by William Gaughan
The heaviness of the shoebox reminded me that it no longer housed its original contents; the fine sheet of dust, evidence of its solitude.
I knew that the box contained pictures; pictures that would be standing on edge and packed tightly, testing the seams of the receptacle. I expected to open a box of memories; memories that would be told out in frozen moments—fractions of a second meant to capture a smile or a posed scene—moments that I could use as I saw fit, to reminisce over or to put aside; pictures that could tell a story, a story open to my interpretation, a chance to recall what I wished and perhaps rewrite history, if only for the day. That is what I expected to find. I knew this because they were packed away by me more than 10 years ago.
In this time capsule of images, sandwiched among the well preserved young faces was a twice-folded piece of letter-sized paper—unremarkable by all accounts—just a short note written in haste by my own hand. The content of the note was short and the words alone harmless; one could easily dismiss them as a casual communication left to a spouse on any given day. The note read, “You know where I am and you know why l had to go. I will be in touch when I can and home as soon as possible. I love you” So quick and powerful were the feelings that this dated message rendered they overrode any emotion conjured up by the photos. I realized that in the few seconds it took for me to write those words, my world and the world we all knew had been changed forever. The note had a date on it: September 11, 2001.
I refolded the note along the same lines that had kept it silent all these years. I found a picture of myself in my Fire Department uniform posing with two other firemen. I tucked the picture into the fold of the note and replaced it in the shoebox. I slid the memories back under my bed and, for the second time, said goodbye to the men in the picture.