Saturday 22 Oct 2016

The Box
AJ Robinson

The box began its journey on 8 June 1991, a Saturday. I hate the fact I remember every detail of that day, that weekend. I drove down to pick up Jo Ann; we were heading to Naples, to visit my brother Greg and his family for the day.

"We were beginning to wonder about you," she said, as she opened the door to her apartment.

I blinked and cleared my throat, before telling her what happened. We sat for a few minutes, comforting each other, before heading to my car.

It was a beautiful day and an easy drive. It was great seeing Greg, Anne and the kids; life, family, the important things in this world. My nephew, Nick, wanted us to stay the night.

"You're staying!" he said. He had a habit of speaking with great force and determination. When he wanted his way, he made no bones about it!

"No," I said, simply.

On the drive back to Port Charlotte, to Jo Ann's apartment, she told me Anne, that's my sister-in-law, had asked why I seemed so sad.

Jo Ann told her. Anne was rendered speechless.

About a week later, the box was delivered to me. I think it was a week, the time is hazy, in my mind. I wasn't eating much and sleep came in small bundles, each punctuated with the taste of bile.

I was going to put the box on a shelf, but that seemed a cold, lifeless place. It deserved a warm, comfortable spot near the window. Not too close mind you, I didn't want it getting too much sun. Yet, I wanted it where I could see it each day. I set it on my dresser, a fitting place for such a treasure.

The apartment was very cold all that month, strange for Florida, and that time of year. I kept the television and stereo cranked up. I just had to drown out the silence from the kitchen. The click-click-click from the linoleum gnawed at my gut every time I didn't hear it.

Two months later, the journey north started. Jo Ann and I, in the car, on our way to Martha's Vineyard, in Massachusetts, the site of more joy and mirth and pure pleasure than I could ever hope to put into words. As we traveled, I remembered.

I remembered walks in the woods out behind the cottage.

I remembered learning to drive along Venice Beach, and getting stuck in the sand during a thunderstorm.

I remembered oh so many other identical trips. Driving along in dad's old VW square back, without air conditioning! A couple of days of us in that car would burn the hair right out of your nose.


I remembered cheap motels and counting down the, "South of the Border," billboards until we zipped right by it.

My dad had always said. "It's a no-good tourist trap and I'm not filling up my car with a lot of old crap."

"It's not old, Dad!"

"Well, then I'm not filling up my car with any new crap either."

I remembered lunches at McDonalds, filet-o-fish for dad.

I remembered car trouble in South Carolina, every year! I was convinced it was the South's revenge against us Damn Yankees.

I remembered stops in New Jersey, to see David and his family. Aja, she was my darling; the cutest, sweetest little niece. One smile from her, and the clouds parted within my soul. To this day, I remember the first time I saw her. She was just a baby, barely walking and it was a tough time in my life.

After mom and dad divorced, and they sold the house and moved away, life had turned cold and vacant for me. Primitive concepts, such as love, had caused me nothing but pain. So, as a defense mechanism, I purged myself of emotions. I bundled them up, tied them up tight and sealed them away in a closet of my mind. I figured, if I don't feel love, if I don't feel a connection to anyone or anything, I can never be hurt again. Plus, being the new kid in school was miserable, especially being a New England boy in the Deep South!

And here I was, sitting on the floor with Nancy, David and Aja, and she toddled up to me, put her tiny arms about my neck and gave me the warmest hug ever. That was it. At that moment, the coldness left my soul, my heart beat once more and I felt love. For that, I shall always be grateful to her.

Finally, we reached the Vineyard, and more memories flooded my mind: sailing; running together on the beach; flying kites, in Ocean Park, fun and games at the "Valley " - his favourite spot - and the old sand pit.

Next to an old oak, among a cluster of mint plants, the box ended its physical journey. The pollen must have been very thick that day, my eyes were watery. I had a terrible tickle in my throat.

I whispered, "Until we meet in the next dimension." There was an emptiness within me that threatened to pull my soul out of my body.

Jo Ann stood, with me. She asked if I wanted to take a walk or go into town. Somehow, all those places were alien to be now, cold and distant. All had lost their flavor, their spice. The world had changed.

No, not the world, but me. I saw things in dull, muted colors and a background of itchy static now filled the air; except for Jo Ann. She still shone like the North Star, bright and clear. And just as Polaris had guided wandering sailors home, so she was a beacon for me.

We went back to the cottage and shared a glorious moment of creation. It's funny, but the world seemed just a little closer to normal afterwards. A few days later, came an even greater upheaval, came Hurricane Bob! It was as if an answer, to the rending of my soul, nature torn the island apart. Massive trees that had stood for centuries were snapped like twigs, boats were tossed miles inland, power lines looked liked braided strands of licorice and some homes were stomped to the ground.

We all took refuge in my brother, Steve, in his house. Then even more dark news: there'd been a coup in the Soviet Union! The KGB and the military had taken over and Gorbachev had been arrested and was missing. What was happening to the World? As the power died, we were left to wonder: was this it, was someone going to get an itchy trigger finger and push the button? The World's unraveling seemed to match mine.

Once the storm had passed, the sun returned, but it was still pretty chilly, a strange thing for the Island in August. And the Soviets, they showed the true meaning of the phrase "Power of the People," they brought the military to its knees and restored their President.

We spent the remainder of our stay living by candlelight, and Jo Ann and I took a drive around the Island to see the aftermath for ourselves. What a mess. I had to laugh. My guts, my soul seemed as torn up as all the things around me, and I couldn't help but wonder: were they all connected? I dismissed that idea. After all, how could a tiny incident in my life, a small unhappiness of mine affect anyone or anything? Who was I in the grand scheme of things that anything in my life was important?

No, these were separate events, unrelated to me and nothing significant would be the result. A couple years later, Jo Ann and I returned, with our daughter Alexa. She was a tiny thing then, still in diapers. Standing next to a certain oak, she pointed at the ground. "Doggie sleeping," she said.

The hairs on the back of my neck stood straight up. I had never spoken of Rex, my faithful friend. "What did you say?"

"The doggie is sleeping," she said.

I got down on one knee next to her and smiled. "Yes, Alexa, he is," I managed to say. Damn the pollen was thick that day.

In the years to come, it always troubled Jo Ann when Alexa would get down on all fours and bark and act like a dog. I told her not to worry. I did it, all kids do it, it's part of being a kid.

After all, it's not like it means anything.

It's not connected to anything else.

Is it?

Click here for more by AJ Robinson.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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