My Personal Archeological Site
By Katina Pontikes
A very old brown shoebox sits in a corner of a musty storage closet, stuffed with relics of my romantic history. The box contains loose photos of me on picnics or vacations, tanned and smiling, hopeful for a glorious life. Sometimes I am next to boyfriends who were place markers, not destined to take on permanent roles in my life story, but very important in the moment. The pictures are scattered among stained letters addressed in varying colors of ink to my younger self, a self with a different name.
A while back I was purging the closet and considered throwing the box in the trash. I pulled out an old letter, vaguely recalling the stage of my life when I received it. I unfurled the yellowing paper and read the former lover’s message. Oddly, it had an entirely different tone than I had remembered. I must have been very angry with the sender when that letter was sent, because despite the emotions expressed in the letter, gentle, warm emotions, I remember I had not even responded to the letter, had ended the relationship. I didn’t recall the sender caring for me as deeply as the letter indicates when read years later. I harbor no ill will toward him. Years after my marrying, this gentleman had called me to see what I was doing with my life. I informed him of my marriage and kept our conversation brief. I remember my husband sitting near me and watching my face while I took the call, knowing from the context that this was an old boyfriend calling.
Some of the photos seem so distant. I look back as though I am a third party. One photo is of me modeling somewhere in Mexico. I actually looked pretty good in my bikini, the brightly colored scarf fashioned as a skirt on my hips. I remember feeling very self-conscious in that swimsuit, overly concerned with perceived imperfections, shocked that I was asked to be the sole model for a rather large resort crowd. Now I see the photos and wonder why I bothered to worry.
Another photo is a professional studio portrait of a handsome man, staring back with vivid blue eyes. Here was a lover who was trouble. He charmed and romanced me, only to seem to take joy later in causing me hurt and pain, expertly wielding lies as weapons, infidelities thrown in my face like torches. I pick up one of his ancient letters and read his sweet words, addressed to a nickname he had created for me. I feel no nostalgic longing now, as I did for a long period after our breakup. I now know that he wasn’t well. Sadly, he probably moved on to psychologically wound many more unsuspecting women. Men like that need to have tattoos on their foreheads, something that warns their prey: “Toxic!” the neon orange tattoos should proclaim. This photo reminds me that pretty packages can contain bombs, and that my younger self had much to learn about the traits of healthy relationships.
I have only opened the box once or twice in many decades. I’d like to open it again when I am eighty years old, to remind me of my youth. The skeletons and artifacts within make old and dim memories come to life, offering proof that my history was real. For now, I keep it tucked away.