by Nadia Henderson
The old me lives in a box under the bed. She’s made up of notes tied together with string: folded sheets passed from one school desk to the next, the glittery gel ink having long since lost its novelty scent. She answers to nicknames from a different time, has crushes on boys she’s now forgotten. She tells her story through gig ticket stubs and wrist bands, love letters and doodles. She’ll always be there.
I reach for her once in a blue moon, brush the dust off the lid and lift it away. She is someone who thought she’d live forever; that her days would stretch on like a marathon loop, the sidelines crowded by people whose paths would intertwine with hers infinitely. She saw no future past the gritty drone of the dial-up internet connection, the emoticons exchanged with strangers in chat rooms where something very much like friendship would quickly find fertile ground. She hadn’t known that the names on the screen would not always be familiar; that the friends’ numbers saved in her brick-sized phone would someday lay trapped on the dead device, at the bottom of a cardboard box.
The routine of her weekends didn’t sound like the clock counting down but rather like water swilled round in a glass, a cyclical rhythm. Tube trips to Camden and Covent Garden led to matinee concerts in grungy clubs and overpriced lunches on the cobbled plaza. She held tight her best friend’s hand and skipped past frowning tourists, went to cheap movie screenings, and played computer games for hours which flew past like moments.
“The young woman who was me lives out her forever under my bed.”
Later, she’d flick fake eyelashes and totter in high heels, take three trains across town to dance to crap music and drink sickly alcopops with friends who felt like forever. She wouldn’t have imagined a future-self hardly able – and not at all inclined – to stay up past midnight. In those days, the world was a half hour wait for the night bus, newspapers and fresh bread being delivered to the corner shop; her falsies and heels tucked away in her bag, swapped for flats and smudged kohl lines.
The box tells other tales. Grainy printouts of photos taken on digital cameras (long before Instagram’s filters and algorithms) recall meetings in record stores with favourite musicians. A letter handwritten on the torn out pages of an arty fashion quarterly documents a friendship on the rocks; the scrawled words hardly legible now, the closeness since rekindled. Several other items hold talismanic value: an envelope with a bundle of dried grass enclosed, a garish multicoloured plastic bangle, autographed liner notes belonging to albums from formative years.
In the ancient box, the old me takes meaningless quizzes in magazines and reads newspaper horoscopes out to her friends on the bus. She makes pacts with first loves outside pubs, stays sober at boring house parties, skips or sleeps through classes. She learns that you can’t make people change and that she should always trust her gut.
The young woman who was me lives out her forever under my bed. The passing of time has left her behind but there’s a chasm, a loop, and she fills it.