Upon waking and leaving my bed at the quiet, early hour of 12:05 in the afternoon, I headed downstairs for a healthful, balanced breakfast consisting of a bowl of what was left of our Fruity Pebbles and some other nutritious, sugar-loaded fruity cereal. I chatted with my brother for some time about the capabilities and shortcomings of various smartphones before rinsing my bowl and setting off on my day’s mission.
I grabbed our brand-spanking-new house broom and opened the door in our kitchen, which leads to the very bowels of my grandmother’s abode, otherwise known the basement. I flipped on the stairway light and trod down some sketchy steps. The light was enough to illuminate my area of operations. After a brief search, I located my target.
Under a tote bag filled with unused basketballs deflated to Tom Brady regulations lay a relatively well-kept cardboard box in an abyss of otherwise dusty, cobwebby and decrepit storage containers, among other nigh-junk.
I snagged the box and brought it closer to the light from the stairway so that I could take a peek inside and confirm that I had the right one. I gave it a probably unneeded sweep-down with the broom to allay any arachnophobic thoughts and decided that it was ready to return to the surface.
After nonchalantly carrying the box through the living room where my grandmother was sitting and bringing it up to my bedroom, I opened it and dissected its contents.
This box contained any clothing and other mementos that reminded me of my ex-girlfriend.
Yes, this is one of those blog posts. I hope this doesn’t discourage further reading. I’ll do my best to refrain from being overly-emotional – or worse – trite.
For the purposes of this post, I am keeping anonymous the identity of my ex. Some of you reading likely know her, and I would like to keep her name a secret to those of you who don’t. Plus, since this blog is technically public – anybody with internet access can, in theory, view anything I write here – I feel an obligation to protect her identity from any potential strangers who happen upon this post that I am loosing onto the cyber frontier.
Finally, for the ease of writing, I have come up with a replacement name for her. A kind of pseudonym, if you will. I made sure to adopt a name that is not shared by any of my friends – on Facebook or in real life. From here on out, I shall refer to my ex-girlfriend as Penny.
Anyway, back to the box, or rather, what was in the box.
The first thing I pulled out was the only tie-dye shirt I ever owned. It was one of my favourite t-shirts to wear. I’ve had it since my junior year of high school. In March of 2010, I and the rest of Holland Patent’s vocal ensemble were amidst rehearsals for our spring cabaret (too poor for musicals), and one of our numbers was “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” from Hair. Naturally, we wore makeshift bell-bottom jeans and fashioned some tie-dye shirts. Penny’s mother was responsible for the tie-dyeing. Further cognitive association developed because Penny and I started dating about a week after that particular cabaret. I used to wear it all the time, but, after our breakup, I couldn’t throw it on without remembering its origin.
Below the tie-dye were some other tees as well as some pairs of flannel pajama bottoms. All these clothes, at one point, were borrowed by Penny and had accumulated at her house. After the breakup (the permanent one), she continued to hold on to them for a week or two before making a personal delivery at my house one June day in 2011. Fortunately for us both, I was away and unavailable for the hand-off, and my brother took them on my behalf.
Next in the box was a Universal Studios t-shirt that Penny had bought for me as a souvenir from her trip to Orlando in May 2011. To this day, I have not ever worn the shirt; also on said trip was one of her coworkers – the same man for whom she left me later that spring.
Each article of clothing that was in the box was fairly rank from being stored in my grandmother’s basement the past two years. They’re still in decent condition, though, and I wish to restore them to my wardrobe. But, while some people may enjoy the smell of cellar musk, I think I’ll opt for a different scent. I plan on washing them and donning them once again – with the exception of the Universal shirt.
At the base of the box lay miscellaneous pieces of memorabilia. I’ll discuss each item clockwise, starting from top left. First, we have a set of photo frames that would have been used to house the junior prom pictures of me and Penny.
Next are two glowsticks bound together to form a bracelet. Some of Penny’s friends and I sported these while celebrating her seventeenth birthday at her house.
I believe that the pink plastic petal to the right was part of Penny’s ensemble for my stepsister’s wedding in June 2010. Could be wrong, though.
Top right is a coloured-in picture of Ariel that she gave to me. On the back was a handwritten note. I won’t include the text here, but she apparently wrote it whilst talking to me over the phone. She wrote that she loved me and that I knew how much she hates speaking over the phone. I thought it was a sweet gesture – that Penny cared for me so much that she would sacrifice some comfort to make me happy. I still remember lying in my bed late at night, on the brink of slumber, with neither of us saying much – and listening to her report on the progress of her colouring project for me and vocally deciding which hues to use. It was odd, but nice, to hear her voice instead of reading a cold, emotionless text message.
Bottom right is a collection of notes that Penny would surreptitiously toss or place into my locker between classes during senior year of high school. I was less discreet when I forwarded my notes to her. Also in this pile, below our billets-doux, I found a half sheet of paper with lovely floral drawings pencilled by her. Under that was our prom photograph – plus a couple wallet-sized copies of some of her senior pictures.
