An excerpt from ’til now: The Box

The box is made of a blondish wood. It has a wave pattern to the grain and is very smooth. I have not seen the box in many years. I remember it being about 12 inches long and 6 inches tall. Maybe 6 inches wide as well. It is a rectangle and the top comes completely off. The top itself is carved out on the inside so you can safely put something in it when it is off and flipped over, like a tray.

The box would sit on the bed or the couch in between my parents. The top would sit horizontally on my mothers lap and she would put the loose bits of marijuana into it for cleaning and separating. She would do whatever it was you did to ready the pieces for rolling and smoking. They would sit like that, my mother’s hands busy with the crinkle and crackle of dried leaves, then placing them in the paper and rolling the paper, crinkle, crinkle, crinkle, the lick to wet the edge and a final roll to seal the tiny cylindrical package. All the time the current joint, burning, moving back and forth between the two of them and the stack of joints filling the tiny sub-box that lived within the larger box. Thin rolled stick after thin rolled stick, identical, like piece-meal works it was second nature.

The tiny box within the box was not just one box but various boxes over the years depending on the need for which it was to fill. The one I remember the most vividly was something like a business card case. In fact as I think about it now that must have been the intended use, certainly it was not designed to hold a dozen neatly rolled joints. It had an enamel top. I don’t remember the picture or the pattern of the enamel. My mom worked at a small store in Yountville that sold various gift items all with enamel. Boxes of various shapes and sizes, hair clips, I’m not sure what else. I was quite young when she worked there and I remember mostly a store full of small bits of bright colors. I think it is a miracle it stayed open as long as it did, really who needs that much stuff decorated with enamel?

I have a metal business card case I use now. It has a raised piece of contrasting metal on the front where I could have had my initials engraved. It was a gift from my husband and I never bothered taking it in for the engraving. I liked it as is. I still do. He bought it with the intent that I keep business cards in it, that is what it is for and I find it handy for the carrying of my business cards, which I do give out fairly frequently. Thinking about it now I see no small amount of irony in the fact that my parents keep drugs in a business card case. It explains a lot about the differences between us. Whenever my mom finds a pretty, smallish box she says, “Oh, that would be perfect to keep a few joints. What else would anyone put in there?” Growing up I thought all small boxes were for drugs and all alligator clips were for holding roaches.

The TV would always be on while my parents were sitting and my mom was rolling. I don’t think she was always rolling new joints while they were smoking, but her hands were often busy. There was the cleaning to do; sandwich size Ziploc bags, the kind you could press the air out of and seal. Those bags always seemed to be there. The bag in various states of fullness would sit inside the box, along with the smaller box for keeping the rolled joints; I think there was an old film canister, the plastic kind, not the metal, where seeds were kept, and the small orange package of rolling papers.

It was always a wonder to me that my parents could buy rolling paper at any convenience store. My mom smoked filtered cigarettes; my dad smoked the unfiltered camels, the ones in the short pack that he would have to tamp down before lighting. But neither rolled their own or bought loose tobacco. Rolling paper was used for marijuana, which is all they were ever used for. I had no conception that there was such a thing as rolling a cigarette, a legal cigarette, the kind that was perfectly fine and normal and okay to smoke. So every time we went to Seven Eleven and my dad would buy a short pack of camels and one package of rolling paper I had this sense of danger and furtiveness. He was buying supplies to engage in illicit behavior and the store sold these supplies. Didn’t they know what they were going to be used for? Wasn’t he going to get in trouble? This should have been a huge tip-off to anyone else in the store, to the clerk, to the whole world as we walked out with a pack of camels, already rolled, and a tiny orange package of rolling paper. For the love of god this could be the end, he could go to jail, everyone would know! But apparently it was fine. Only I didn’t know that something other than pot went into the tiny papers, the rest of the world could care less, my dad was just an eccentric tobacco smoker, whatever.

When I was older the box lived under my parents bed. When I was younger my parents had a waterbed that was solid on the bottom, there was a ledge of sorts that created a kind of storage, but nothing hidden. I don’t remember where the box lived then, maybe behind the bed where there was a gap between the frame and the wall. Before we moved to the house where my parents now live, when I was eight, we lived in a number of different houses. I don’t remember seeing the box until the current house. I know they smoked pot and took drugs at all the other houses I just think I was too young to remember. My mom says that I always suggest they smoked pot the whole time I was growing up, but that is not true because there were some years when they were too poor to buy it. I think that might have been a very short period of time when we lived with my grandmother and great aunts, otherwise I’m pretty sure they always had enough to buy or trade or grow because I’m pretty sure it was almost always there.

I knew that the box was where they kept their dope. I didn’t always know where the supply for the box came from. Sometimes my dad grew it, sometimes other friends or family grew, I guess they must have bought a lot over the years as well. When my dad would get home from work my mom would say, “let’s go take a break.” Which meant that they would pull the box out and perform the evening ritual of interacting with the box contents. Sometimes I would sit with them, or below them to avoid the smoke. Mostly they would sit in their room, sometimes in the living room. When I was little I loved watching my mother’s hands as she cleaned and separated and rolled. Her long, elegant fingers with shiny well manicured nails. They moved fast, dexterously, without her even having to look at what she was doing. The hands just going through the rhythm of the work while she watched the TV and anticipated my dad passing the joint back to her. She would reach out with one hand still in the lid of the box, and catch the joint between her two first fingers, like a movie star smoking a cigarette. Pursed lips, held breath, never taking her eyes off the screen, then passing it back with a disdain reflected in the reach of her hand as she blew out in a steady stream.

When I was older I dreaded the box. Whatever we were talking about, if we were talking, whatever had been going on before simply stopped. All that existed were the contents of the box and the TV. There was no more talking or if there was it stopped making sense, they stopped paying attention or stopped understanding what I was trying to say. I would wait. Sometimes riding my bike through the neighborhood, sometimes playing in the back yard, sometimes sitting in the Japanese maple in the front yard, waiting. Then my dad would come outside and we would hit tennis balls for batting practice, or shoot baskets in the driveway.

When I was much older, late in high school the box was how my mom escaped from how horrible I had been that day. My dad would get home and she would say she needed a break from me. Their door would close and I could hear her litany of suffering at the hands of an angry adolescent. When my dad came out it would be to tell me I was a bad person for upsetting my mom. I was selfish and inconsiderate and lazy. That I had to ask her to forgive me and promise to act in a way that would let her love me. He would forgive me once she did.

I hate that fucking box.

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