The Box: A Short Story

A while ago, I was thrown into The Box. There’s nothing inside of it. It has a door, four walls, a ceiling, and a floor. No lights. No windows. No furniture. No blankets. Just a room. A dark fucking room.

The Box.

Initially, I thought it was completely opaque. When they first threw me in here, I couldn’t see anything. It was like looking into a vacuum. After a while, though, I noticed a faint glow coming from the doorway. Light, seeping in from the outside world. It’s dim, but it’s there, and it’s just enough to allow me to see some of my surroundings, or to at least let me imagine that I’m seeing some of my surroundings.

For example, the walls and the floor aren’t smooth. I can run my fingers across them and feel patterns. When the light from the doorway is on, I can vaguely see images. I’ve named a couple of them. Right next to the door is Vanessa. She’s pretty. Great hair, with eyes that appear or disappear depending on where in The Box I’m looking at her from.

Over on the right-hand side of The Box, there’s Sam. He doesn’t have a lot of detail, but he’s there. I see his eyes and a baseball cap.

When it’s dark and they’re not there, I’m not sure if they’ve gone elsewhere or if I simply can’t find them.

I don’t know if Vanessa and Sam talk about me, but who really knows these kinds of things. I’m not that important. Whatever the case, they’re good listeners. Or at least they used to be.

The floor is scattered with stuff. Most of it, mine. Well, I guess all of it is mine, the entire Box, but when I say that most of it is mine, I mean that it came from me, out of me, and none of it is what you’d call hygienic.

It smells in here. It must. It has to. I’ve been in The Box so long, I only know its smell, and to me, it’s neither good nor bad. It’s just the smell of my reality. But I know how awful it must be.

Vanessa and Sam, they judge me, my smell. Probably my appearance, too. I have to look a tragedy, and they must want to get away from me. This is why I wonder if they leave when it goes dark, if they depart for elsewhere, wherever elsewhere is. I know I’d leave if I could.

Hah. Whatever. No I wouldn’t. I had a chance once. After dinner delivery one night, the door didn’t close all the way or the lock didn’t engage or something like that, and so much light pushed into The Box that it blinded me. Seconds later, it went out, but the door…it remained open. And it stayed open. That’s when I realized that whomever was keeping me here had left for the night, and they hadn’t locked me in.

I sat there forever. Was it a test? Were they testing me? My loyalty? My resilience? I stood up, and my right hand traced the door while my left hand traced the door frame. I pushed, and it opened as wide as it possibly could.

I looked ahead, and the only thing I saw was the night sky. I don’t know where it was, but it didn’t matter. The door was open.

I looked behind me.

“Sam, are you there?”

Sam didn’t answer, so I called out to Vanessa.

“Vanessa. Hey, Van? Are you there?”

She, too, remained quiet.

I sat back down on the floor, keeping one hand on the door and the other on the doorway. I didn’t know what to do. Ever since entering The Box, all I had ever dreamed of was leaving it. But now that I had a chance to do just that, I froze.  

In the background, I could hear Vanessa and Sam whispering. I’m not sure what they were saying, but it didn’t seem very nice.

A tear rolled down my face. Then another. Not long after, I realized I was sobbing.

They found me the next morning, passed out between the door and the door frame. Someone used their boot to roll me back into The Box, and I woke just in time to hear the door locking behind me. I looked at Vanessa and then at Sam. I can’t tell you that I saw them laughing at me, but I knew they were. Just knew it. Assholes.

I spent the next so many hours using my nails to try and scrape them away. To make them disappear. All that earned me was bloody fingertips.

My relationships with both of them, they’ve never recovered. I hear them talk with one another, but they ignore me, and I ignore them.

I don’t know how long I’ve been in here now, and I guess it doesn’t really matter anymore. The Box. It’s my home. It’s where I live. I’m not sure I’ll ever get out.

I’m not sure I want to.  


Will here: Memory is funny. Initially, the two wall people in the room with our guy were named Alice and Sam. It bugged me. That was a combination of names I knew, but I couldn’t pinpoint from where. I played with this for days, until one day the following lyric from the Beastie Boys’ song Shake Your Rump popped in to my brain:

“I’m like Sam the Butcher bringing Alice the meat, like Fred Flintstone driving around with bald feet.”

And that’s when it hit me: I knew Alice and Sam from The Brady Bunch. (And from Shake Your Rump, apparently.)

That little bit, my brain trying to pair those two names together, made me chuckle.

Happy 80th, Dad.

Yesterday, August 14, 2021, would have been my dad’s 80th birthday. What an achievement it would have been. If you had asked me in the year 2000 what I thought his odds of hitting 70 were, I would’ve said they were low. Incredibly low. I might have even used the word “impossible.” The dude persisted, though; through so many ups and downs and health issues, he defied the odds. Over the years, there were times when I was sure my siblings and I were going to lose him. Absolutely 100% sure. And then he’d somehow rebound, and a week later he’d be sitting across from you, cigarette in hand, no less, giving you shit for some nonsense reason while you just shook your head in awe at his resilience.  

