How do you fit your entire life into one box? 16 years of life, presents, memorabilia, nostalgia, laughter, smiles, heartache, tears, phases, love… It wasn’t even possible. What do you take with you and what do you leave behind? What is more important? Necessities or something that has meant the world to you for many years? Do needs take preference above memories?
It has taken me four days of packing and unpacking the same box, laughing with hysterical laughter at certain times, and other times I could not help the tears that fell into the box between the relics of my past. Now I can finally write my name on top of the box. C-O-R-Y.
Now came the biggest task of all. I have packed away what was going with me, but the room was still stuffed to the rim, relics of a life lived for the past sixteen years.
Teddy on the shelf above my bed was the very first toy I ever owned. He was missing an eye now. I chewed it off around the age of two, but even after that he was still welcome in my arms and my bed. Just because he didn’t have all his parts anymore didn’t mean that he would be thrown away. He was the first part of my life, and I guess I saved him to remember that. He was the part of my life of which I had the least memories if any, but there was no place for him where I was going. He would not be safe. It would be better if he went with the rest of the stuff into a storage garage. Somewhere I can go back to him when everything was over and the happy times could return.
I still remember the day I got the television that was now neatly covered in bubble wrap. It was the birthday before last and it was the very last present my grandmother had given to me before she passed away. That had been a shock to me. I had never seen a dead person until the open casket at my grandmother’s funeral. She didn’t look like she was sleeping at all. Her lips were pressed to tight and she would never have worn that shade of pink lipstick they had smeared on her lips. She always told me that my grandfather would have loved to meet me, but her lips had never been that pink when she reminisced about him over tea.
I could barely glance over to the books standing in a pile in the corner of the room. They were just too sad to look at. My dad had given me one at every birthday, Christmas, or high mark I got in an exam. Each one carefully picked out to take me on the adventure of my life. I only packed the last one he gave me into the box I was taking with me. He gave me the very last package I would ever open only four months ago. It was the day after I came out of the closet. He had hugged me and told me that he would have loved me even if I was a murderer, then he sent me off to bed. The next morning at breakfast he gave me the package and reminded me to always be true to myself. To never hide what was in my heart.
The voice cut through my memories like a warm knife through butter. I wonder if they understood just how much I really needed to be in my room right now, soaking in every piece of happiness I had created here for my long journey forward.
“Cory! Come here!” my mom’s voice rang through the house for a second time. There was already an echo through the house that I was not used to. Like it was already empty, as if the house itself had kicked us out before we even had time to leave by ourselves.
“I’m coming!” I yelled back, but before I actually left the room I first grabbed Teddy and placed him on the box I was taking with me. He might have been safer in storage, but we had seen so much together. A weird part of me really wanted him with me all the way. Only then did I head downstairs to where the echo of my mother’s voice originated.
I used to always jump the stairs, two at a time. I didn’t do it this time. I walked slowly. Lately every time my mother called out my name there was some sort of bad news and honestly I wanted to prolong it for as long as I could. It was not like I was scared. It was just that I wasn’t used to this sinking feeling in my stomach just yet. I had only known fuzzy feelings of love for all my life. Now everything was in a cold grip.
The living room was a skeleton now. Nothing more than boxes and things in bubble wrap standing along the walls. Even the chairs were covered in what seemed like a thick plastic. Maybe to keep the dust off them as they went into storage.
“How far are you with your room?” my mom asked as I stepped into the room. Her hair, as brown as mine was pulled up in a ponytail. She only wore it like that when she was on her way to bed, but never during the day. She always says that a woman who wears her hair in a ponytail can just as well have short hair.
“I still need to do my closet,” I muttered as I stood next to her and observed which a living room where once laughter bounced off the walls instead of this cold echo.
“Can you do it quickly please? Remember to only pack your summer clothing. Just two or three things to keep you warm. We can’t arrive at your aunt’s with the entire house,” mom said. Her voice sounded defeated. Like the sound that came from her mouth had aged twenty years in the last fortnight.
