This rarely used closet in an awkward corner of the converted attic bedroom was last on the list to pack. Seems like all it held was clothes of another era, dust, single shoes, and lost paperclips.
Hangers squeak on the old rod, and puffs of dust light up the sunbeams sneaking in through cracks like muted glitter. In the back corner, there’s a surprise. A dusty, worn shoe box with blue, green, and red stripes and a far too faded to read brand logo. It draws me like a magnet, and a moment later I’ve settled on the floor, and gently lifted the lid.
I don’t remember the box, nor have any suggestion as to what the contents are, but this feels important. Important enough to take time away from this difficult move, into a new, uncertain life that could lead us anywhere.
A postcard on top catches my eye, layered in fine dust, edges worn, a clear, gorgeous blue lake. My breath catches in my throat, and I know if I turn over the card, there will be a note to myself from the summer of my thirteenth year, telling myself all about my favorite crush, the deep water and my first bikini, scrawled in fading ball point pen. But all I can do is dive into the senses that surround me.
Smells of dust, heat, and abandoned clothes fade, replaced by thick pine perfume, campfire smoke, and damp lake water air. A little jetty sticks out into a deep blue lake, the expanse of water broken at the edges in ring of dark trees, with light sandy shore beneath them. Directly across from me, as I stand in the sand with bare feet and scratches on nearly every bit of my skin, is a cliff face of yellows, reds, and darker stains of the tougher plants clinging to its surface.
I knew if I crossed the water in the sometimes leaky metal rowboat, I’d find a huge old tunnel cutting through the cliff face, with some abandoned machinery that worked to create it in rubble at the bottom. I wasn’t allowed to go there, but sometimes I’d sneak out with older high school kids, following my crush, my face burning every second. Hoping to be noticed and yet stay invisible all the time I spent following them.
The sky above me is blue, covered in cloud whisps and dotted with birds flying high and slow, or darting low to play with each other in gusts.
Just as I’ve adjusted, amongst memory or reality or something else the muggy summer heat shifts before my eyes, instead bringing the smell of fog rolling across the lake in early morning stillness, a coffee mug steaming on the edge of the jetty, cool crispness of autumn, and sounds of shuffling leaves falling. A soft sweater wraps around goosebumped arms, and this time my feet are sinking into thick, dewy cold grass.
This isn’t memory. I hadn’t been back to the lake in years, and even then it was always summer. Tears stream down my face as shrieks of children’s laughter float to my ears, and my heart swells when the water breaks by the jetty and my love’s head surfaces. Before I can make out the face in the vision, I’m sitting back in the dusty attic room.
My face wet, my body trapped in stiff denim and a thin tank top pressed against sticky skin. My lover stands in the doorway, watching me, knuckles to door frame, worried. The faded post card in my hand, light and simple. Looking down it’s only paper and ink, no longer the journey to come.
My love kneels beside me, kissing the top of my head and pulling me into warm arms. I curl into those arms, tucking my nose against my lover’s throat, smelling faint tinges of earth and tree sap.
“I think I know where I want to go, to stay,” I say quietly, smiling.
A gentle hand wipes the tears from my cheek, a contented face returning my smile. “I can’t wait to find out.”