I found the box today. It was on the dust-covered shelf in the new room. While I was searching for one of my many misplaced books, I picked up this plain-looking plastic box to set it out of the way. To my astonishment I discovered it was quite heavy.
Placing it on my knee, I tugged the lid off and peeked curiously inside. What could it have contained? There they were. Beautiful oddities of every pastel shade were piled onto one another.
Curling, twisted, spiky, flat, ruffled, scalloped, and every kind of seashell imaginable was in that mundane box. I ran my fingers along the tops of them. The shells had been my sister's. She must have left them behind.
They brought back a memory to me.
* * *
One Easter, long before my sister left, our parents decided to go out to a camp called Turkey Hill, so we loaded up the car and drove out. It must have taken us about five hours of driving. We went on and on, until I'm sure every part of me had become numb from sitting so long. Some other people went too. We planned to enjoy the Easter celebrations together. I recall one of my friends going with her parents.
Anyway, when we were on the way to the camp in our hideous minivan, my sister and I sketched funny little pictures into a tiny Lisa Frank notebook I had brought. We drew a multitude of things, little cars, planes, and animals. We eventually arrived.
We pulled onto a long dirt driveway that led to the cabins. As our tires dug in and out of the potholes, a billowing cloud of thick dust rose behind the minivan. All along the road were majestic pine trees that cast shadows over the ferns. We parked in front of the main office building, which was painted brown with peeling biscuit trim around the door and the windows. I was delighted to see a swing set and jungle gym to the left of the coffee-colored building.
When we explored the camp later that day, we encountered winding hiking paths that led through fields of bent yellow grass. After walking a distance there was the lake. It reflected a twisted willow tree with long whips of leaves just beginning to unfurl. Pond skimmers zipped across the water causing tiny ripples. It was serene.
Our few days at Turkey Hill went much like this:
It rained. We played in the mud. It rained more. We went on hikes and consequently caked our shoes with mud. My sister and I had to remove our shoes every time we wished to enter our rooms. A row of twenty-six dilapidated shoes was set outside across the porches of the cabins our group had rented.
Somewhere in the middle of these days, between sitting with my sister in the swings behind the cabins, and when we walked around the lake, I found a giant seashell. Strangely, instead of being by the shore of the murky lake, the conch shell was in the grass outside the cabins. I didn't think about that, but went immediately and showed it around like the proud five-year-old I was.
The shell was a creamy shade of pale pink. Its inside was smooth, shiny, and the surface felt like blown glass. The outside of it had once been rough and pointed, but years of enduring the conditions of the ocean floor had rubbed it flat. Streaked with orange and tinged with shades of brown, the shell was a symphony of colors.
"It's mine!" I cried.
Two children who had been staying in one of the other cabins demanded to have the seashell that I had found. "We brought it from California!" They squealed like pigs. My parents forced me to give it back to the other kids. I was furious.
It wasn't fair, I thought to myself Why should I have to give it back? They were the ones who had left it in the grass. It was just like the cliche, "Finders, keepers, losers, weepers." They had lost it and I had found it. It was mine!
I gave it back. I glared at them the whole time. I gritted my teeth to keep myself from calling them baboons. Afterwards my sister promised to help me look for another shell around the lake. We searched for a lengthy period of time, but all we discovered were the fragments of clamshells. The rest of the days at Turkey Hill passed gloomily as I thought about the perfect seashell I had found and lost to the reptilian children of cabin six.
The day came for us to drive home, and the weather was rainy. Thick cumulus clouds blanketed the sky with insipid gray. Torrents of water cascaded over the car windows. On the front window the squealing windshield wipers kept the water off the window.
I sat again with my sister beside me in the back seat of our tan minivan. Another five hours dwindled away before we were home again.
When we reached our house she said, "You can pick any one of these you want, but only one." My sister slid the plain white plastic box from its place on a shelf in her closet and let me choose a shell.
I dumped them out onto the carpet and pawed through all of them. They had black frills and purple underbellies. Their undersides shone with iridescence. The small ones resembled barnacles, while another was so white and smooth it felt unnatural. In the end, I did not take one of the huge monstrosities. Instead, I chose a small, curling nautilus with bright stripes running up each of its curves. Although its size was not gigantic and its colors were not bright, it was beautiful.
* * *
As I knelt in the new room, I slowly slid the lid back into place. It was only a plain plastic box filled with overly dusty seashells, but it had brought back what I had lost, the kindness of my sister. She was right there in that place of my heart all along.