Messages from People I Used to Know

My desk upstairs is where stuff accumulates, stuff that was once important to me that I’m not quite ready to cast away. Piled on top and underneath are boxes, binders, bags, frames, and old laptops. Next to the desk is a Nintendo Wii in its box. Next to it is a Sega Genesis. Some of this stuff migrated from closets to this more visible, yet out of the way spot. Each bit of flotsam is anchored by sentiments and memories hidden beneath the surface. Clinging to the stuff is a physical manifestation of clinging to the sentiments; if it were merely a pile of garbage, I would have dumped it all years ago. The desk itself is included in this limbo. My mom bought it for me when I got my first job and moved into my first house in 2004. I never liked the thing. The piece that connects the left legs to the keyboard tray assembly shattered two moves and over one decade ago. The wound wasn’t enough to kill it, only enough to make it wobbly. It’s dark-stained veneer on particle board, too big, too heavy, and too fussy for my taste. I wouldn’t have picked it out for myself in a million years, but, my mom did and I know she paid a lot of money for it, and so it sits, literally undergirding the rest of the stuff.

Yesterday morning, I opened a box on the desk labeled “T-Desk”. When my wife labeled this box back in 2007, in preparation for our move to our first house in the Indianapolis area, “T” stood for “Tony”, but “Time Capsule” is more appropriate. It is a box on a desk containing the contents of a different desk from another time an place. The items were from yet an earlier era. In it were ticket stubs from IU football and basketball games from the late 1990’s, a stuffed buffalo my mom bought me from a trip she and my dad took to South Dakota in 1996, a jade Quan Âm necklace blessed at the temple I attended as a child (also a gift from Mom), my student IDs from college and graduate school, my hospital volunteer ID, my badge from my days where I worked as the dorm computer guy, and contact info from people I forgot I knew. Almost nothing in this was contemporary to the time of packing. Most of it was stuff I was clinging to for reasons I’ve long forgotten (buried?) Going through this box feels like looking through a telescope pointed at a distant corner of the universe and seeing the light from things that are long gone. Through the box, I glimpse the anxious, emotionally-wrecked boy headed to college over 20 years ago and the young newlywed man learning how to be loving 10 years ago. They are not me, yet I am of them.

In the box were some photographs. One was a family portrait of my brother, sister-in-law, and their two sons. Three were just of those nephews. There were also four high school senior pictures with messages to me written on the backs. Why did I keep these, and in a desk drawer? At this point, the friendships we had are more a product of my imagination than of memory. I haven’t spoken with any of them in decades. Two of them are current Facebook friends. Two are not. Two are distant due to continental drift. Two are distant in part due to more cataclysmic events. Our younger selves were friends, whatever that means when you’re 16. Our current selves are strangers. They wrote:

  1. Tony, Hey T-Bone! You’re a really funny guy. I’m glad I know you! Never forget speech class! Good luck in the future! Stay out of trouble! See ya in 10! =)
  2. Tony, So how’s band? You’re a great guy, a little strange at times, but not scary strange, just strange. Best of luck in life at high school! It’s been fun! =)
  3. Tony, What can I say that hasn’t been said… Nothing.
  4. Tony, In the immortal words of Socrates “I drank what?” Try not to quote old dead people while you’re in the frat house, Kay? Good. Keep in touch!

I have long forgotten speech class, but now I’m curious.

Photo: The Pillars of Creation, which are long destroyed by a supernova, but will be visible for another thousand years or so. At that time, the light from their destruction will reach Earth. Credit: NASA, Jeff Hester, and Paul Scowen (Arizona State University) –, Public Domain,

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