When my dad moved two years ago, he gave me a shoebox labeled “Mo’s letters” in my handwriting. I put it in the trunk of Odie’s car and forgot about it.
Before our recent trip to the Bay Area, Odie emptied out his trunk to make room for our luggage, and the box ended up in my trunk. Today, I sorted through it curiously when I tossed in the kids’ backpacks and umbrellas. On top: street maps of the cities I visited in France in 1997, Metro tickets, and hotel receipts.
I went to France with my college boyfriend, Percival, whom I couldn’t wait to make my ex-boyfriend. It wasn’t just the name. I’d outgrown him like my belly button piercing. However, my graduation gift from my parents was a trip to France, and Percival surprised me with a plane ticket joining me. Neither of our tickets was refundable.
It made sense to finally put my French minor to some actual use beyond writing shallow midterms about Baudelaire’s “Parfum Exotique.”
As for the mementos in the box? Les Fleurs du mal, indeed.
What was in the box?
Pictures. Pictures of me looking unspeakably young and smooth-faced with full eyebrows that I’d kill or die for today. Did my neck ever look that long, elegant and tight? Not sure why I thought a blonde streak in my copper-penny-colored bob was a good idea, but bad hairdos are part of youth. My first dog, lying on my bed with a guilty face. My first cat. Both of them over The Rainbow Bridge now. Me and the college roommate who once opined that my therapy was clearly not working, and some snapshots of the “boyfriend,” Tiger, whose fault that was.
Tiger. He was so beautiful. I have a couple photos of him, mostly poor quality. It was as though he thought posing for a picture made him a legitimate part of my life. He’s blurry, frowning, turned away. I photographed the bouquet of flowers he bought me after I had surgery for cervical cancer (yellow roses). I also kept the card that came with them.
“Take care, Tiger.”
Let me go over that again, because you’re thinking, “Wait, that’s too fucked up. I must have misread it.” No, you didn’t. I was 23. I had cervical cancer. It required surgery. The man I loved and believed to be my boyfriend brought me flowers. They were yellow roses, which symbolize friendship. The card said, “Take care.”
And in case you’re wondering, no, I didn’t give him HPV, so he had no justification for being an emotionless cockbag.
I also saved a birthday card he gave me that year. “Happy birthday, Mo. You are 23 now. Do you feel old? Maybe not yet. I like the way things are going between us. Have fun at University of Where You’re Going to College. Tiger.” The way things were “going” between us was that I was moving over 300 miles away. And he liked that.
I’m kind of wondering how my girlfriends who had to listen to me whining, “What do you think he means?!” didn’t murder me.
Speaking of friends, other than the roommate who kept measuring me for a straight jacket in my sleep, I saved some pictures of my best friend back then. We’ve grown apart. It started over a guy and continued over years and miles. What a waste. Don’t worry, the guy wasn’t Tiger.
I kept a letter from Buckley, my ex from high school. It’s a single page, handwritten on college ruled filler paper. The letter says that I’m a bad person and he had no interest in being friends because he had a new girlfriend and didn’t want to upset her over “something so insignificant to me as a correspondence with you.” He was replying to my letter saying I had finally read a book by his favorite author and enjoyed it.
“You can read. Hurray for you. Now you can honestly say you aren’t completely worthless. Doesn’t make you a good person.” I saved this letter in a shoebox.
I also saved the letter I wrote to a girlfriend apologizing for sleeping with the boy she loved who didn’t love her back. The letter was dated 1996. She died a year later. I don’t know if my betrayal mattered in the end. Or if it means that Buckley was right about me. I like to think that I was just young. I was selfish and needy like a child and I used my thick eyebrows, smooth neck, and brightly colored hair to get the attention I mistook for love. I hurt people in the process and it sucks.
Don’t save mementos like this. Or if you do, never look at them. Leave them for your great-great grandchildren to burn for fuel during the zombie apocalypse.
Maybe give the mementos a quick once over to make sure your great-great zombie-fighting grandchildren don’t find the naked Polaroids. Give those to your husband, who never got to see your 23-year-old boobs. Something good needs to come out of this.