Ben Fitts

Nostalgia Box

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! That’s the sound of love.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWWWWHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!?!?! That’s the sound of sex.

There’s a difference. It’s subtle, but it’s there. Need to hear it again?

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! is the sound of love and AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWWWWHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!?!?! is the sound of sex.

I’m glad to have been able to clear that up for you. It’s important that you understand the difference moving forward. I don’t want you hearing AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA- WWWWWWWWWWHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!?!?! and thinking that you’re hearing the love of a lifetime when really all you’re hearing is plain old dirty sex.

There’s nothing wrong with plain old dirty sex, but don’t go getting it confused for the love of a lifetime. I know I have and it just leaves you feeling empty inside, like an avocado with all the yummy green gook scraped out and spread over buttered toast and leaving you nothing but the crinkly skin that contained everything you once were.

I was laying in someone else’s bed while the bed’s owner was in the shower, washing off the evidence of what we had created. You were also there. Not that we were in bed together. It’s that you were me because we’ve all been there. Just at different times and at different places and with different girls and boys and people who care not for such labels in different showers, washing different fluids down different drains with water culled from different reservoirs. But we’ve all been where I was, so everyone was me just as I was everyone else.

Sex makes us all the same like that, and AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA- WWWWWWWWWWHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!?!?! is the sound that makes equals of us all. The girl in the shower and I had been going “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWWWW-HHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!?!?!” all afternoon, but I was young and dumb and had mistaken it for “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!” on at least two occassions that very day. I was looking for AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! just about everywhere back then, and every now and then convincing myself that I had found it.

Rolling over into the warmth of where she just lay, I ran my eyes over the spines on the bookshelf by her bed. I shouted warm hellos to my old friends Dylan Thomas and Joyce Carol Oates and John Steinbeck. I gave friendly nods to my hazy acquaintances Virginia Wolfe and James Baldwin, but I didn’t bother introducing myself to strangers like Camus. They’d be time enough to meet them later. And for your information, Camus and I are fast friends nowadays.

Seeing all those friends and strangers packed so tightly that they’re overflowing on her narrow shelves makes me want to know everything about her. At the time, I thought that we might be drifting towards falling in AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH- HHHHHHHHH!!!!! together. You know the feeling.

I slid off the bed, scooped my boxers off her carpet and slid them on. I don’t know why, because even if she returned just then she had already seen all there is to see down there. I guess that there’s a whole level of intimacy and vulnerability to let someone see that part of you in its typical mode that simply doesn’t come with showing it to someone when it’s in high-performance mode, and that wasn’t a bridge we had really crossed yet.

With my cotton-blend chainmail covering the only part of me I still felt the need to cover, I began to investigate. The first thing that caught my private eye was a milk crate full of vinyl records nestled beneath her bed, and I bent over to flip through them.

Leading the pack was London Calling, Paul still smashing his Fender bass over forty years later. Once again I was thirteen and alone in my first bedroom, with “Clampdown” and “Brand New Cadillac” blaring through my speakers and upsetting the downstairs neighbors. I flipped through to In Utero and then I was I’m sixteen and with friends and the four of us are in smoking our first joint in someone’s mom’s basement, airing the smoke out through a dwarfish window and masking our giggles in “Pennyroyal Tea”.

The next record was The Money Store and I was eighteen and unpacking boxes in my first dorm room, introducing myself to the freshman hall with “Hustle Bones” and making eyes with a slender girl who walked by my intentionally ajar door. I browsed through her collection a moment longer, passing some other favorites before pushing the milk crate back under her bed.

It was haunting how many of my cherished memories she owned, etched into those grooves. While I was never someone who believed much in signs, it sure felt like one. I know that you’ve got those songs or albums that are inextricably linked to a cherished or despised memory, so don’t even pretend not to understand what I’m talking about.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!,” I whispered to myself. “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA-HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH-HHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!

I fumbled around under her bed until my fingers grasped a worn shoebox, and I yanked it out into the light of day cast by a dull yellow lamp. Something about the Converse shoebox told me that it no longer contained Converse, as it had the energy of a special shoebox that contained special things. Things that were even more special than a beloved pair of Chuck Taylors.

My guess was that it was a nostalgia box, filled with trinkets and knickknacks and doodads and thingamajigs that were of no value other than whatever memory-based connection they bore to her. I had a nostalgia box myself, filled with birthday cards and ticket stubs and paper programs and gaudy two-dollar purchases. I lifted the shoebox up to my face and opened it. Then I dropped it onto the floor.

