Tell It Backwards, Because Hindsight Is Always Twenty-Twenty

I will put you in the box.

I write your name on a piece of paper. I write it twenty times. I take my disposable lighter to the paper, watch the flame, push it closer, then lose my nerve. I return the lighter to the drawer.

Into the box go the number of times I fall before I’ll learn to stop flinging myself over cliffs.

Into the box go the stunted relationships I’ll refer to as “situations.”

I dream that, one day, the box will be consumed by its own negative space and collapse in on itself. Or that someone will steal it. Or that I’ll lose it in a move, or have the nerve to throw it out.

I can’t remember the last time I put something into the box.

Into the box goes my realization that most of the box’s contents have to do with things lost.

Into the box goes my realization that the nicest things ever said to me were written by a boy I could never love back.

From the box, I take out everything and look through it again.

From the box, I take the list of boys and girls’ names and use them for characters.

Into the box go decisions that cast consequences like webs.

Into the box go connections whose origins I can’t trace.

Into the box go letters and cards from friends I am close to but will one day lose touch with.

Into the box go lessons learned the hard way.

From the box, I take the notebook papers that catalogue who I was and what I wanted from age eleven to eighteen. I am not surprised by how much has changed, nor by how much has not.

Into the box go the names of children I’m afraid I won’t have.

I open the box and set it before me with empty hands. He gave me nothing to put into it.

From the box, I take the piece of paper on which I’ve written the days of my first date (question mark) and my first kiss with the man I thought I’d marry, and on it, I write the day he breaks up with me.

From the box, I take the piece of paper that declares the occasion of my first date (question mark) with the man I think I’ll marry, and on it, I write the day he first kisses me.

Into the box goes a piece of paper on which I write the day of my first date with the man I think I’ll marry. I put a question mark next to the word “date” because I am not sure if I’m allowed to call it that.

Into the box go eight folded pieces of paper, one from each year from fifth to twelfth grade, on which I list things like my favorite color and food, my current celebrity crush and my goals. I do this because I believe, one day, I will want to remember these things. Because I believe, one day, I will care that I enjoy watching “Daria” and eating French fries and that I want to be an actress. Because I don’t yet know that all these lists will demonstrate is, on the one hand, how imaginative I am, and on the other, how little I think some things through.

Into the box goes my naivete and stupidity.

Into the box goes the photograph of me and the man I think I’ll marry.

Into the box goes a stack of twelve squares of blue paper on which I write essential aspects of my future grown-up life. I arrange the squares according to importance and paper-clip them in that order. On the back of the last one, I write a phone number I will one day not recognize, and why I write it there, I will also no longer recall.

Into the box goes a lesson on liars.

Out of the box, I take the “ghoul gram” my crush gave me, and I start to burn it with a disposable lighter because he kissed my best friend. But I lose my nerve after half an inch of paper blackens and curls, and back the paper goes into the box, with a charred bite taken out.

Into the box goes the Halloween “ghoul gram” I receive from my crush, who draws me cartoons and has a nickname for me whose origins I will one day forget.

Into the box goes a wrapper from a mint my ninth grade crush gives me between classes.

Into the box goes my wishful thinking.

Into the box goes the card signed, “Love always,” from a boy I will stop speaking to a month later.

Into the box goes a piece of paper on which I write a promise I will keep for the next ten-odd years, but I don’t bother to write the date.

Into the box go the keys to journals I will lose.

Into the box goes a torn, painted scrap from a sign I helped make for the last football game I cheered for in sixth grade. Folded into it is a note I write on Sanrio stationary, in cursive, declaring what the scrap is, in case I forget.

Into the box goes how early I learn to manipulate reality when it isn’t to my liking.

I have a box. I will fill it with memories. I make it when I’m eleven, when my biggest secret is a Valentine from a boy I don’t really like, but whom I pretend to like more than I do so I have something to put into the box.