To the left is a heap of various ticket stubs, plus a receipt of hers (I honestly don’t know why that’s in there). On top is from when we saw Whitesboro high school’s production of Beauty and the Beast. The movie theatre stubs are from when we saw Vampires Suck in August of 2010, followed by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 that December, followed by The King’s Speech in February 2011. I think it’s safe to say that our taste in cinema improved with each outing.
Finally, bottom left, we have a metal-cased spiral journal that I received from my second grade teacher upon leaving for the summer in 2001. She also happened to be the last teacher I had while I was part of the Rome city school district – before I moved to Holland Patent. For the next several years, I used the journal to record the addresses and home phone numbers of my closest friends. This was before most people had cell phones and electronic contact lists. Anyway, I almost dismissed this item as having no significance to Penny – until I checked the last page – where she left her mark. She had written in her address and phone number and included a personal message about herself written by her, from my point of view.
There were other things in the box. I refuse to show the rest of them because some are too personal for this blog, while others were so obscure that I could no longer identify their significance (which is probably not a bad thing).
So…why? Why the box? Why cloister all these seemingly innocuous items? The answer is simple and unoriginal: I needed for these things – the shirts, the pajamas, the notes, everything – to be hidden from me for a long time, lest I see them and allow the pain to come back.
Some of my happiest memories are from my relationship with Penny. And I knew that, should I see anything that could potentially trigger a memory, it would bring me only the sorrow of realising the joy that was taken away from me. So I boxed up my mementos and got them out of sight.
I deliberately waited till this day, the 31st of May, 2016, to sift through the box. Exactly five years after our final breakup. The box was commissioned sometime after she dumped me, although I cannot give a specific date. I, therefore, know not how long the box’s contents have been in storage, but I felt that the half-decade anniversary of the end of the relationship would prove more poignant, anyway.
But this post isn’t about the breakup – or the circumstances surrounding it.
I felt that enough time had passed before I could write publicly about my thoughts on our time together and about Penny as a person.
As I pulled each item from the box, I was given pause, just as I knew would happen. I drank in the neatness and preservation of each note and picture. I admired the beautiful simplicity of my personal collection – mostly tokens of the modesty and mundanity of my latter years of high school, anointed with stories romantic and dramatic. But I didn’t feel sad. I didn’t break down in tears. And I didn’t fall into a fit of depression and lie prostrate on my bed and lose all motivation for my blog post.
The truth is that I didn’t suddenly have the urge to test my mettle and face my past today. Today’s project was more of an end that I’ve been working toward for the past five years. It’s been a process of meeting new people and creating new experiences to remember. College helped with those things in profound measure. I now understand that, as I age, the acquisition of new memories diminishes the percentage of memories devoted to Penny and my time with her. In other words, the longer I live, the more abundant are unrelated memories, thereby decreasing the potency of Penny’s share. Which is a rather clinical way of looking at it, I suppose.
It’s also true that, despite the passage of time and the addition of things to occupy my mind, not a day has gone by without, at the very least, some fleeting, almost insignificant – but nonetheless real – thought of her.
I’m still upset about what happened. From time to time, I relive moments in my head, thinking that maybe they will play out differently – maybe, if I concentrate hard enough, I can transport myself back to 2011 and try again. Maybe there’s something I could have said or done to influence the outcome in my favour.
I sometimes fantasise that, one day, she will message me with a “Just kidding!” and we’ll be together again. Like all this time apart was just one big prank – or some cruel test, which I passed.
But…the reality is that I was not good for her. Penny’s decision to leave me was objectively superior to staying with me, and I’ve accepted that fact. It may have sucked subjectively (still does), but, if nothing else, I take solace in knowing that she is, in all likelihood, thriving without me.
Penny’s departure from my life, while necessary, caused me a great deal of pain and anguish. The wound isn’t as sore as it once was, however. And I certainly don’t harbour any resentment toward her; on the contrary – if you’ll pardon the cliché – part of me still loves her, and I believe it always will. I wish her the best in whatever she aspires to.
Maybe someday I’ll be able to watch Doctor Who – a television programme I have avoided for the sole reason that Penny watched it religiously. It, like the items from the box, reminded me of her. Maybe someday.
I haven’t seen her or spoken to her since 2011. This is probably for the best. It’s also worth noting that I haven’t been in any significant relationships since Penny. But that’s another story for another time, perhaps. Actually, probably not.
Don’t worry – I’m not planning any more posts about my ex-girlfriend. This was a special case. I wanted to share on this blog a more human, more flawed side of me. So far, all I’ve published here (besides the various page tabs) are more academic, almost robotic posts usually dealing with language and usually involving lists. Plot twist! I’m not an automaton! I’m actually a mortal man!
The five-year of one of the worst days of my life also conveniently coincides with one of the most momentous weeks in my life, as, at the moment of typing this, in about forty-eight hours, I will be housed elsewhere, among other performers, living out my acting dream.
Opening up my important cardboard box today was a sort of celebration of my growth. It marked the end of a rough period in my life. I finally feel ready to move on.
Ah, whom am I kidding? I just wanted my tie-dye shirt back.