The young woman lifted a large shoe box off the shelf, brushing away what little dust had accumulated since she had last looked at the box and its contents. She sat on the floor, with the box in front of her. Her long brown-blonde hair fell into her face, hiding her from the rest of the world. There was no one around, yet even here, alone in her own home, she felt the urge to withdraw to a place where none could touch her. With a slow shaky breath, she lifted the lid.
She looked down at the old mementoes, the ghosts which clung to them now rose up to meet her, reminding her of the long line of those who had left her. Selfish. Failure. Worthless. The words whispered through her mind, chilling her to her core. She slowly began to examine the items, one by one. A large band of tarnished metal, a birthday card from years before, a carven pendant of jade on a worn string, all these items and many more she carefully examined, her body tense as the memories overwhelmed her. Two ticket stubs, the only evidence of one particularly tragic relationship, but these she cast aside. She reached beside her, a small but thick paperback in her hands; the only symbol of this newest abandonment. Another friendship lost, no less painful than withered romance, simply a different sort of pain. A hollow aching that fills the soul as it mourns the companionship lost, leaving a void behind accompanied by the sting of betrayed trust. It still seemed surreal, even now, when the facts were undeniable.
One more broken promise, it shouldn't matter so much to her. When had she known anything else? Yet, this betrayal seemed to rip her apart with every waking moment. Even in her dreams there was no escape from the sorrow, the raging loneliness which consumed her. There once was a time where she expected nothing more. Why did this matter now? She sighed heavily, for she knew the answer. That had been before him. He had dared to give her hope, dared to make promises and find a way into her life. Then, just as all those before him, just like those he had sworn he would never become, he walked away, leaving the bitter taste of lies and harsh words heavy in the air.
A single tear fell from her cheek, landing on the book she held. She wiped her face as she gently placed the book inside the box, one more memory added to her shrine of suffering.
Some time later, after her eyes were dry of tears, she found herself encompassed by a mental fog. She aimlessly wandered the house, feeling as though she were searching for something she could not name. She paused in front of the tall bookshelves which lined her walls, running her fingers along the spines. Suddenly she came to a stop, her fingers catching on a larger book. Removing it from the shelf, she looked at its cover and faint smile tugged at her lips. She sat curled up on her couch, the childhood scrapbook in her hands. She flipped through the pages, finally pausing as she looked at her fifth grade class photo. Her eyes quickly found the face of her first best friend, the first of many who would turn on her. The taunts of her childhood remained fresh in her mind even now, echoed by the voices of all the others, a chorus of insults reminding her that she deserved nothing more than pain and loneliness, even that was probably too good for the likes of her. She was worthless. The world had proven that over and over again.
Her thoughts were interrupted though, by the obnoxiously cheerful sound of her phone ringing. Her heart leapt in anticipation and her breath caught in her throat. Could it be? Some part of her had hoped it was him, calling to say this whole situation had been a huge misunderstanding. Such a foolish thought, and yet one part of her clung to like a life preserver.
"Hello?" she answered, her voice soft, a vulnerability within it that was nearly tangible. She listened to the voice on the other end, her mother. She bit back a sigh of disappointment. She could hear that her mother was desperately trying to sound casual, but it did not succeed in hiding her worry. She did not listen to her mother's words, but she knew what she would say. Just as every time before, her mother would try to coax her out of the house under some pretense or another, as if her mother didn't know she was trying to hide from the world.
"Mom?" she said abruptly, cutting off whatever outing her mother had been suggesting, "Do you remember Melissa? My best friend from elementary school?"
"She wasn't your best friend. Actually, you really rather disliked her, but her mom was in PTA with me so you would play with her during the meetings."
With those simple words, the snide voice in her head was silenced. Without that common thread, the others no longer seemed haunting, merely grotesque exaggerations. She no longer saw the events through the veil of despair and now she recognized the words as falsehoods, projected to wound and to rid the others of the burden of blame. Her eyes widened as a soft gasp escaped her lips, the realization sinking in as her ghosts faded into oblivion. Her eyes, an unusual mixture of sage green, cerulean blue and amber, lifted towards the shelf where the box, her constant reminder of her worthlessness, sat on the shelf, looking down on her. For the first time in many days, a smile touched her lips.
She walked over to the windows, throwing open the curtains. Sunlight poured in, dispelling the dull grey gloom which had filled the house for far too long. Light which once had burned and blinded her, now caressed and kissed her, warming her to her soul. She tilted her head back as she basked in the golden glow and a melodic laugh tumbled from her lips.
The next day, the old shoebox sat in a landfill miles away.
For the first time in her life, she was the one who walked away, never once glancing back at what lay behind her. For she had been freed the moment the epiphany struck her; her memories were a lie.