Not everybody has one, and of those who do, seemingly no defining characteristic unites them. They are old, young, rich, poor, kind, and cruel. All that connects them to one another is the boxes.
They are discreet, nondescript brown packages. They bear no markings or ornament. They stay at the side of their keepers like loyal dogs, ever present and ever mundane.
For one who does not have a box in their possession, these do not seem to have a purpose. If anything, the box appears to be a hinderance, always in hand, making you choose which to grip with the other, your Starbucks or your IPhone. A nuisance best left at home or hidden in your bag.
Yet box bearers seem to cradle these mysterious objects, as if they were the most precious, fearful things in existence. As if a catastrophe unparalleled could befall them should the contents of the box be revealed. I understand this feeling well. I have a box of my own, you see.
I know what you’re wondering.
So, what’s in the box?
I know what’s in my box, but I can’t share that with you. At least not yet. That’s the point. The box is for the things we can never tell; For the things we intend to take to our graves.
My box sits on a park bench beside me. I listen to the birds and contemplate the breeze. On such a tranquil morning, I can almost forget the weight of its presence beside me, and the once-sharp artifacts it contains, now worn to dull points by the whetstone of familiarity and habitual revisitation.
A rustling sound awakens me to the presence of another, who carries with him an aura of warmth like sunshine, and depth like still water. He smiles like a golden retriever and greets me. He is kind and awkward, funny and handsome. There’s a brilliance in his hazel eyes, and a sad wisdom buried in the green and amber there. Broken tape and ripped paper flop lazily about the edges of his box. It was forced open once, when he was in dire need. Now he tosses the rumpled thing beside his feet, acknowledges it like an invasive but tolerated pigeon, and pays it little more attention. I’ve seen a bit of the contents of that box. A letter, a hospital bracelet, a little orange pill case and an empty bottle of mouthwash.
I swallow nervously. My box is pristine, and he has never seen inside of it. I have convinced myself that the contents is light enough, the burden insubstantial enough, that he will never have to.
And yet it sits on the bench between us, breathing ominously.
There’s no getting rid of the box. Trust me, I’ve tried. You can throw it down the stairs, hide it in a closet, pretend it’s not there. But unless by some magic or luck you overcome the contents, you’re stuck with it for good.
Months pass. On numerous occasions, I try to embrace the radiant man with the crumpled box, but the edges of my own box dig into our skin. We try to work around it, but eventually we give up, disappointed and exhausted. We try to be okay with the distance that the box creates, because it’s better than the pain it causes when we get too close. I am no stranger to pain. Why can’t I force myself past it’s edges and get close to him? Why don’t I want to be close to him? But don’t I? Don’t I?
Our future together glitters in the sunlight of my daydreams. Happiness, peacefulness, fulfillment, and companionship. It’s the last page of a fairytale book, and I’m trying to read through the middle, but it’s like crucial pages have gone missing. How do I get from here to there?
The box rests it’s enormous weight on my nightstand, past the golden man’s deeply slumbering form. The images come to me unbidden, of him forcing himself inside me with the box held between our chests like a vice, of me walking down the isle with the box in hand, or trying to explain to our future children why I have to carry it around in my arms and not them.
I want to scream and cry out, but the box is on my chest now, pressing the air from my lungs and the speech from my throat. It seems so much bigger at night.
The box comes open during one of our rare fights.
I’m about to lose him. We never thought it would come to this. I am caught between two terrible impossibilities, living without him, and opening the box. I know then that it’s not even a choice. I have to open it. Because I would do anything to make us work.
I hesitate. It’s not an excuse, or a guilt trip to keep him here. Still, that’s how it feels, and my fingertips latch on even harder to the edges of the lid. Then suddenly I’m opening it while every muscle in my body screams not to. Maybe this is how I lose him. Maybe he will be disgusted. Maybe he should be.
I can’t look him in the eye as I draw the objects one by one from the box. They seem so weak and insignificant in the light. I am angry with myself for holding onto them. But he doesn’t see them that way. He stares at them silently, first with confusion and then with horror.
The contents of my box frightens him. He wonders how he never guessed. He holds me tightly while I apologize over and over again, crying tears I didn’t know I needed to cry and bleeding from wounds I didn’t know I had.
Today, we lay together in the front yard at dusk. My box is at my side and my head is on his chest. The box is closed for now, but not sealed. It is an intruder on this peaceful moment, but he and I share its burdens between us now. I’m not naive enough to hope that one day the box will disappear.
But it is lighter.
We’re going to try and carry it together.