At the Bottom of the Box

He brushed aside the un-ironed shirts and work pants hanging in his closet, pants to the right and shirts to the left. There on the beige carpeted floor against the blandly painted back wall sat a box, a very ordinary box, one that new reams of printer paper might come packaged in. He stood and looked at it for a while, the noises in his head of the birds chirping outside and the airplanes flying over head and the cars driving through the parking lot, splashing through every pothole on their way out turned to static.

He really wasn’t thinking, just had a feeling he needed to pull it out, he couldn’t actually assign a purpose to it, these days he doesn’t really know why he does things, he is living on two planes, one with his live in girlfriend and the other with the ghosts of his past. Both want his attention, they wait for him at the end of the day and whisper to him in his ears, it seems lately he can’t play his music loud enough. He goes to the gym and tries to lift away all the voices in his head, he grunts under his breath, pushes away the weight from his repeatedly but it just keeps coming back to him like flies on a rotting corpse, consuming his flesh bit by bit. When he can’t fight it any longer he showers and scrubs at his swollen skin.

Then it’s back to work and he forgets about everything for a while as he investigates program issues at his desk. He spends the next few hours like he did before the gym, searching for clues among clues among long strings of code that don’t seem to make any sense just hoping to trip over something that doesn’t quite seem as convoluted as everything else.

Back at his closet he looks over the box sitting at his feet, its edges are crushed and worn edges. There is a tear or two in the top and old tape along the sides. He lifts the box onto his bed and pauses as if he is standing at the entrance to a dark alley. Then he pulls the lid off, inside there are papers, it doesn’t look unlike every other banker’s box in peoples closets, ones that might hold last year’s taxes, old college essays, maybe an old book with torn corners that’s meant to be re-read again. But this box is different, there are things among those papers and books and essays that speak to him like murmuring from someone standing behind him in the shadows.

Among the dusty things there are hopes and imaginings, they are clean and fresh despite their age, they were placed there years ago when he was much younger, when he still dreamed of far off places he would go with someone much different than his girlfriend, there are lost dreams at the bottom that got buried by certificates and degrees and old manila envelopes with the words taxes and some other year crossed out and below it written vacation or minivan or fifth grade softball and some summer track program. And there’s a hand written list on a smallish note pad; it has categories and mileage and notes about campgrounds somewhere far away. In one corner there is an old receipt, written in pen and at the bottom signed by him and his ex-wife, at the top, the name of an old pop-up camper. Suddenly his eyes begin to water; the corners fill quickly and over flow, sending streams of liquid down over his cheeks. He can smell the linoleum and the weathered, mildew stained canvass. He closes his eyes and sees his oldest daughter staring up at him as she tries to lift tongue of the camper to help him hook it up to the trailer hitch. Her eyes clenched shut and her mouth pursed in a crooked smile. Then he turns to see his other daughter and his son jumping from one bed to the other inside the camper and his heart breaks because he knows that was long ago and when he opens his eyes everything is different, and the only thing staring back at him now is the ancient box of lost dreams he still keeps.

It’s a strange feeling, holding a bunch of dreams and memories that seem so empty, the purpose is gone, and they seem senseless and desperate now. There is no place for them here, the pages are faded and discolored with the sour taste of pain. A melancholy wave washes over him and he feels incredibly dejected. As he puts the lid back on the static in his head seems to slip away slowly and when he tries to lift the box from the bed it appears heavier than before. He struggles with it as he walks from his apartment down the dark halls filled with strange smells and descends the cold stairs to the back door. He stands at the dumpster a long while and as it begins to rain his eyes fill again, so he lets the box slip from his calloused hands and fall away. The murmuring in his ear fades and loneliness creeps in holding his hand like an old friend he doesn’t quite trust but desires to hold onto.

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