By Amelia Brett
I carefully slide the lid off as I lounge on my bed. A small tan box of nostalgia with a smooth surface sits in my lap. I run my fingers across the striped sides and over the label that says “Keys to the Past.” The elastic band that keeps it sealed lays beside me.
When I was younger, I used containers like this to store small mountains of clear plastic beads in vibrant pinks, blues and greens. Polished rocks dug out from the ground became my treasures. I’m 21 years old now. The inside of the box rustles just as when I first used it, except now it holds something else.
I unfold a piece of paper with my own handwriting in black ink. It’s not written, but I remember the date: December 13, 2015.
My fiancé’s name and phone number accompany one of my first German words: nacht,
with a small moon next to it. I felt like I could blink and be there again, learning about this new person in and having no idea I’d end up being in a long-distance relationship with him for over two years.
We first exchanged messages until 2 a.m. (my time) as I sat in bed. For him, in Germany, it was seven in the morning. He had sent a message to me over Facebook, and I figured it wouldn’t hurt to answer. Over the next three days, the paper on my nightstand became filled with notes about someone I hadn’t met in person yet. By the end of that week, I folded it away into my drawer as my first piece of him.
It was almost a month before my 19th birthday. I had recently read an East Asian legend about an invisible red string that connects two people despite distance or circumstances. Supposedly, that string is always there, and they are meant to meet. After a month of talking, our thread wasn’t stretched so far. He flew over in January that year.
I wanted something I could see, so I created a path with each object I saved from our time together over the next two years. These pieces of our past were something I could revisit in between visits with him.
The scent of Chanel perfume reaches me as I lift the small bottle from the corner. Two pieces of wrapping paper become visible from underneath.
I was sitting on my couch when he first handed the bottle to me. He sold his bike to buy the airline ticket for his trip that January. We missed celebrating Christmas, so we exchanged packages in my living room the night we first met in person. I cradled it in my palm and tried to preserve it.
It’s still not empty.
A round paper wrapper in a newsprint pattern sticks out from the box. I lift it up. It’s about as wide as my hand.
I focus on his handwriting on it in blue ink: “My last cookie.”
I used an art knife like a surgeon to remove the packaging and preserve it. I spent three days eating small sections of the cookie, because I didn’t want to see it disappear after he his first visit ended. It was double chocolate.
As I separate notes, a red foil heart is partially covered at the bottom.
Our first Valentine’s Day was spent apart. I came home from class and unpacked the strawberry chocolate bar I saved from him from his trip over in January. It melted in my mouth as I tried to ignore the calendar days in my head. We were dating two months. I remembered how animated he was in person as I saw his face on my screen. I told him I loved him. It wasn’t the first time or the last.
A boarding pass with water and ink stains catches my eye.
24 May. Charlotte, NC to Frankfurt. Departs 4:35 p.m.
My first time flying, he flew back to the U.S. to accompany me to Germany.
I stayed at his family’s apartment in a city called Mainz, located 30 minutes from Frankfurt. The area is best known for its wine. The cobblestone roads and mix of old and new architecture with pastel colors downtown gave the atmosphere of a postcard. We had been together for five months, and I was just beginning to experience his home life. I spent three months there. I fell off his mother’s bike twice while riding it in the city, grew accustomed to buses and missing my stops, and tried to resist letting my roots grow too fond of the new soil. I laughed with him about the European police sirens sounding broken and cried when I knew I’d have to leave.
Brittle rose petals from a six-month anniversary I spent with him during that first summer lay scattered on the bottom of the box.
Everything is stained with the scent of the flowers, including the paper where I first wrote his name.
One separate rose stays preserved as a dark dusty red. However, it isn’t from the anniversary bouquet. It has a place tied to it of its own.
It was hot, probably mid-June during my first visit to Germany. Small houses lined the streets of Bretzenheim, a town about 30 minutes from his home, as I walked with him. Everything was silent. Rain started dancing off the pavement, so we ran along the stone walls until we reached a large canopy of leaves. We took cover there.
The drops melted into the ground, then stopped falling. As we found our way back home, he picked a rose off from over a gate and put it in my hair. Time made it smell sweeter.
I look down into the box, and an empty packet of tea lays looking out of place.
He brewed a cup for me whenever I didn’t feel well. Three days before I had to leave that first summer, I wasn’t able to eat anything. Peppermint helped, but now it tastes like waking up early to catch a plane with knots in my stomach.
I gently set everything back inside, and pick up the lid to close it again. I’m careful not to crush anything.
I look down at my hand and realize my ring is already a year old. My next flight date is May 15.