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Connecticut in a Box

Francesca McKernon

Connecticut is a sharp familiar smell of thick permanent black markers and musty photo albums in Iron Mountain Boxes. These white cardboard office boxes always reminded me of the classic worker who was just fired and now has to collect their desk belongings and leave the premises.

Our boxes had labels like ‘Dishes,’ ‘Evan’s Newspapers,’ and the occasional recycling and updating of ‘Francesca size 10-12’ with the new ‘Family Photo Albums.’ I became familiar with these labels while searching for nostalgia or answers in my damp basement in West Seneca, NY.

Through a five-year-old’s eyes, New Haven, Connecticut was a magical forest waiting to be explored. Running outside the sky blue porch with two sets of descending stairs, my older brother Christian and I would crouch down to study the forest ground behind our house. If we saw the leaves move, we knew a frog was there. Once I targeted the hiding frog, I would pick the little guy up and cup him with my small hands so he couldn’t escape. Christian implicitly approved, and went over to inspect our treasure. The frog probably began to panic because his world had turned into a fleshy darkness, but all we could feel were the exhilaratingly slimy legs of the frog moving around in our palms. I relaxed my hands a bit to create a little viewing space for Christian, and of course, the frog desperately saw an exit out of my hand-cage and made an attempt to hop out. He sometimes was successful at this, but then I would just catch him again. After deciding Mr. Frog had enough, I released him willingly. He hopped away as fast as his legs could take him.

Our best conquest was a snake that Christian found and put in an empty mayo jar. The next morning, though, the lid was popped and the snake was gone. Nevertheless, the snake was a benevolent capture compared to the encounter I had with a dead bees’ nest on the ground. I had unknowingly stepped on an entire fallen bee colony, and only realized so after Christian’s exclamation that there was a bee in my hair. At that moment, as if on cue, I heard a buzzzz in my ear and started screaming as I ran to the front door for safety. My mom heard my screams (and inevitable crying), but eventually she successfully calmed me down. In my defense though, how did a five-year-old’s white and pink Sketchers bring about the end of an entire empire of bees?

It was at this very opportune moment that my grandma happened to call us to ask about our lives and how we were doing. Sniffling, I held the Nokia house phone and then heard a buzz in my right ear and threw the phone across the living room. My mom was not pleased in the slightest. Plus, I had to reconstruct the plastic that flew off the phone’s back upon hitting the hardwood floor.

It was on this hardwood floor you showed me how to fold socks into each other. I was sitting criss-crossed, while you were on the couch. You held two socks in front of me, placed them together, grabbed the top of the socks and flipped the top sections inside-out, pairing them. I then practiced on my own socks, and still pair them this way today. My hands have been pairing them like this reflexively since I first learned how to, 16 years before.

Back then, breakfast was toasted peanut butter sandwiches on wheat bread, with the peanut butter turning into gooey deliciousness falling out the sides. Of course, I had to have a cold glass of milk to counteract the peanutty lava goodness. My morning ritual also consisted of exactly one episode of Scooby Doo from 8-8:30 A.M. before I had to leave for preschool with my mom.

After school, I once snuck into my oldest brother Matthew’s room and played Grand Theft Auto on his Playstation 2. His room was small and tucked away downstairs in the basement around the corner. One day, I beat him home and helped myself to turn on that M-rated game. I felt like Bandit from Smokey and the Bandit: a real rebel. Turns out, all I wanted to do was politely drive cars––but it was the rush! How did I sneak away from parental authority long enough to turn the console on? Nonetheless, steal a car and drive it properly according to Connecticut state law?

Today, I open my wooden desk and see the pink diary you gave me shaped like a clamp purse with the Powerpuff Girls on it. It was a clam of a five-year-old’s secrets, with the brightest pearl being, “I like a boy, like really like.” At the edge of your mom’s black driveway––Grandma McKernon’s in Connecticut––we tied the diary’s weightless silver metal key to a string on a balloon and let it go. We watched it float away, and I still hope it wasn’t a dream.

Connecticut was eventually placed into boxes and into my memory, as my mom googled house listings in Buffalo. She was on the phone more, and I, a sneaky spy, stealthily listened in on her private conversations. I knew things were changing.

What my memory lacks, these photos preserve and keep whole fragments of a man I knew and am beginning to know.