When my parents started mailing me pieces of my childhood, they came back broken. Picture frames with shattered glass, surrounded by leaking snow globes that still played White Christmas, small shards of sparkling glass cutting deeply into the fibers of 1980s Kodak matte prints. A small child, underwater. Eyes open, paddling. Red polka dot swim suit on both the child submerged and the child in the reflection on the underside of the waves. A swim school instructor had the idea to photograph children mid stroke in 8 feet of water. I swam the length of the pool over and over for him to get the best shot. Each time I breached, I went back under with my cheeks puffed and lips pursed to preserve my air supply.
There are things that make it. My first dogs, Jack and Russell. Two small ceramic dogs from a set of what surely was an elderly woman's hobbyist collection. 1994 stamped into their bellies. We could not have the graceful German Shepard of my father’s childhood and we certainly couldn't have the "Dog— any breed ok" that appeared as number one on every Dear Santa letter I penned. So, these were my dogs. Despite the fact they had to be carried and couldn’t go outside and were constantly on the verge of breaking and being put in the garbage. There is the not-to-scale-Jack Russell, named Jack, with white fur over a light grey mask over his muzzle and eyes. There is to-scale-Golden Retriever, named Russell because he looks like his name might actually be Russell. Three of Jack’s legs have been broken and expertly repaired by my mother or grandfather or whoever was around to super glue. Jack comes back to me wrapped in an old black sock of my father’s. It has a golden toe and is in the box next to a white gym sock of my father’s that holds Russell. These two socks somehow survived the horrors of my mother’s laundry room and made it to this box to keep these first ceramic canines intact long enough to live in a home with my two real dogs. It's horrible to say Jack and Russell aren't real. It’s horrible to admit that they're just ceramic because all that time on the blue carpet of my bedroom, I pretended they were. By this I mean that I pretended they were enough.
So in between the broken picture frame and the leaky Christmas snow globe and the small travel cases from hotels and airplanes that my mom sends because I might have forgotten how to pack my bags for a trip across country I did every year for the first 15 years of my life, and again for the next 15 after that, is a small envelope with twenty Ambien. The Ambien are intact, tucked in between Jack and Russell and the socks my dad left behind or socks that left my dad behind or the socks my father left behind when he left and it was just me, using them to scrub the end of a golf club or a sneaker or polish a spoon.
I could call and say things broke but inevitably they must know because they packed the box. I don't call though I think of calling because the new pretenses of my father almost killing himself and begrudgingly coming back to life is that we get along and only talk about present problems not past ones. This is a box full of my past that cannot even compare to this now present future I spend all my hours obsessing over. This is a box of sadness and loneliness and small ceramic friends with imaginary personalities. This is a box that shows me that even I knew then what I wanted all along, and that I didn't stop until I got to it. One day I will have a dog. Maybe even two. One day I’ll leave. Maybe never come back. Jack's grey mask over his white fur looks like my real dog Gunner’s. Jack is lean and fast and so is she. Russell is big and brooding but gentle, and so is my real dog Cash. Russell has blonde hair and a steady face, and so does Cash. There is no girl figurine in the box except the image of one in a red polka dot swimsuit under water. She opens her eyes wide though the chlorine must burn. She's probably used to it in the way that all swimmers are. She held her eyes open, the instructor told my mother, when all the other kids had theirs closed. I dust the girl off, try to pick the shimmering scales of glass off the surface, run my hand over the cuts in the photo fabric that weren't there before the frame broke on its ill-advised postal voyage. She might have been better off had she stayed on the wall of that room with the blue carpet where I last left her. But maybe, the person who packed her in the box knew that much like the real girl, this one couldn't stay either.