Mary kept a box inside herself in which she kept all her unwanted memories.
It started when she was nine, on christmas day. After running into the lounge room to see what presents Santa had brought her she had slipped and hit her head, and so her parents had rushed her to the hospital. They’d spent the whole day in the waiting room only to be told she didn’t have a concussion, or need stitches, but rather just a bandaid and some pain killers. It had been the worst day of her short life, all brought upon by her over excited running and falling, and she’d made the decision that she didn’t want to remember it ever again.
She’d been in her bedroom at the time looking at the small wooden box where she kept all her stickers. The box had a small lock attached and so could be opened by no one but her, which meant the stickers only came out of the box when she chose. Why couldn’t she do that with her memories, she’d wondered, and so the memory box had been created.
At first it had resembled the sticker box exactly, but over time it had changed and grown, and, now at twenty nine, Mary envisioned her memory box as being made of walnut, gilded with gold and silver filigree that wrapped itself around the box’s exterior.
The locking mechanisms had been upgraded as well. In order to ensure no memory slipped out, or in, by accident, Mary had added layers of puzzles to the box that she had to navigate in order to allow herself to open and close it. She had to first mentally move the filigree in a specific order, which caused a chunk of wood at the front of the box to slide away, revealing a twenty five digit combination lock. Once the code was correctly inserted the lid would open revealing a second lid, engraved with an intricate jungle scene. A number of buttons were hidden in the scene which she would then have to press in a specific order. Finally, she would whisper a secret sentence to herself, and only then would the box open, and only for the length of time it took for her to stuff her unwanted memories inside.
The box worked perfectly. Ever since that day of its creation all those christmases ago, Mary hadn’t been able to recall her trip to the hospital; all she had in her head was a blank space and the knowledge that she’d hidden a memory away. Her parents had assumed she must have hit her head even harder than they’d expected, calling the doctor that had seen her a quack; but Mary knew the real reason was her memory box.
In the years that followed more and more memories had been added to the box. From the time in high school when she’d gossiped about her best friend Genevieve to the cool kids, sharing all her secrets, to the the time she’d gotten so drunk at a party in her third year of uni that she’d not only vomited a black-orange mix of sambuca and cheetos all over her soon to be ex boyfriend while trying to kiss him but had also broken the home owners dishwasher when she’d used it to wash her vomit covered dress, and then had finished the night by crying and screaming at all her friends until she’d passed out.
It wasn’t only youthful indiscretions she used the box for though, adulthood brought with it a score of memories that Mary cut out and locked away. The job interview she’d started crying in, the shame she’d felt when her ex, Alex, caught her cheating, the regrettable joke she’d made in front of the korean client her company had recruited, which had lead to her being fired, and another night of drinking, breaking things, and saying words that hurt the people who loved her most. Every one of these memories made it into the box, and once the lid was closed, Mary, happily, couldn’t remember them anymore.
Other people still did of course, but with the forced forgetting these people seemed callous and moody to the now unaware Mary, and inevitably, with her thinking them undeservingly rude and them thinking her unremorseful for her actions, the relationships ended.
Now she was having a problem, though. The box wouldn’t close.
She was sitting tearful and hurt in the small bathroom, her swollen eyes closed as she tried to force the box lid down. It refused. She had gone through the regular unlocking sequence without a problem, had mentally sawed away the unwanted memory and placed it in the box without issue, and yet when, in her mind’s eye, she tried to close it, the lid became jammed at the last moment. She furrowed her brow and tried again, imagining an invisible force pushing down on the lid. It refused to budge, as though something in there was blocking its way. It was ridiculous, Mary knew, the box couldn’t over fill. It was, in theory, infinite.
A pounding came from the other side of the bathroom door.
‘Mary,’ her dad cried. ‘Honey, let me in.’
She ignored him, leaning forward over her knees to stick her fingers in her ears and really concentrate on closing the memory box.
The problem was that with the lid open one of her past, forgotten, memories might slip out, and Mary couldn’t allow that. She needed this box closed, and she needed it closed now.
‘Mary,’ her father yelled again. ‘You’re not doing that thing again are you? That repression thing? Please, open the door. Or, at least, just talk to me.’
Mary clamped down on her sniffling externally while internally she pushed even harder on the lid of the box. It moved a fraction of a fraction downwards, validating her efforts. She gathered her resolve and pushed harder still.
A memory slipped out.
