When I was a somewhat younger version of the child I am today, I found an empty shoebox lying around in my cluttered house. Now as a child, I was filled with more sentiment than I was with logical thought and so I kept a rock in that shoebox. It was a small piece, but it was the start of an archive.
As the years passed, I kept throwing in things I found or gained or things that were given to me by others. This would include toys that I considered very dear to me including the firsts from the scores of each toy series my father would gladly buy for me. It also included bands that at one point indicated friendship. There were books and notebooks filled with musings and some rather lame poetry. A fact I’d learn in hindsight as I read them as a grown young man.
I grew and so did the box but not before it had an official name. “The shoebox of memories,” I called it proudly as I’d tell the world about this box that has every vital trinket of my life in it. I found what seemed to be love and so, a T-shirt I shared with her found its way into the box somewhere around this age.
As did a thousand other things such as awkward maps I’d make with my cousins, a slingshot I bought and played with over the summer, some seeds I thought were impressive. As I made more memories and found more physical reminders of each one of them, the box started to fill. The box was a physical space, and I was trying way too hard to fit something intangible into it. Perhaps, that was the lesson, not that I knew it at the time.
School ended and the box, while changed physically, was still called “the shoebox of memories”, and I continued to throw in things from every good memory I’d have. As I skipped town, off to study in another, I never forgot the box. So, like a traveller who travels far away only to bring souvenirs, I’d bring some for my shoebox, and I’d fill it with new items; things that made no sense if anyone but me looked at them. However, to me, each one of them was a story and was an essential part of who I am.
The shoebox was roughly ten years old now, and while it had shifted forms, the idea had remained the same. I had stopped opening it at this point, forgetting most items that called it home for years. To be honest, I didn’t care what items were in it as long as I always remembered to put something in. I met new people and made new memories both with them and alone, and I’d still never forget to bring something back.
Even when I found love again, I brought a flower, and I kept it among some papers that were really important to me at the time. The box also had a crown, albeit made from cardboard and a diary, a journal of sorts. It had some electronics that I had worked hard and earned for, long before I earned way more money than I could handle, long before it was easier. I didn’t remember most of these.
Until one day, I decided to open it, and as I lifted the cardboard flaps and took items out one by one, I started to realise how each piece in the box was a burden to who I was today.
Each item in the box pulled me to the shoulds, woulds and coulds; from the notebooks where some of the first friends I had ever made wrote promises to the toys that served me no purpose now to the diaries I wrote as an adolescent to the letters that had just three words on them to the piece of paper from a former mentor to a photograph with people I called my peers once upon a time.
While, in practicality, I knew how good life was and how glad I was for it, some idea of romanticism and attachment with items and their corresponding memories pulled me backwards. Perhaps, not opening the box was a more significant mistake than putting things in it for the box was an extension of who I was and what person in their right mind closes themselves off to become accepting but never genuinely open again?
As I took items out, I took a picture of each like they do on ghastly crime scenes. As I made an inventory, I sent most good toys to children who’d still have a use for them, I tossed most rocks and pieces of nature back into nature itself, and I threw everything else away; even the flower that had wilted among the papers that were supposed to protect it from harm forever.
After a decent three hours of work, I smiled. There was nothing but the present. The shoebox was no more.