my life and left footprints on my heart. Footprints that sink deep into my soul, leaving a fossil I can never dislodge. Most of these people I may never see again. Our paths have divulged in the woods, and the path I took was not the one they chose. I cannot call them back, nor wish for their return, for such a hope is foolish. When people walk out of life, the best you can do is let them go, for that is the only action love can do. If I forced them to stay, it only breeds resentment.
How often have I made that fatal mistake? To try to hold onto someone, to not let them walk out of my life, to try to pull them back and stay with me a little bit longer? In the end it always ended in resentment, in loss, in effectively destroying what relationship — romantic or not — I had with them. In the end, I am left with nothing but air and tears in my hands. I cannot take back what I’ve done but only apologize and hold onto these nuggets of memories — these tiny light-filled stones and drop them in the box.
When I close my eyes, I can visualize these memories as clear as the day I inscribed them into my mind, the day I walked that path with those friends and former loves.
There we are standing by a crystalline blue lake, surrounded in the embrace of the mountains. I am wearing the sandals of my friend, as the boots I had proved too painful, and they are warm and comfortable. Fitting the soles of my feet perfectly. Two of my friends sit in the grass by the lake and laugh in delight. After a long arduous walk, here we stood by the shores of paradise, our dream come true. It didn’t matter that we had a long march home, much of it in darkness. We had made it to the shores of this serene lake in the depths of a strenuous mountain range.
A gush of water and steam burst from the earth and spray the ground around it with fiery water. Snow coats bits of the ground, clinging stubbornly in a hellish landscape of vibrant reds, blues, greens, each linked to the furnaces of the earth that broil the surface of this landscape. All three of my friends laugh around me and snap pictures, slipping into their own language to discuss finer details and then back into English to share their thoughts. I had spent the day driving them through Yellowstone, and making a wish of theirs come true.
A friend of mine and I stand in the lounge as music blares from her speakers. She tries to show me a dance move, and her body moves like water itself, slicing through the air gracefully. I attempt to copy it, but I bumble about and bump my hip into a table. I burst into laughter, her gorgeous guffaws counterpoint to my own.
A friend of mine and I walk along the path, our stories woven in sorrow. Up ahead a bridge spans the path, the trees thick along its sides. A graffiti of a pac man and other relics from old Nintendo games are emblazoned on the inner supports, brilliant in color in detail. This former love brightens at the sight, and she smiles for the first time that day.
I pose with my arms in the air atop a rock. A friend of mine holds up her wonderfully fancy camera and catches me in her lens. She pauses to adjust some settings, and then moves to another angle. The wind hums softly through the valley next to us as we stand on the top of a ridge, the backbone of the park.
She holds out a dress, brilliant blue with bits of sparkles on it. I look at this friend of mine and shake my head. She urges me to just try it, and reluctantly I don the dress, feeling exposed and strange, as if I am in the skin of another person. She steps backward and frames it with her fingers as if taking a picture. She tells me I look beautiful and asks me to stay so she can grab a camera. By the time she returns, I am back in my pants and t-shirt, the dress folded on her bed.
I lean against the table and scribble math equations on my paper. A friend of mine sits next to me and argues that I’ve missed a variable. We turn to our textbook, spread-eagled before us, and peruse the problem again word by word. The room is bare with white walls and only table and chairs. A bulletin board adorns the wall by the door, and pamphlets of campus activities overlap each other, each striving for remembrance in the sea of information.
A friend of mine hands me the sledgehammer, and I shift my feet to brace against its weight. The project lead scoffs my ability, daring me to try to do better than a man. A friend of mine tells him to shush and watch. I shift my weight carefully, raise the sledgehammer, and push my entire body weight into the swing. It slams down on the stake, driving it deep into the ground.
My speakers resonate with the voice of a friend of mine, skype open on my desktop, and his video hugging the corner of my screen. He weaves a story of his life and his confusion about gender, a confusion I share with him, our swapping of stories, and our lifting of each other with hope for a future neither of us can imagine.
The tinkling waterfall of keystrokes soothes my heart as I unleash a torrent of words onto the screen. A friend of mine has sent me a lovely email, one of encouragement and one that asked for permission to share bits of my story with his audience. I am afraid, and uncertain for my story is incomplete. It feels unformed and nonsensical. Could he truly find meaning in such a twisted and dangled tale? I ask for anonymity afraid of the repercussions of putting my name to such a fervent and pain-filled piece, despite the truth it contains.
My sister and her husband are stopped by the pastor, and she smiles as she introduces me to him. Her youngest wraps his tiny fingers around my index finger, clinging tightly, his blue eyes intent. Music pours out of the church behind us, the rumble of voices an somewhat rhythmic beat to the piano chords and melody.
Kittens tumble out of the cage. A friend of mine points to them, naming the tiny furballs one by one. I catch a black one in my hand, barely larger than my palm, and it mews as it tries to climb up toward my shoulder. She sits down next to me, a black kitten already climbing into her lap.
Headphones sit snugly against my ears, and through it I hear the vivacious laughter of a friend of mine. She and I run through the grasslands of the game, fighting off the animals and monsters that come our way, the pound of our keys counterpoint to the fervent discussions that tickle our ears and minds.
The trainer poses a question for the circle of people, and it brings to mind my own family and our tiny old house, where my sister and I slept in our beds in the basement, no room to call our own and no doors. I listen as people around the circle speak of poverty like it is something they saw on TV, and I find my hand raising, shakily into the air. I want to help them see our humanity, to show them a glimpse of the people in poverty. My hands shake, my palms sweat, and I stumble to a stop afraid and unable to continue. A soon-to-be friend of mine looks straight at me and smiles gently, her blue eyes intent. Her kind thank you stills my shaking hands.
I sit on the couch next to two of my friends. We chat as they fiddle with their phones. Snow coats the ground outside, but it is warm by their sofa, a blanket around my shoulders. Their young son enters the room and starts his exercises, planking and finger strengthening, and I am impressed with how the kid’s strength has increased since I saw him last.
A friend of mine peers around the corner of my cubicle and a bit of hair drifts across her face. I ask if she is the one who left the teapot on my desk, and she laughs heartily, her face lit up and glowing, as she calls to her coworker that they’ve been found out.
There on the floor of her room lays a cage, where an adorable chinchilla burrows happily into a plastic ball filled with sand. A friend of mine laughs and tells me how sand is the only way to clean her chinchilla as water can cause hypothermia and possible death. Bits of sand fly out of the ball’s opening, and the happy chirps of the animal belies its joy at its bath.
My love holds a shakuhachi to her lips and blows into it, the velvety tones rich and vibrant. She weaves the melody around my drum beat, my palms striking the drum head in a syncopated rhythm.
Each memory chronicled here is but a tip of the iceberg, and I take them all, gather them close and tuck them into my little box. To be remembered and not forgotten. Each snippet of time a masterpiece of beauty and love, where I shared bits of myself with these people, and although for some, our ways have parted. For others, we stay close, and for others still, our paths criss-cross often, only to fall away again. Life is unpredictable, and it is hard to tell where my path will weave. Perhaps some old friends I will meet again, but even if I don’t, I hold their footprints close. Not forgotten and always loved.