I wish I had had the opportunity to bring him a Danish yesterday. Hell, I probably would’ve brought four of them. Six. I would have loved to have been able to wish him a happy birthday, to talk about the Phillies and whether their luck would hold, and to just marvel at him.

Maybe we would’ve hit up breakfast at his favorite diner, but more likely I would’ve spent part of my time with him explaining why, yet again, going out to eat inside a restaurant isn’t exactly something we should be doing in the era of Covid. He would’ve snarled and barked and called me names, and I probably would’ve gotten annoyed at him, but all that would’ve been okay. He would’ve still been here.

I would’ve gladly listened to his never-ending (and oftentimes incredibly repetitive) stories about the different Delco “legends” he grew up with, and maybe I would’ve held my tongue and given him a pass for somehow smearing food across his mouth. I would’ve celebrated him, laughed with him, and told him that I loved him.

80. It would’ve been a big one. It was a birthday he had earned the right to celebrate.

If you were talking with me after he was diagnosed with Covid and placed on a ventilator, everything I’m saying above may sound like complete 100% bullshit. And I’d get that, I would understand that reaction, because when he got sick, I have to be honest, I didn’t want him to survive it. He had fought his illness for so long, for more years than I really know. He had been unable to walk or even stand without support for decades. Every single motor function was disappearing. Every single fucking day was a chore.

When he left us in April, I know that it was his time. I know that he was better off dying when he did (though I’ll always hate HOW he died). I know that completely.

Yet, here I am, being selfish, wishing that I had gotten a chance to celebrate with him one more time.

Fucking hypocrite.

So, because I didn’t get a chance to do that, I celebrated him in ways I could. Upon waking, I walked into the living room, where his ashes have been resting since his passing, and wished him a happy birthday. I talked with him for a bit, and then after walking the dogs around the neighborhood, I came back, placed his urn into a backpack and took him for a hike around the trail system at the end of my cul de sac.

Weird, I know. Can’t say I ever imagined THAT happening, but it did.

And you know what? It was fucking fantastic, because it was something I wish I had been able to do with him while he was alive but never could. Yesterday, though, we did it. We hiked together. I talked with him, out loud, the entire time. I told him that I loved him and that I missed him deeply. I told him that I was struggling for many reasons, and that his absence in my life was one of the major ones. I described the depression I’ve been experiencing.

As we walked, I also described the trail. I showed him Indian Orchards and identified the turn to Linvilla. I told him where it usually gets muddy, where things looked different, and I told him (while being completely out of breath) how much I hated the final hill that takes us back up to the street.

If anyone had seen me, I’m not sure what they would’ve thought, because there I was, hiking and chatting with someone who wasn’t there. But, you know what, at 6:30 in the morning, the only people on the trail where him and I. After 30 minutes, it was time to head back home. I was hot and sweaty and did not want to start sweating through the backpack and soiling the urn.

The things you fucking do sometimes, right? I mean, who thought I’d ever type THAT sentence?

After we got back, I opened up a pack of scrapple, and cooked it just like he would have: thin, with crisp browned sides while maintaining just a little bit of mush in the middle.  Beth, Squirt and I sat down (with Squirt passing on the scrapple) and we ate our breakfast in his honor.

Perhaps the only thing missing was a Danish or four. Or six.

Earlier in the week, I did something I absolutely know, for sure, he would’ve hated. I got a tattoo in his honor.

Back when he was initially diagnosed with Covid, I had an appointment set up with my guy Steve at Black Moth Tattoo and Gallery in Ardmore. But because I was in an isolation room with Dad for a few hours, I quarantined in a hotel for a week. That same week, I was scheduled for a tattoo session with Steve. So I rescheduled. This past Wednesday, I finally sat for the session. And because of the rescheduling, I was able to ask Steve to add one more tattoo into the mix, and he graciously obliged.

My dad loved the beach. One of his favorite spots in the world was the observation deck of The Stockton Inn in Cape May, New Jersey; he’d sit out there with his siblings and talk and chat and laugh and love, and he’d sit out there all by himself and people watch.

He would often ask us to take him down. And we did, for quite a few years, but about 10 years ago his body just wasn’t able to handle the stress of being away from his apartment anymore. His experiences, and ours, became absolutely miserable, and after getting back into the apartment he’d swear that never wanted to leave it ever again.

But then a year or so would go by, and he’d start asking, “Hey, kid, what if I paid for a week at The Stockton this year? What about renting a house?”

It broke my fucking heart, year after year, to say no, to deny him that joy, because while he may have forgotten how horribly his body reacted to being away from home, I didn’t. I remembered.

Without going into unnecessary details, I just couldn’t take him down anymore. Just could not do it. Instead, when he would bring it up, I was stuck breaking his heart by denying such an easy wish to grant for someone even remotely healthy.

So, what did I do this week? I got a tattoo of an empty wheelchair on the beach at water’s edge. Cause, yeah. I miss him. And I wish I could’ve done more for him while he was here.

Happy birthday, Dad. I love you. I hope you don’t hate the tattoo, though I suspect you do.