I carry a box around with me.
Not every day, of course - that would be mad - but wherever I move, whether I’m jumping between houses or apartments or countries, it comes with me.
It’s pretty large – about a metre long, a foot deep and made of transparent plastic. If I wanted to, I could look at it every day and catch little glimpses of what’s inside. But I don’t. Instead, it lives in wardrobes and cupboards and attics, always with me, but always out of sight.
I try to avoid opening it, but on the first day in every new home it’s there – exposed and ready to spill its guts. I can’t resist. I should really go through this old junk, I think. One peek won’t hurt. My movements are tentative, as if I’m lifting the lid on a box of tarantulas, only what’s inside scares me more than a hundred hairy-legged mega spiders. What’s inside has more potential to hurt, to bite deep and to home in on old wounds that have never quite healed to rip them back open again.
Spiders are easy to squash. Memories aren’t.
The top layer always manages to kid me into thinking that it won’t be so bad; scattered photographs, faded faces and laughter consigned to the past, entire novellas written and illustrated by my best friend, congratulatory cards that loved ones took hours to write. The afterglow of a young life well lived, the pretty icing hiding the structure of the cake that holds it up.
This icing tastes bittersweet. The lip-licking laughs drawn out by kitsch keepsakes are marred by the tang of knowing that this life no longer exists as anything other than a hazy memory and one that will only get fuzzier with time. At some point it might disappear altogether and the photos will perplex rather than prompt.
The past is impossible to grasp, impossible to pull back and embrace one last time. This tang stings, but that biting aftertaste is easy to obscure. New memories will be made with these people. New life waits around the corner, tomorrow in a bar or maybe next month on a road trip.
Like Miss Havisham’s wedding cake, the icing is still intact and retains its sweetness. Underneath, however, the cake has turned to dust.
I peel away the sugar coating and find them. The Forgottens. Their names and characters are immortalised on the labels of mix tapes and CDs, doodles and in-jokes that no longer make sense. Caring that was cast aside when the fire of friendship fizzled away.
How fast today becomes yesterday! How fast a friend can become a stranger.
How cruel that the present we enjoy is condemned to insignificance before it even happens.
How ironic that the caustic memories we long to forget are often the easiest to recall.
Pull away at the layers. Pull back time. Pull back to the bottom when you were fresh and flighty, when you fell in love easily and hoped people were bulletproof.
There at the bottom are the ones I let down. Sorries are buried in the bedrock.
I’m sorry I lied.
I’m sorry I ran away.
I’m sorry I screamed when you tried to make me fall back in love.
I’m sorry I didn’t ask more questions.
I’m sorry I left you, watching your face shrink in the rear view mirror and crumple as I drove away.
I’m sorry I stopped calling.
I’m sorry I stopped caring.
I’m sorry we stopped talking.
I’m sorry I pushed you away.
I’m sorry you had to die. I’m sorry you had to die. I’m sorry you had to die.
This box is my life and yours. A reminder of who I was. A reminder of who you all were, who you are, who you could have been. A reminder of the people we will never be again.
Even though I can forget, and move on, and step away and leave it behind, at some point I come back and find you, all of you, still there, still alive, still suspended in time.
Still taking up space in my heart.