Monday, May 12, 2008

The Box

I must have been either ten or eleven. We had just moved into an enormous house. At least, it seemed enormous to me at the time. I drive past it on occasion now (it is no longer ours), and it doesn't seem so big anymore: just your average, suburban home. But I grew up in a little apartment above my father's dry goods store... so an actual house was something utterly alien to me. Yes, there was both an upstairs and a downstairs... but the downstairs was our living room and kitchen, not two rooms with registers and shelves and long rolls of fabric stretching out to infinity.

I read a lot back then, more than I do now. I had more time. These days, I'm occupied with school, work, friends, and occasionally family. I make time to read, but it's never quite enough. But when I was ten or eleven, I had all the time in the world. New house, new school, no friends. I didn't really try to make any friends, and I was a pretty dull new face... so nobody really approached me, either. I was fine with that at first. I didn't need other people, after all. I had my own thoughts, and others' words, and that was good enough.

That line of thinking didn't last me long. I became starved for attention, but I never, ever wanted to risk making a fool out of myself by reaching out at school. So what did I do instead? Why, what any lonely eleven-year-old will do when forced with this kind of dilemma: I grabbed a book, hid in my parents' closet, and waited for someone to realize I was missing. Then, from my handy hiding spot, I could listen to their despair, and just when they got ready to call the police, I would pop out from within: "It took you three hours to realize I was missing? REALLY? Three hours? Wow."

That's not exactly what actually happened. Instead, I spent about fifteen minutes reading in the confines of the closet before growing bored and deciding to search through my surroundings instead. Mostly clothes, and a few of my mom's romance novels (I always peeked into them because I knew they had these racy sex scenes, but I never could bring myself to read any of it until quite a few years later). But then... oh... what's this? I had stumbled upon what appeared to be a treasure trove: a box! But not just any box... this box was hidden away, pushed all the way back against the wall on the very top shelf. I only just managed to reach it by pushing together piles of clothing and climbing on top. As soon as I reached the box, all the clothing fell apart from underneath me and I came tumbling down, box clutched in grubby little hands. I dusted myself off and set down to open it, but... of course... it was locked.

I didn't wait for anyone to think I was missing. After fumbling with the locked box for a while, I gave up on opening it and left the closet, ready to return to the rest of my life. My mother was having coffee with a friend, and I wandered in and out of the kitchen, hazily commenting on my absence and trying to embarrass my mother in front of her friend. It didn't work, and that was that for a while.

I would often return to that box throughout the following months. It never occurred to me to try and pick the lock, and at one point I got so curious that I dragged it out right in front of my mom and simply demanded to know what was inside. She resolutely refused, and all I could get out of her was a bemused smile and the confirmation that I would never, ever get to see what was inside that box. So, I decided to give up. The mystery would remain unsolved forever - or so I thought.

At least a year after my initial discovery of the box (and perhaps longer... I can't be too sure about the time line), I was looking for something in my mother's closet. An old coat, maybe. In any case, I couldn't find the coat, but I did end up running into the mystery box again. I didn't think too much about it at first, until I noticed that something was actually poking out of it! That's right, the corner of what appeared to be a photograph was sticking out through the cracks in between the lid and the rest of the box. Apparently, someone had been a little hasty last time they took a peek, and then there I was, finally able to catch a glimpse of the elusive contents!

I sat down and placed the box in front of me. I would take my time. I had waited this long, I could extend this moment for as long as I liked. I would soon realize... well, here: I pulled the photograph out, and was horrified to see that it was my mother. But it wasn't the mother I knew. In this picture, she was much younger... laying in a bed... stark naked. Oh Christ. Oh Christ. I shoved the picture back into the box, as far as I could make it go, I tossed the box away haphazardly, I sprinted out of that closet (coat completely forgotten), and ran up to my bedroom to process this. My mother? Naked? What?

I still haven't told her that I figured out what was in that box. I'm afraid she might try and treat this as an opportunity to bond, and tell me about what else might be in that box. I love my mother dearly, but I have no desire to know anything at all about the events that led up to a photograph of her in a compromising position. I get it, you know, we are all sexual beings... my mother has every right to a sexual life... but hey, some things are just better left undiscussed, and the sex lives of our parents is most definitely always one of those aforementioned things.


Jayne said...

You just made me realize that I'm going to have to buy a lockable box soon, before my child-to-be grows old enough to get curious.

hm. It's going to have to be a big box...

Jumping Fences said...

They make lockable trunks, right?


Girl With Curious Hair said...

I don't think there is anything more irresistible to kids than a box with a lock on it. They're like giant invitations to snoop.

Mary said...

I am very much all about sexual expression. People should be comfortable enough to talk about these things easily....except for my parents. As far as I'm concerned I was conceived through divine conception.