The Paper Trail

I found this box a while back.  It was small, no bigger than the pencil boxes I used to have as a kid.  The box is made of wood and has engravings on the outside.  The engravings are just random designs carved into each side.  I found it near the books I keep on a ledge in the sunroom.  It sat there undetected for months.

Once I saw it, I knew exactly what it was.  I knew the contents of it.

AJ had kept mementos of our relationship since the beginning, and he kept them all in this box.  All of my heart was in that box.

I had a few questions when I discovered it.  Why did he not take this box?  He took several books and likely saw it sitting on the ledge.  Maybe he went to reach for it, but decided to leave it for me.  Maybe he decided to leave a paper trail.  Should I survey the contents of this box, or throw it out immediately?  And my final question… did each of his girls get a box?

Any person in love would be flattered by this simple gesture.  AJ made the effort to collect things that would tell the story of our relationship.  He kept our boarding passes when we were dating long distance.  He kept tickets, maps, notes we wrote to one another, and even receipts from dinners or trips to the mall.  I used to think it was incredible that he had such faith in us as a couple that he kept anything that documented our love story.  I used to think he was perhaps even more in love with me than I was with him… and that was hard to imagine.  I used to think I was lucky to be with him.  Lucky in love.

Now, this box tells me a different story.  Perhaps this “Erin-box” is just a part of his collection.   Maybe there is an “Alice-box” somewhere.  I was just one of many engraved, small boxes where he would keep proof of his power.  Proof of the women who fell victim to his disingenuous charm.   Proof he could keep me (us) in a box.  Displaying how he could keep me as his possession, protected by the walls and lid of a box.

The box sat there for a few weeks before I decided I would open it.  Perhaps, opening it would release me from the box.

On Sunday, I packed up a writing notebook and the box.  I found a small coffee shop, ordered a latte and took a seat with the box.  I opened the top and it broke.  The entire lid of the box came undone, crumbling in my hands.  I set the pieces of the lid aside and saw the first item, an envelope I recognized.  It was a letter I wrote to him in 2012.

The letter was written in red ink on old resume paper I remember buying after college but never used.    AJ and I had been dating nearly a year when I wrote it.  I was expressing how excited I was to be moving closer to him and beginning a new chapter in our relationship.  I expressed how in love with him I was.  As I read the words I wrote years ago, I was transported back to my desk in New York.  I wrote it before heading home on a Monday night.  It was crazy how the letter brought back such a vivid memory.

I set that letter to the side and found the next keepsake – his boarding passes for flights to come see me.  They were organized chronologically and folded neatly.  Each one reminded me of the trips to and from the airports, the excitement of seeing each other and the disappointment when another weekend together expired.

Next up, a series of notes I wrote and left around the house for AJ to find when he was working late.  “I love your blue eyes – 3 of 10”.  I remember placing them in areas he had to see every day.  “I love your kind heart – 5 of 10”.  A reminder for him that although he was busy working, I loved him and supported him always.  “I love they way you love me – 8 of 10”.

He had receipts from meals we shared over the years.  Notes we exchanged on our anniversaries.  Tangible items of moments in our relationship.

I sat there sipping my latte and digging through the notes and other papers until the box was empty.  I read every word and recalled each memory represented.  I had the strangest mix of emotions.

Part of me wanted to cry.  I wasn’t sure why I wanted to cry.  Perhaps a final farewell to that life I thought I had with someone I thought was special.  Part of me felt grateful.  Those memories were precious despite AJ’s secrets.  I was able to relive them one more time.  I was able to remember how special love is.  Another part of me felt more closure.  I’ll never understand why AJ did what he did.  I’ll never be able to understand what his emotions towards me were.  I’ll never know if I was special and that’s why he had this box, or if I was just like the others, just one of his boxes.  But, I don’t need to know.

I followed the paper trail AJ left behind and it displayed who I am as an individual and as a partner.  Each note I wrote validated my feelings towards AJ and the value that I brought to the relationship.  Realness, truth and genuineness.  That’s me.

I finished my latte, carried the broken box to my car and when I returned home, I threw it out.  I didn’t need that box to tell me who I am.  Just like I didn’t need AJ for that.

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