“I know mom,” I answered. On the one hand I was pissed because she told me again. On the other hand I knew what she was dealing with. Maybe she had forgotten.
“And after you’re done there can you help me come and pack the kitchen please? I really need all the help I can get right now.”
She didn’t look at me once as she asked for my help, trying her best to keep her back turned against me. I knew why. She didn’t want me to know how much she has cried in the last few days. It was however a helpless feat to hide it from me. I could hear her at nights when she was in her bed. The sobs she tried to muffle into her pillow after midnight came crawling down to my room where I would try my best to sleep through it. No matter how tired I have been, they still seemed to keep me awake until she finally fell asleep.
“Yeah mom, I can do it,” I answered back. It wasn’t like I could say no. At best we had two days left. Time was running out.
“Thanks baby,” my mom whispered as I turned around to head back up the stairs, only to stop right in front of the fireplace where the bronze urn proudly stood. All the family pictures were already gone. Only the urn remained.
“Aren’t you gonna pack dad?” I asked, turning around to find my mother facing me, her hazel eyes, filled with tears.
“No. Family sticks together. He’s going with us,” she said trying to summon a wry smile which didn’t completely work for her.
“Dad’s dead,” I answered. I could feel the rage building up in my chest. It took all my might not to blurt out everything that was growing inside my chest.
My mother instead ignored me and walked over to the urn. She ran her hand over its smooth surface with a smile. Almost as if she was able to see my dad’s face in the reflection of it.
“He is still with us in spirit,” my mom answered, the tone of her voice bitter and loving all at the same time. It was an expression of emotion I had never heard coming from her mouth.
The scene in front of me was just too sad. I could feel my own tears burning behind my eyes. I promised myself that I would not cry again. Not over him. Not over this. This was his entire fault.
“Then maybe he should help you pack the kitchen since he is still hanging around,” I said loudly.
For a moment her eyes rested on me. My one sentence had cut through to the core. I knew it. She knew it. Still, I ignored it. I was waiting for her to say something back. To tell me not to be disrespectful like she had so many times in the past. Instead she just stood there. Staring at me like I was taking all her hope away from her. Pleading with her eyes not to make this transition harder than what it needed to be.
“I’m not gonna apologize mom. It’s the truth,” I whispered. I knew she could hear me, but she still wasn’t saying a word. She was just gazing at me as if she wanted me to disappear from her world that was already crumbling down in pieces around her.
I could feel the silence ripping through me. Her eyes burning holes right through mine. I was almost certain that the hazel of my eyes were slowly turning to fiery coals just by her looking at me for so long.
“Go to you room and finish packing,” she finally said, her entire face crashing down as she wiped her hand over her hair. She was defeated, not even able to fight me for manners anymore. The fight had taken its toll.
Without answering I spun on my heels and marched back up the stairs to my room. I could feel the tears stinging as I threw the door shut behind me.
I will not cry.
I will not cry.
I will not cry.
It became a mantra. The only words going through my head, blocking everything else out.
It did not work. As I started throwing all my clothing out of the closet I could feel the tears wetting my cheeks, flowing as the wall I so carefully held up over the last two weeks broke.
Wiping my tears with pieces of clothing I unceremoniously threw into the box that would go into storage I barely heard her come into my room. The hug was unexpected as my mom turned me around in her arm, allowing my face to find comfort in her neck.
“I’m sorry baby…” she sobbed into my ear. “I know it’s hard on you, but we’re going to be fine.”
I could not help the spasms of my body that ripped through the heartache I was carrying inside.
I didn’t want to leave my house, just as I didn’t want my father to have died. I didn’t want any of this. I always did the right thing. I listened to my parents. I showed respect for elders. I volunteered in community outreach projects. I ate my god damn vegetables every night. So why did it have to happen to me? Bad things didn’t happen to good people. As long as you were good everything would go well. That’s what I believed. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I never did anything bad to another, and now someone had taken away my dad, someone was taking away the only home I have ever known, and the rest had turned their back, oblivious to the suffering that went on beneath the red tiled roof of number 17, Sydney Street.