I bought the box when I realized he was worth saving. The many letters; notes that had been placed gently on my pillow; years of CDs; that Time Out Chicago book, the last page a map with a hand-drawn star along the lake where he had first called me looking for a friend. "I looked to you," he wrote.
There was his Midwest and my East Coast. There were three years of hope and friendship that grew to a deep love. His love healed where others had hurt. Eventually, he came home to my coast and we called it the beginning. The timing was finally right.
We appreciated being able to sit side-by-side and watch television. Nicknames and inside jokes came naturally. I loved the way his shoulders rose and fell when I made him laugh, and he loved the way we looked in pictures; his six-foot frame towering over my five. We were together long enough to pick up each other's oddities. He brushed his teeth up to five times a day and always had a tin of Altoids on hand. I shyly bit my bottom lip each time he looked me in the eye and said something unexpectedly sweet.
But before the beginning, when there was 1,000 miles of distance, there had been others that filled his void in a way I had never filled mine. Resentment filled a place in my heart where he should have been, and every misstep that came after, however small or unintentional, echoed this first hurt. I eventually forgave, and there were months at a time when I swore I had found the one above all, but it was too late. Time had dealt us another cruel hand.
There was the last conversation, the last point of dissent when we realized that at some point, I had ran out ahead of him and we were no longer keeping pace side by side. I had spent two years in graduate school, actively pursued a career in the field of my choosing and ran headfirst into adulthood. I needed something from him that he wasn't ready to give, and sometimes, it made him feel small.
Our last conversation had the tone of finality, and after hours of reminiscing, we came to the agreement that it was over. As the door closed behind him, something took over me. I left my apartment building and instinctively turned left, looking for his black car through all the rain. If it was meant to be, I thought, I'd catch him in time. I saw the taillights just as he shifted into reverse, and knocked on his passenger side window. My window. I brought him out from his car and took his face in my hands for a final kiss. One last memory.
I bought the box thinking we'd go through it together one day. We'd sit on the floor of our first apartment and say, "We beat the odds," and you'd look at me the way you always had and I'd kiss you softly. Quick to touch and slow to cool, I'd spend my life kissing you.
But the problem with memory boxes is that they save only what we put into them. What would have happened that night had I taken out the old and asked if there was room for new? Before I knew it, I was across the street headed back to my apartment where I would spend the night putting him away piece by piece, thinking of all the memories we might have made had time been more kind.