I wipe the dust, with a hesitant brush of my fingers, from the green lunchbox. It has sat for over a year atop my bookcase where it was gently and reverently placed on my return from college. It still looks new. Emblazoned across the front is GI Joe: A Real American Hero, and although I am not fond of war, death, and much of what GI Joe stands for, I am fond of this Thermos-made lunch box. It was a gift from Suzanne. And, although she, too, was not keen on war, she felt I needed a lunchbox. This was the best she could find. And here it is, many months – almost a lifetime – later. I hear she is in love and happy and on the verge of the ultimate act, in my eyes: marriage. I once claimed marriage was very much like death – except worse, because you’re still alive.
I may have been very wrong.
When I open the box, I am taken back to the third grade. I can small the banana that has been roasting all morning. I can see the peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich on white Pepperidge Farm bread. The bread is hard with form, unlike Wonder Bread which always looks and tastes like sugary air bread. Who could ever see making a PB&J on a slice of air? But this box before me is clean and smells exactly like it did the day it was bought, exactly like the day Suzanne gave it to me. I do not remember the day she gave it to me. Was it my birthday? Or was it just a regular day that Suzanne made special with a gift, a smile, or a hug? All three were always treasured.
There was the time, after one of our luncheon rendezvous, when we were wandering through a drug store and bought magic pens with invisible ink. We were two college kids – and I place the emphasis on “kids” – who sent messages to each other in unseen writing. Ours was a relationship built on friendship and fun: of pinkie balls, collapsible dog puppets, invisible ink, and long talks. We were children in our innocence.
And children we remain. When we left college, we not only packed our bags and moved away, but we packed up and out of each other’s life. Now I can only sit, here in this place I call home, and think of the way it was. And I am reminded of the maxim a good friend once decreed on me: Things never were the way they were supposed to be. I can sit here now and conjure the vision of us together, basking in a self-indulgent glow at a restaurant, focused on each other as the bustle of the city passed around us. But can I – at this late hour, at this late time, with this silly lunch box – feel her, laugh with her, be with her? Almost, but not quite. It is a memory lacking form. It is like soft bread, full of air, lacking true substance.
Recently a mutual friend told me about their mutual stay in Rome. They were in Rome under the guise of studying and were to return home after six months. In those six months, they did their laundry as seldom as possible. And when they did the laundry, they would sort their clothes into piles – one pile, one washer. Our mutual friend had whites, colors, and darks. Three piles. Suzanne had just two: whites and blues. The whites were absolute highs – of which there were many. And then there were the blues – a melancholic intensity wrapped around her and anyone nearby.
Being quite enamored of both white and blue, I had a fine time.
And a fine time we both had, deep in the white folds of innocence. Of kisses, we never shared more than hellos and goodbyes. We never spent time enthralled in late night bodily passions. Oh, we shared passions, and we shared ourselves, but it was innocent, like children. We had not need for our bodies to find each other – although I thought of it more than once. And I can hope, at least, Suzanne did too. But in truth, I didn’t want to darken the white, destroy the innocence, and give up the child in us both.
I feared it could never be as good.
So now, many months and many miles later, I am left with a lunchbox full of images. I can hear her laugh rolling down the hall. I can see her eyes, brown and uncluttered like a newborn’s. And I can feel her touch, hesitant, soft with form and substance. It is the touch of a five-year-old on discovering the heart.
We were merely children, loving in a world not meant for children, loving in a world I did not understand. It was a love I did not understand.
Copyright 1985-2002 by Peter A. Stinson.
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry 360 with permission of the author.