I went to the mailbox today and found a package. Before I opened the parcel I already knew what was inside. And it brought my whole life back in a moment.
Sometimes, my memory can be foggy. But sometimes it can be remarkably clear. On rare occasions I can remember everything.
Like the first time I went to the fair. My old man took me to ride the carnival rides with my cousin. We paid our tokens. The glorious rides only lasted a blazing ninety seconds. They were so surprisingly short that you felt cheated at the end.
Or the way I once told Eleanor Nelson I liked her, by giving her a ceramic sculpture I made in art class. A figurine of two people paddling a boat.
“What’s this?” said Eleanor.
“It’s two people in a boat, what else?”
“Is that supposed to be me?”
“I look like I fell into a bee’s nest.”
“You mean a hive.”
“Technically, bees don’t have nests, they have hives.”
“You’re a dork, you know that?”
I remember my first taste of corn liquor—and I’m not making this up. My friend’s father let me take a sip at a Church of God barbecue. I was visiting. The old man’s name was Mister Travis, but everyone called him Big T.
After one tiny sip, I knew why Big T always spoke in tongues at Little League games.
My wedding ring, I remember buying it. We went to the jewelry store to pick out rings. The man behind the counter had white hair and an accent that was pure Alabama. He greeted us with:
“Well look at this pair of lovin’ younguns.”
Now there’s a little gem of a phrase.
The honeymoon my wife and I took, I’ll always remember that. It was one for the books. I had never been to Charleston before, and I certainly never thought it was possible to spend that much money in seventy-two hours.
I will never forget how my wife tutored me through high-school courses and college-level math classes. Math doesn’t register in my brain. I won’t forget how close my wife came to murdering me over the simple concept of My Dear Aunt Sally.
I can’t forget our almost fatal car wreck on the interstate. Nor the way my wife said, “I love you,” the exact moment we crawled from the crumpled Ford truck.
Neither will I forget the day I walked across a community college stage and accepted a slip of paper with my name on it, or the way my wife clapped in the audience.
I will never forget receiving a letter in the mail telling me that a small essay I wrote had been published.
You get a little fatter with the years, and the lines on your face get deeper. And certainly, you change inside, too. But you are forever a child, even if you’re an old one, and you remember it all—even when you aren’t thinking about it. It’s all there.
Your first kiss in the choir loft, and how disappointing it was compared to the movies. And Mary Ann Oliver’s breath, it tasted like orange-flavored bubble gum. You hated orange-flavoring, ever since the doctor gassed you with orange-flavored laughing gas and you woke up the next morning with no tonsils and wearing a buttless hospital gown.
You will never forget when your mother placed a fifty-dollar bill in your hand on the day of your wedding and said:
“I know it ain’t much, but have a good time in Charleston.”
Your mother was a woman who didn’t have fifty dollars to spare, but gave it anyway.
You won’t forget the woman who has been beside you, cheering you on, who calls herself your wife.
And, you will always remember today. Right here. Right now. At the mailbox. A March morning. Sunny. Humid. Birds singing. Your dogs nearby, playing in the tall grass.
The package, crammed into your small Postal-Service-approved cavern.
You cut it open with your pocket knife. Inside is a copy of your first full-length novel.
Your name is on the cover.
That’s when everything floods your memory. Every millisecond. The people who loved you, who convinced you that you were special.
You remember kindred souls who said your name with affection, instead of just saying your name. People who took time to teach you to change your own motor oil, how to do your taxes, how to cook breakfast, how to play guitar, and how to be a man.
These people must’ve known something. They must’ve seen you for who you were, instead of who you weren’t.
Yeah, it’s only a novel, but you were the one who wrote it. And when you hold it, you realize this is more than just paper and ink. This is everything. This is your life. And it’s taken you a long time to learn to love it. Too long.
You only get to enjoy the carnival ride once, and it is so surprisingly short.
Thankfully, love isn’t.