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Drowning in a Memory
The ground was hard underneath my quiet footsteps. My shoes kicked up dusty brown dirt with each scuffle. I continued walking forward along the unmarked path. Each twist and turn, I knew them all by heart. A cool gust of wind came through me and pulled my long hair back with it, leaving my face unprotected, numbed by the freezing air. I hugged myself tighter grabbing the edges of my coat, trying to stay warm. Large skeletons of trees huddled over me. I dragged my hand along them as I went, the dry bark felt rough against my fingertips. Through their naked branches I could see the off white sky. A flock of birds flew above me, fleeing the bitter coldness. The frigid wind urged me to go back with them, but I fought against it. The air was weighted with dead leaves and the oncoming of winter.
My journey came to an end as I saw the cave up ahead. Not really a cave, but that’s what he called it when we first made our discovery. It’s more of a large rock with a small gap underneath, just big enough to fit a small box. Not really a box, but a memory. Literally it is a box; however it means more to me than anything I have left could.
As I came closer, I saw the gray cave more clearly. It was weathered down even more so then the first time we had first found it. I ran my hands along the top feeling the familiar dents in the rock. Below it was the opening; inside was full of dark shadows. I crouched down low to the ground and peered into the dark gap. Taking a deep breath, I bent lower and slid my hands beneath the gap; sharp roots scratched at my arms as I dug in deeper into the hole, the physical pain could not compare to the dull ache inside my chest. Elbow deep, I felt the dull edges of the cardboard on the tips of my fingers. I dug around for a good grip and pulled. I struggled against the roots I roughly struggled to pull the box out. My hands finally slipped out gripping on tightly to it. Fresh red scratches marked my pale skin. I leaned my back against the cool stone and rested the box in my lap. After years of undisturbed rest I stared at this simple cardboard box I held in my hands.
It was a standard cardboard shoebox, intended for sneakers, recycled, with new meaning. With red hands and a numb heart I wiped the dirt off the top, revealing the patented logo. I could feel the tears waiting in my eyes as I mustered up everything I had left and slowly lifted open the flap, revealing what was left inside.
A flower, a rock, and a note.
The forest transformed around me. The greenest of grass sprung up from the ground and the trees stretched their arms and grew out their lively fresh leaves. The bluest of skies shined through them and the sun filled every breath I took with its warmth. Sitting in the dirt, footsteps ahead of me, a boy and girl played.
“No Ricky! You’re doing it wrong. You have to get your stick underneath it.” The little girl nagged him. Her light blue jeans were stained in dirt as she leaned over his shoulder; her dark brown hair hid his face.
“That’s what I’m doing.” He had an attitude. “Wait,” he stopped his digging and looked up suddenly and his blonde hair flipped backwards, “What if it doesn’t fit?” His expression was worried.
“It’ll fit.” She said this with all the certainty in the world.
After a couple more moments of bickering, the children successfully pulled their shining gem out of the ground. Smiling the boy held it up into the sunlight. It shimmered and reflected the sunrays into a thousand patterns onto the children’s astonished faces.
“It’s beautiful.” The little girl sighed, eyes wide, captivated by the fantastic light.
The boy bit his lower lip. His tongue stuttering to find the words he longed to say, “Like you,” he said quietly. His eyes looked up into hers, worried and already wishing to take it back, realizing his own corniness.
She smiled shyly and looked down at the box sitting by their side. She grabbed it suddenly, startling him. “C’mon lets see if it fits.”
I wanted to yell out to her. Tell her say all the things running through her mind. Tell her to pull him into her and never let go. I wanted to tell her everything. But I remained silent. I had to. And still, it wouldn’t have made a difference.
“It fits!” He yelled excitedly as he gently squeezed the stone inside.
“Told you!” She teased him in her know-it-all tone. They both laughed. The sound of birds echoed overhead harmonizing with their laughter. I could have spent the rest of my days listening to the sweet music they made together.
The boy got up and started walking towards me. His face was careless in each step he took. Once again, I found myself stunned and I couldn’t avoid looking back into his eyes. They were dark blue like the ocean. Oh the countless times I’ve drowned in those eyes. He stopped right before me and crouched down, plucking a small yellow flower from the ground. He twirled it in his fingers, determining its beauty, finally he smiled satisfied. He turned abruptly and walked back towards the girl. Even if I could have said something, my mouth would not have been able to form the words.
“Here.” He crouched down next to her. “For you.” He placed it into her open hand and she looked up at him. I watched as she drowned in his eyes and he fell into hers.
I witnessed it all from. When she closes her eyes and surprises his lips with hers. The moment his shoulders relax and he leans back into her softly. They pulled apart, shortly and both stared back down at the ground simultaneously.
They looked back up at each other in the same moment and he smiled at her. She laughed again. No words needed.
“Let’s put this in too.” She pressed the flower against the top of the box to preserving it. After deciding she was satisfied with it she placed it down gently to the side of the stone.
“Good, I want to remember it.” He said grinning, looking up at her. His sweet voice was filled with his happiness. “Do you have the paper?”
“Yeah, right here.” She grabbed a folded piece of notebook paper freshly ripped from a notebook, from off to the side. She slipped it in underneath the flower, and closed the box.
“Ready?” he asked.
Together they laid down on their stomachs and pushed the box underneath the cave. Both their arms went in, putting the box to rest until another day. Giddy smiles spread across their faces as they pushed it in deeper. When their hands emerged from the gap fingers were interlocked, together forever.
My tears landed onto our once shining gem now a dull rock without the sunlight to bring it to life. I found myself alone again, leaning against the cave. I stifled my sobs as I picked up the delicate flower in my hand. The petals were on the verge of invisibility, color drained with time. I twirled the stem in my fingers, just as he once did. It felt as if any moment, it would dissipate into the cold air and be lost forever. Carefully I placed it down to my side and nervously picked up the note.
By the time I was able to stop my hands from shaking and unfold it, the lined paper was damp from my dropping tears. I closed my eyes and unfolded the smooth paper. I took in my deepest breath and opened my eyes. As I read the words written on the page, all was lost. My uncontrolled sobs were carried throughout the frigid air. They echoed through the bare branches and I let them all go. I clutched the paper against my heartbeat in some hope that the gesture could return me to that sweet moment in time where things were good and I could stay forever. But I didn’t go back and I knew I would never; I remained there with my back against the cold rock, quivering underneath the skeleton trees and colorless sky. I stared at the unfulfilled prophecy embedded forever in black ink and a third graders handwriting along the lines of this simple piece of paper. I tore my gaze away and I looked up and begged the sky to make it true.
“Claire and Ricky Forever”
I’d do anything to be back in that moment, to feel his touch against mine, to lose myself one more time, drowning in his eyes.