The box was filled with hearts.

Some of the hearts were withered and decaying, dry and blackened. Those hearts looked as if they hadn’t pumped a drop of blood in years. Others were fresher and still had traces of color and moisture left in their tissue, and some were so fresh that they were a ruddy, glossy red and still leaked wet blood onto the shoebox.

One of the hearts was even still beating a little, the atriums gently breathing in and out. I reached into the box pulled out the beating heart, the oozing blood slicking my palm. As I lifted it up, I thought I heard a faint sound escape from the organ. I lifted the heart to my ear.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!” the heart whispered to me. “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!

The heart beat twice more, then died in my hand and become as still as all the others. I felt a prickly sensation in my chest as I imagined my pectoral being sliced open and my own heart harvested and added to the ghoulish collection.

“What the hell are you doing?” I heard from behind me.

Still clutching the bloody heart, I turned to see the girl in the shower. Only now she had returned from the shower. So let me rephrase that: still clutching the bloody heart, I turned to see the girl recently returned from the shower. She had a white towel wrapped her from her thighs to the upper half of her breast, and she was dripping like a baptized infant.

“What the hell am I doing?” I retorted. “You’re the one with a shoebox full of old bloody hearts. What are you, some kind of serial killer?”

“No,” she said softly.

“Well, you’re not cutting my heart out in my sleep and adding it to your trophy box,” I said rising to my feet and ignoring her answer. “‘Cause guess what, I’m not as dumb as the other people you’ve fucked and I’m not letting you do that to me.”

“Those are my hearts, you dumb asshole,” she said.

“Wait, what?” I mumbled, the heart slipping out of my slackening fingers and plopping onto the floor with a wet squish.

“Those hearts are mine,” she reiterated. “They came from my chest.”

“What?” I repeated, looking at the shoebox full in varying stages of decay. “That’s impossible.”

“Wanna bet?” she said.

She dropped the towel to the carpet. Unsheathed, she stepped towards me and gestured to a spot a little above her bare left boob. Scars and stitches and slender band-aids wove an intricate pattern on her flesh in the space she revealed, over where her heart should be. I couldn’t help but wonder how I didn’t notice all of that during all the AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWWWWHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!?!?! Maybe it wasn’t AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! after all.

“They keep dying,” she explained. “Right in my chest, my hearts keep dying. They get one whiff of what they think is AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! and swell up bigger and stronger and bloodier than they ever were before. But the moment my hearts start to realize that they were wrong again, they begin to beat more and more faintly and shrivel away into nothing more than a useless, empty husk.”

“I still have some questions,” I admitted.

“I can feel it when they begin to fade and die. And when I feel that, I have to get rid of them,” she continued, seeming to guess my general line of questioning. “They’re gross and awful and toxic when they get like that, and I can’t have them inside of me anymore. I tear them out of me as soon as I can. It hurts each time, but you get used to it after a while.”

“But do you have like a million hearts?” I asked surveying the box. “Do you also have seven lungs and an extra clitoris?”

“No, but that last one would be nice,” she answered. “I only have one heart, or at least only heart at a time. But every time I tear a dead or dying heart out of me, another fresh one grows back in its place soon after, only for it to eventually die too and for the process to start all over again.”

“But why do you keep them all in that shoebox?”

“They’re a part of me, and they always will be,” she said, shrugging her naked shoulders. “I may have ripped them out of my body, I don’t think I could get rid of them entirely even if I wanted to. If I tried to throw them out they would just return, probably in a somehow worse condition than they already are.”

“Have you actually tried to throw them out?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “But I don’t need to have tried to know that that’s what would happen.”

We fell into a stiff, heavy silence that pressed down on my chest like an incubus. I broke it just to feel light again.

“That thing you talked about before, when you said that before your hearts start to die they get bigger and bigger and stronger and full of more blood than they were before,” I said. “It seemed like that part was a good thing. Is your heart like that now?”

“No, you can relax,” she said conversationally. “You didn’t make my current heart swell up and you don’t have to worry about making it eventually wither and die either. This is just AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWWWWHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!?!?! You know that.”

“Oh, ok,” I mumbled.

I felt a tightness in my chest as my heart began to contract, and to beat just a little bit fainter.

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