Unpacking That Last Box — Once and For All

After my boyfriend died, I clung to his things as a way to stay close to him. Eventually, I realized I didn’t need to.

This originally appeared on Modern Loss. Republished here with permission. 

The author and her late boyfriend, George. (Courtesy of Li Yin)

The author and her late boyfriend, George. (Courtesy of Li Yin)

I wobbled my way through the white sterile-smelling hallways of San Francisco General Hospital and robotically pressed the red button that lit up ‘4’ in the hospital elevator. It was New Year’s Eve, and George was in the Intensive Care Unit.

The nurse walked me into his room, violating the policy of only allowing immediate family. I was just his girlfriend, but he had no family here. The thing that laid in that hospital bed was not George. His head was an enlarged alien shape, shaven, with darkened stitches from the emergency surgery that had removed the top half of his skull to relieve brain pressure. The edema caused by the impact to his head from the car accident prevented blood from flowing in, effectively killing his brain.

George was proclaimed brain dead a day later, at 24. Just like that, I lost the love of my life, the man I’d thought I would marry, the future father of my children.

In the months after George died, I could not make sense of how someone could just suddenly disappear. The remnants of him proved he was indeed once here, like clues for a search that I could never complete.

The grief hit me so hard that I left San Francisco  — every street corner jabbed at me with reminders of losing him. Especially the highway ramp where the accident happened that I walked by every day because it was right next to my apartment building. I packed my life into a tiny 8-by-5-foot storage unit, all of George’s things I could not let go of stuffed into one box. I had lovingly labeled it with his name and the date I put it into storage, which would have been his twenty-fifth birthday. I couldn’t leave without celebrating his birthday in our city. Who would celebrate his birthday for him if I didn’t?

Two years later, after working abroad and then quitting my job to travel the world, it dawned on me that I had kept myself away from this forsaken city so I didn’t have to face what was here. I finally decided perhaps it was time to peel back the layers, to find home. Returning to the city meant going to storage and digging out that box. For weeks, it sat in my newly rented apartment untouched. It taunted me. All I had left, all I could ever have of him was in there, including the little snatch of his hair the ICU nurse gave me.

When all my other boxes had been unpacked, the inevitable moment came to finally face that box. To read more click here.