Last week during a round of decluttering I took the lid off a large box. It had sat unopened for nearly 40 years.
Funny how you can set something down meaning to get to it the next day, and then 40 years go by. A life can go by like that, I suppose, before you get to it.
The box was stuffed with letters. The earliest was postmarked 1967. I was 20 years old, a junior in college.
Funny, I don’t recall writing letters. Not one. Looking back I can’t see myself doing that—sitting down at a table, lifting a pen, writing on paper, folding it, tucking it in an envelope, sealing it, stamping it, and dropping it in a mailbox.
I just can’t see myself doing that. The box says I did just that.
Apparently, I sent a letter, got a letter, and put it in a shoe box. Sent another, got another, and put it in the box. Over and over again until I needed a bigger box. At the time I didn’t know I was curating a rare collection of a near extinct species.
Every time I moved, I took that box along—from Youngstown to Wheaton to Pasadena to Shepherdstown. I never re-read them. I just took them along, put them under my bed, or tucked them in the back of a closet like ashes in an urn. A memorial to friendships. A stone to touch.
In the box I found more than a hundred letters from old friends. Some deceased. I thought I’d read one, or two, or maybe three. I opened one, then another, and another, and another.
I slid down a rabbit hole into another world. We were all so very young then. Our nation hummed. The future was wide open. I read another. And one more. And one more.
I could have kept reading. I could have lingered. I could have stayed. The past is a luring refuge.
I put the lid back on and climbed out of the hole, back into this world, back into now.
I don’t know if I will ever touch those letters again. I know I won’t toss them out. After all, the box isn’t so big, and my closet has plenty of room. Besides, there’s still a whiff of perfume on a few of those letters.