It took me four years to be able to lift a forty-pound box. I’ve carried heavier things. I hauled racing shells built for eight rowers when I was on the crew team. I never accept help for carrying grocery bags of milk, juice, mega-sized laundry detergent or cans of peeled tomatoes. I’m more macho than any man, but have to admit that damn box was heavy.
It had sat in the closet in the extra bedroom, never opened and still with the delivery label from when it arrived four years ago. It was as high as my chest, and slim enough that I could put my arms around it. I bent carefully at the knees, hoisted it onto my shoulder, and walked out of the room, toward the door to our apartment, right past my husband B. The box blocked my view, but I was sure he watched me. He knew not to offer help that I wouldn’t accept.
I carried the box to the elevator, and set it down while I waited. Graco Pack ‘n Play was printed along the side, followed by the slogan “Ask moms who know”. The combination bassinet/playpen in the box was never used, and I’ll never know what it’s like to be a mom. Our baby Liam never came home from the hospital. The box that stood next to me was bigger, and probably weighed more than the infant coffin in which Liam rests in Holy Name Cemetery.
The mirrored walls of the elevator showed I was a wreck from every angle: tee shirt and shorts crumpled from chores and cleaning, face glistening with sweat. I kept my finger on the button for the lobby to avoid stopping for passengers at other floors. The elevator was so slow it felt I wasn’t moving, and waited an eternity for the numbers displayed above the door to illuminate in descending order.
I left the box at the front desk for a neighbor who’d responded to my ad offering a free, unused portable playpen. He’d just lost his job, and his wife was due with their first child in one month. He didn’t ask why I had an unused baby item while we were on the phone. I told him I’d leave it at the front desk for him. I assured him it was no problem to carry the box to the lobby, not mentioning I wanted to avoid carrying a conversation. I was glad the Pack ‘n Play would help a couple in a tough situation, but felt guilty and ashamed about my sadness, anger, and envy.
B approached me when I re-entered our place.
“I was thinking,” he said.
I stood by the door and looked at him. He kept a careful distance, as if he didn’t want to startle me awake from a sleepwalk.
“We can take all that stuff in the closet and donate it somewhere.”
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. It was the end of a long day, and time to put things to rest, not start a new project. My limbs felt rubbery and heavy, like I’d been lugging the box all day. I opened my eyes, and B had not walked any closer.
“I’m so tired right now. I don’t think I care where it goes.” I thought for a moment, and added, “I don’t want any of it here.”
I walked past B into the extra room. The closet light was still on, and revealed the remaining clutter: the disassembled crib, bags of baby clothes still with tags, a Mets mobile never taken out of its box. I moved some things into the space where the box had been. There was still so much to haul away, but not at that moment.
One day I’ll write a story that makes sense of that moment, and gives order to everything that’s happened in four years. But not today. Today I only know this weight is heavy. It doesn’t get easier, lighter, or go away. I get stronger so it doesn’t crush me. But some days, it does, and I have to start all over again, like Sysiphus.
I know I looked ridiculous in that elevator, and to anyone watching the security camera monitor: a small woman, sweating under the weight of a box almost as long as herself. I didn’t see my stubborness or fear at that moment, but maybe I’ll recognize them in the future. Maybe next time, but it’s still hard to see things clearly right now.