Memphis, TN – November 23, 2012
I peel the strip of hot-pink-zebra-striped tape away from the padded envelope. Socks. Iowa Hawkeye socks. Black and yellow like the soil and corn on the fields. The ones Gesh and Junkfood bought for me to keep my feet warm. The ones Lulu stole for a chew toy a day later.
And a bag of M&Ms like the ones in that little bowl of candy, the ones that disappeared every night I was in Tipton, Iowa, disappeared until I shamefully went to the store and bought more, pouring them into that little bowl until it was full.
And a note.
“Remember to turn left after New Orleans,” it says.
A box from Colorado. Gingerbread biscotti, chocolate-dipped macaroons, peanut butter squares. Homemade. Stacked neatly in Tupperware with a slice of bread to keep them fresh.
And two boxes of Icy Hot.
“Pain relief for sore muscles,” the box says.
A postcard from the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado falls out from between two bags of Twizzlers.
“My favorite place in Colorado!” an arrow says, pointing to the description of the San Luis Valley on the back.
I flip it and stare at the dunes lit in sunlight backed by black mountains. My mom was born there and I’ve never been. I must go. There are so many places I must go.
A third box gives orders.
“TOP! Open this side up. Yes!” it says.
Tiny packages wrapped in beautiful paper printed with tulips, waves, and apron clad figures lifting dumbbells and diving off cliffs.
A wooden charm slips out of an envelope of folded wrapping paper. A note falls with it.
“Nyaminyami the Zambezi River God,” it says. “To keep you safe on your journey.”
I unwrap two persimmons and a pomegranate with a note taped to its skin.
“This pomegranate is from the tree near my house and persimmons are my favorite!” it says. “Eat them cut up like apples. Yummy.”
I can almost hear her my friend’s voice in the ink. She feels close.
Squares of cardboard wrapped with twine. A letter written on filing cards and cut pieces of a magazine. I read it with hunger. I eat every word and stare at the glossy pictures underneath them. A lonely road, a woman in sunglasses, legs on a beach, a silver plane with a red nose flying through the sky. Somehow they are perfect.
I stare and wonder. I imagine the glue and scissors. I run my fingers over the cards along the same lines that my friend ran hers.
There are two poems glued to cardboard. I think of an ex-girlfriend, one I loved.
She claimed to be a poet, but I don’t know if I believe her because she didn’t like dancing and broke up with me because she thought I loved the Grand Canyon more than her. She was right, of course, but she’s never been to the Grand Canyon so she doesn’t understand.
The first lines of black ink wash another piece of her away. Not much is left anymore. Not after months along the curves of the Mississippi.
I disappear into the white paper. I read each line. I read it again. I say the words out loud because they are my friend’s words and they bring her close.
I flip through the pieces of cardboard, the filing cards and magazine squares. I notice a fortune, pulled from a cookie and glued for me to find.
“You have a strong instinct to take care of the people you love,” it says.
I fold together the cards and cardboard, the letter, the postcard of the Sand Dunes I must visit and tie them all together with the piece of twine. I slip it next to my journal to carry where I’ll always be able to look in the darkest moments to see a glimmer of light.
“They take care of me,” I say.