It was from when she was eleven. She’d been angry at her mum for refusing to buy the toy she wanted and so had instead secreted the toy into the pocket of her mother’s coat without her noticing. The plan had been to retrieve it once they were home but, as soon as her mother had stepped through the stores sensors, lights had flashed and alarms had rang. A security guard had approached her mother with all the zeal of a want-to-be-cop who had finally found a criminal and swept them both away into a tiny room in the interior of the shopping center. The man had been unnecessarily aggressive and suspicious of her mother even though it was obvious who the real thief was, and had kept them there for over an hour before finally letting them off with a warning and a demand that they pay for the toy. Her mother hadn’t said a word to Mary on the drive home, simply giving her a look of such disapproval and disappointment that made a sick feeling grow in her belly. When they’d gotten home all her mother had done was give her the toy and say, ‘here, you wanted this so bad you might as well keep it.’ Mary spent that evening in her room trying and failing to ignore the toy. Everytime she looked at it the sick feeling in her belly grew, until, of course, she’d decided to put the memory in her box. After that she’d played with the toy without a worry.
Now the memory swept out and escaped into the ether of her mind, re-affixing itself to where she had cut it from all those years ago. The action weakened her, made it harder to focus on closing the box, two decades worth of regret sweeping back in an instant. She knew if she didn’t close it soon more would escape, and so she gritted her teeth and continued pushing.
‘C’mon, you’re twenty nine, now. You can’t keep doing this.’ Her father said from the other side of the door. Mary felt the box close a little bit more.
A second memory escaped.
Mary, at sixteen, in full flight of a hormone and alcohol fueled rampage, yelling and screaming at her parents as tears and mascara dribbled down her cheeks. They had caught her sneaking back into the house through her window after leaving the same way earlier to spend the night with two friends and a boy three years older than her. The boy, Alessandro, had supplied the three girls with as much spirits as they could drink, and the night had become one of binge drinking and eventually fighting when it was revealed Alessandro had been making out with all of them. She’d come home angry and confused and when her parents had apprehended her she’d exploded in a rage she didn’t know she’d possessed, using all the knowledge she had of them to say the things she knew would hurt the most.
The memory shot away to return to its rightful place, but Mary kept pushing.
‘Say something to me,’ her father continued. ‘Don’t push me away. Don’t push this away.’
Mary screamed internally, forcing her well of mental strength to dip deeper, and used everything inside her to push down on the box. With a click the latch caught, and her memories were once more trapped inside. She felt immediately lighter, her tears slowing down as she allowed the emptiness to fill her.
‘Please, love,’ her father said. ‘I’m in pain too.’ And the box exploded.
Memories burst out like confetti inside of her, whipping around her mind in a tornado of pain and regret and sorrow. She threw her head back, eyes going wide, as she re-lived all the moments she had forced away for so long. Her tears came back in an instant, starting with a dribble and turning into a full downpour. Every mistake she’d made, every act of stupidity, and cruelty, and selfishness, found their way back to the appropriate dendrite, the cells flashing with renewed connection as Mary became whole.
One memory, the latest, the one that the box had been so resistant to close over, played inside her mind.
She’d been drunk again, passed out at a bus stop in the middle of the city when two police had found her. They’d looked in her phone for her parents number, and her mum had come to collect her. Her mother had given her the usual spiel from the driver’s seat, asking Mary why she could never learn from her mistakes, why she always pretended everything was okay, why she never talked to them about her issues. Mary had lashed out, swearing and screaming, demanding her mum pull the car over and let her out. Her mother had eventually capitulated, stopping not far from Mary’s apartment, and Mary had managed to stumble the rest of the way. Her mother never made it home. A sleep deprived truck driver had hit her as she entered the highway and she was gone before the ambulance had even arrived.
The next day Mary had slept through her father’s many phone calls. Awaking in the afternoon to read the messages and rush to the hospital, where, after finding out the tragic news, she’d locked herself in the bathroom and promptly opened her memory box.
Mary’s wailing caused a spike of panic in her father. It took him four tries until his shoulder burst the bathroom door open. Mary fell into his arms, apology after apology falling from her lips.
Six months later and the box was still gone.
On the advice of her therapist Mary had made a list, a physical one this time, on which she wrote down every one of the memories that had been locked away, all the parts of herself that she had cut off and hidden.
She’d been staying with her father ever since the accident, back in her childhood bedroom, and managed to find her old sticker box in the base of the wardrobe, hidden behind bags of clothes. She cut up the list into little strips of memories and placed them in the box. It would take time but she planned to make amends for every one of them.
She didn’t know if she’d ever get over the loss of her mother, or be able to forgive herself for her death, but she also knew that she was healing. Things made sense now, while shame and regret were not good feelings to have they allowed her to see the whole picture and work to not repeat the same mistakes.
She snapped the little lock off the sticker box and in thick black marker wrote on the lid;
MARY’S MEMORY BOX
(never to be locked again)
Thanks for reading