Sometime last year, I watched a movie in which a character was of the opinion that “Everyone has a box.” I disagreed, thinking I was above attaching sentimentality to objects, but I was wrong. I seem to have acquired a box over the years, because I didn’t throw away things. Tickets, letters, cards, extinct friendships.
I found a caricature of myself, drawn by one of those old men who sit with bundles of papers and charcoal pencils. I felt a childish disappointment—I look better than that—but I got over myself and thought about the moment this image was drawn. Perhaps this is what the artist saw, big teeth and hair, maniacal grin.
It turns out I harbour some affection for places I have learnt about on my own. I wouldn’t go so far to say I travelled to these cities. By some combination of events, I was there. Alone, eager, in conversation with myself. I got lost often, misread directions in the most absurd ways—though this was more rewarding before the invasion of the smart phone. The roads and I have secrets. I stayed in museums till the usher politely told me it was time to leave.
At a place where the cliffs met the ocean, a young man came up to me. He wanted me to take pictures of him, and in return, he offered to take pictures of me. So this is what we did. He asked me to try again because his shoes weren’t visible in the photographs. We spoke for a while, and I told him this was the farthest I had been, from everything that was familiar to me. A whole other ocean, on the other side of the world. Me too, he said. He was from New Jersey.
In the box that is also a capsule from the past, I found a love note I had written a few years ago, added to the pile by its recipient, whom I live with now. It was a short letter that was painfully unguarded, almost too honest, tinged with purple. I thought for a while about everything I felt then, and everything I had assumed to be love until then. They were temporary obsessions, pleas for attention, consequences of impatience, halfhearted attempts at rebellions without causes. Too much is said about the first love. Tell me instead about a love that renders everything before it meaningless, like dust motes in a box that reveal the incomplete story of your life.