You had to give it all back at some point, I guess. I didn’t know, really. It felt corny and clichéd when our friend came over with a box of my things and tripped over the words “he wanted to make sure you got this.” I didn’t think that actually happened, the brown boxed give back. I assumed it was a gesture reserved for Norah Ephron films and scripted scenes of broken-hearted closure.
When she left, I sat on the living room floor and went through it all. Judging by the weight of the box, it seemed as if you had cleaned out every article of me until your place had less to say about us and surely more to say about your newfound independence. Writing that word out now, I can hear you citing it as the reason you wanted to break up and it still stings just the same. “We’re not independent enough,” you said, “I miss doing things on my own.”
This isn’t something I want to do on my own, I thought to myself as I wondered who helped you pack all of this up.
On top was the tie of my father’s I lent you for that interview. I was half hoping you’d just keep it because now, when I get around to returning it to him, he’ll know he was right about you. “Don’t trust a man with a tattoo,” he’s always said. He has one himself, so he knows.
After digging past a few more items [a pair of black cable knit tights, an Iron & Wine shirt, a computer charger, a comb, the ring you bought me, my copy of Never Let Me Go and two disposable cameras I know better than to develop before the year’s end], the only thing left at the bottom of the box was a photo from the night you got that job offer. I wore that dress you [said you] loved and you wore that same damn tie as we sat at a white-clothed table in a restaurant we couldn’t afford. We held our champagne up for the camera to see as the waiter reluctantly took our picture.
“We should submit this to the editors of privileged life magazine,” I joked at the time. “We could buy the whole damn publication now,” you said as you touched your glass to mine. “We’re going to be so happy,” you promised. You took a sip and said, “You know that right?”
The dust of the day settled on my heart as I rested my head on the carpet. You were too familiar with the bed, there was too much of you there. Here was a place you had never laid claim to, never stained with a memory or a feeling, so I felt it safe to stay. It was the safest I had felt in weeks.
I thought of moving my sheets down to the floor for the night, or longer, but it felt in that moment as if I had turned to stone; ice collected in my joints, stiffened and settled in the locked position. There would be no moving tonight, it was decided, only the stirring of nostalgia, regret and endless why’s as I turned my head once again to meet your eyes in the photograph at the bottom of the box.
It’s an odd thing being cleared out of a life you planned on merging with your own someday. I don’t know how to erase you. I thought I’d start by filling that same brown box you gave me but, as I look around the room, it turns out that brown box is all I’ve got left of you.