I think I’ve learned how to overcome the problem of remainders. When we’re young, a remainder is a number left over in a long division problem. Later on, it’s a lost sock, remnants of a broken heart or another, more devastating loss.
Life is not tidy. There aren’t neat answers to everything. We have to learn to cope with the mess, the lack of organization, with loss and not knowing.
I’ve decided that not knowing is still something. Not knowing is a thing, a noun. If it had a shape and color, it would look like an empty black box.
When a plane crashes, they don’t always find the black box. Without a flight recorder, we’re left to wonder about the facts, the final moments of the unfortunate passengers. Even with the recorder there are still questions, lives and stories missing. The absence of full details are a painful hollow, an empty place.
But in our personal lives we don’t have to leave it at that. Humans can decorate their own empty black boxes, adorn them with stickers, paint, glitter, glue. With emoticons. Add celebratory emoticons, sad emoticons, happy or silly emoticons. Paint the top red, the sides blue, add some purple glitter, rainbow stickers, sequins, seashells. Decorate the empty space. Maybe it’s a blessing, after all.
I have many thousands of black boxes that fill a much larger box, also black. I’ve decorated most boxes with glitter and sequins, others with angry emoticons, tar and feathers, old photographs and pictures of words I’ve forgotten how to pronounce. It’s hard to embrace empty spaces, unanswerable questions, not knowing.
But I still have the boxes. Before I consolidated, they cluttered the corners of every room, the attic and basement, front and back yards. I kept them under my bed, in my closets, the trunk of my car. They gave me headaches, stole my appetite, set off fire alarms and metal detectors. They barked at nothing.
When I couldn’t sleep, I stared at them. Sometimes I’d redecorate, stack them, build forts or use them as furniture. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to get rid of them. As long as they remained empty, which was their very nature, there was no ending, no finish, and nowhere else to put them. Hauling them far away, throwing them over cliffs, into oceans or fiery volcanos was a joke. As soon as I’d return home, there they were, exactly as they had been before.
The most intriguing of the boxes is actually white. It came that way, and I can’t bring myself to add anything else to it. It’s perfect, just the way it is.
I’m guessing that what would be inside is me, the way I was meant to be, my ideal. If she were here, the black boxes would never have existed.
That’s how I cope now, by holding on to the white box. Using hope and magical thinking, I shrank it to fit in my front pocket. I sleep with it, eat with it, take it everywhere I go. When I’m afraid, I hold the box next to my heart, imagine climbing inside, becoming whole.