I wrote my name upon a wall
and left it there to stay
a salty tongue licked patiently
while no one watched it fade away
Jessi and I lay side-by-side on the beach staring out over the calm surface of the water. Gentle waves slid up the sand to tickle at our feet where they rested just at the edge of the water line. The lapping tide and the occasional skee-thi-thip of the sand pipers were the only sounds riding on the soft autumn breeze.
“What’re you thinking about, Flower?” Jessi asked.
“Compartmentalization,” I answered lazily.
“Huh?” Jessi whipped her head around to stare at me. “You look out at a perfect scene like this and that’s what you think about? Com… whatever the fuck you called it?”
“Compartmentalization… I dunno… I guess cuz we were talking about my stories earlier.”
She shook her head. “Do I even want to know?”
“Maybe… Picture two boxes,” I said. “One’s a sandbox, full of sand and maybe some other things…”
“Not buried by cats, I hope,” Jessi joked.
“I was thinking more like toys,” I grimaced, sitting up. “You know, little plastic shovels and stuff. Anyway, the other box is just a small, plain, cube-shaped, cardboard one.” I shaped it with my hands. “Take the cardboard box, and put it in the sandbox and fill it up with sand.”
Jessi gave me her just-get-to-the-point look.
“Both of ’em are boxes of sand. They even share the same sand, on account of one’s inside the other, but they’re not the same.”
“Who said they were the same?” Jessi sounded annoyed.
“Well, no one said it, but you thought it.”
“I so did not!”
“You did; you just didn’t know you did. See some days when you wake up, you’re the sand box, but some days you’re the cardboard box, and that’s the thing. You never know the difference. When you’re the cardboard box, you only know about the sand inside, so you don’t realize all the other sand is missing and you think you’re the same person.”
“You wouldn’t if you were thinking outside the box,” Jessi said smugly.
“There is no such thing. You’re always in a box.”
“Not if you think outside the sandbox you’re not…”
I shook my head emphatically and wrapped my arms around my knees. “Life’s all a big box of boxes, all one inside the other.”
Jessi laughed. “Kind of like that Christmas present your dad gave you that one year?”
I turned my head to the side and squinted at her. “This ain’t about Christmas. It’s about character development… well, about personality development really. Anyway, now you put another cardboard box in and fill it up with sand too.”
“Why isn’t this one a cat box?”
“Because it’s not,” I said, mentally scooping the little cat gifts out of my second box.” So one day you wake up and you’re the one cardboard box, and the next day you wake up and you’re the other, and you still don’t know the difference.”
“I don’t know,” Jessi said doubtfully. “I’m pretty sure you woke up the Cracker Jack box this morning.”
“Probably most mornings, really… but that’s kind of my point. I can’t tell which box I am, but you can. To you, I seem different from one day to the next, but to me, I’m always the same.”
“What’s that got to do with your stories?”
“That’s how it is with the characters I make up. They seem different when I read ’em, sometimes really different, but I know they’re really all just little boxes full of me.”
Jessi, looked away again. She usually only asks what I’m thinking to poke fun at my thoughts, and I’d set myself up for another cat shit joke, but something made her think this time.
“Anyway,” I continued. “When one part of your personality doesn’t know about another part, that’s called compartmentalization.”
“Like those psycho-shits things that whack psychiatrist said you had?”
“Yeah, sorta. Kiko said a brief reactive psychosis is where your primary personality can’t handle a traumatic event, and so another personality surfaces to help you cope with it, so that would be a pretty extreme example.”
“You think those other personalities are just little boxes of you?” Skepticism rang in her voice.
“I don’t know. How could anything else be true?”
“One of ’em punched me in the face, Flower. If I seriously thought that was you, I’d kick your ass right now.”
“Well, technically, he didn’t punch you in the face. He did think you and those other fellows were going to arrest him.”
Jessi said nothing. My thoughts wandered off to the incident. It was different from the rest. Usually, I’m half aware, like I’m dreaming, but that time I was just gone, and scared out of my skin. I didn’t think the man standing in Jessi’s place was going to arrest me. I thought he was going to shoot me! Just shoot me in cold blood right there on my front porch. Probably had a pine box with my name on it waiting in the back of that old Model A.
“Earth to Flower…”
I realized Jessi had been talking and I just hadn’t heard a word she said. When she was sure I was listening, she started again.
“I said… the way you say that makes it sound like I’m no more than one of those little boxes in your head. I’m pretty sure I’m still me, and whack! It’s like you’re making me up on the fly to be somebody else and you just off and punch me in the fucking face!”
“I said I was sorry.”
Jessi looked back at me. Her eyes were a little wet and it caught me by surprise. The cut on her lip had completely healed, but her heart hadn’t. “I love you, Flower. I ain’t mad at you. It’s just…” She stopped and stared into my eyes for a minute and then looked back out over the water.
“I mean are you saying we’re just two characters you made up for one of your stories?”
I lay back down next to her, propped up on my elbows and stared out at the sun dropping slowly down behind a rising fog. It was time to go soon. Another gentle wave rolled up the beach and tickled at our toes. I couldn’t answer her. I didn’t know what I was saying. I was just saying it because she asked what I was thinking, and I suddenly felt trapped in one of my own little boxes.
Jessi’s hand reached over and squeezed mine. “Just don’t tell me how it ends, okay?”
upon the sand, as smooth as glass
my name was carved with piper’s quill
the tide’s tongue licked it long away
but no one knows it’s carved there still