Slightly peeling at the edges where the sticky has given up the fight, I know what’s secured beneath this faded tape inside this last, smaller, heavier box. I’ve never needed to open it from move to move, add to its contents, or produce a document for proof. Several, if not most, of the enclosed objects are older than me. This box will take time to process, much longer than it will take to empty. The identifying permanent marker describes more than its contents; it acknowledges the emotions my mind and my arms have been carrying with me for more than twenty years: Family.
I only own a handful of my family’s possessions and they certainly deserve better than remaining in a brown, degrading cardboard casket of memories, as if the last remnants of their lives mattered so little to me. Truthfully, my continuing to carry and care for them, even in their unsacred packaging, matters. I managed to keep a handful of worthwhile mementos tucked safely in storage while Jason destroyed every other aspect of my life, so this untouched, dusty box, sealed almost a decade ago, received better attention that my own body.
The recorded history of my grandparents’, my parents’, and likely a couple items of my brother’s are sealed and waiting for me to peruse them. I’m still not certain I’m up to the task, but I can always start today and return to it tomorrow if I feel overwhelmed.
The tape on the sides of the box pulls away easily, but continues to rip the cardboard as I reach the edge at the top of the box. I pick at the strip, trying to remove it at least enough to bend a flap or two open, and fight with the sections that do pull off or instead, stick to my fingers. Breaking apart in small pieces, it takes more than five minutes to remove enough tape to reach inside, which feels excessive for a single piece of adhesive.
Maybe I’ve forgotten exactly what lives in this box, but as I take my first glance inside, I realize the carton is only half full at most of objects but overflowing with memories. A bundle of maybe a half dozen large, manila envelopes, slightly torn and worn, faded and accidentally folded, lay near the top of the crooked pile of goods tucked away for so long.
If someone asked, I would tell them I cannot explain why I never bothered to sort through the papers and objects prior to now, even though I probably know deep inside me why I have ignored its contents. I could put a lot of thought into the why, but I’ve been tossing that notion around in my head as long as I’ve been toting it from place to place. I never give it enough consideration. Ironically, I’ve spent time after each move knowingly choosing not to think about what’s enclosed. I feel a tug inside me – maybe a combination of fear or guilt of what I have ignored.
As I lift out this gently bundled stack, I try to assess what else might be tucked into the box’s sides. A small, brown, textured box, which I possibly recall held my mother’s bible sits in the random pile, and a handful of loose photos slides haphazardly to one side. If I remember correctly, my high school diploma ought to be here, too, but since the tape continues to adhere determinedly, I am only tackling the first stack until I get scissors or a box cutter to cleanly expose all the secrets.
Truthfully, I cannot guarantee everything I think might be contained inside is still on hand.
As I untie the string on the bundle of envelopes, I nestle the stack into my lap. None are sealed, although a couple still have the folding tabs bent out of the single hole on the envelope flap. I recognize the handwriting on the corner of each as my Grandmother’s, labeling the selection at a high level. Clearly Grandma wanted me to have a handful of important documents, or at least those deemed important to her, containing pertinent information about her and Grandpa, and my parents. I read the words on the envelopes aloud as I start to open each one and glance inside the first as I begin my stroll through my family history.
“Douglas, Military.” Thicker than others, the first document in the enclosed stack appears to be Grandpa’s discharge papers. I want to leaf through my Grandpa’s military history from World War II but reading through government forms takes more time than I care to allot for each piece of paper. I’m also one-hundred percent certain military documents will lack the storytelling quality Grandpa possessed. I will read through all of these, I tell myself, and in fact, I ought to scan everything for posterity. For today, I want to get a sense of what Grandma thought I needed to keep.
While I’d rather not admit it, what I truly want to do today, at least in opening this box, is face the past and maybe put a little more of it there. This room still features empty shelves, so I can place piles, perhaps mark them with sticky notes, and review them at my leisure with Daniel when I have a support network to help me both interpret military files and hold me as I say goodbye to my grandparents one last time.
“Douglas, Misc.” is where I discover a copy of Grandpa’s death certificate, and a photocopy of his birth certificate. From the looks of the copy, I expect the original was disintegrating and at least Grandma thought enough to save this version. I wonder pointlessly what happened to the original. While I am grateful for each document she preserved, I sift through the facts and desperately wish for a handwritten memento to fill the emptiness I stifle as I reminisce about the people who walked with me through my childhood. Grandpa told amazing stories. I wish he would have written them down.
“Adelle, Misc.” For the life of me, I don’t know what is so tedious about writing the entire word ‘miscellaneous,’ because abbreviating the word implies it is not important enough to manage all twelve letters. I expect the contents will prove otherwise, so I decide to spend a bit of time with this envelope. It’s thinner, so the metal tabs keep the envelope secured, if not sealed, unlike Grandpa’s documents, but when I fold it open, one of the tabs breaks and falls somewhere into my lap, which I will retrieve and throw away later.
I find my father’s enlistment papers, which I would have expected to find in a forthcoming envelope. I know so little about him, just a handful of comments made by my grandparents over the years, and I don’t feel regret for not having known him as much as I am curious as any child would be about an absent parent. I glance over the form and discover Grandma’s signature, dated in September making Dad a few months short of age eighteen when he enlisted. I wouldn’t have thought their permissions would have been required in 1952, but I expect he wanted to avoid the draft, so he signed up on his own with Grandma’s approval. I probably knew that previously, but I may have let that bit of information slip away with the finer details that probably didn’t matter to me in my youth.
NEXT: Lies Of Omission – Part 54