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Cardboard Boxes

Updated: Dec 1, 2021

There they were again: cardboard boxes clumsily held together with scotch tape, wearing and tearing at the corners. The familiar horse stable-like stench hit me before anything else. I dragged my textbook-loaded backpack to a corner of my room and sat on my bed, rubbing my eyes tiredly. Everything was packed up now except my bed and in a matter of days, that would be gone too. Of course, I’m sure you’ve all experienced the ups and downs of the military brat life. While moving is an adventure, it’s also a wearisome journey, physically and emotionally. For one, no matter how many times you move, you’ll never truly get “used to it.” Each time is unexpected and suddenly the life you thought you knew for so long seems to vanish away into a void of unfamiliarity.

It was 3:30 AM. Questions and thoughts whirled through my mind endlessly. Once in a while, I heard my parents arguing under hushed voices downstairs, trying not to wake my brother and me up. He was probably up anyway, too. I was irritated that my sleeping schedule was messed up, that my heart raced every time I went to bed, whether that was of anticipation or anxiousness, that the sound I woke up to was of the workers downstairs squeaking and kicking cardboard boxes and little trinkets here and there. I would turn on my stomach and squeeze my ears shut with my pillow the next morning, I knew. And after all this, after all the calls and drives and checking our soon-to-not-be house once, twice, and three more times, another hell would await on the other end. The jet lag, the house-hunting, the same stench of cardboard boxes floating around our new house in South Korea for weeks.

Unable to sleep, I walked over to the only cardboard box that had its flaps open, untaped. Was this on purpose? I pulled out my puppy stuffed animal, its eyes blood-red and its large black nose ripped up. My grandfather had bought it for me in an airport in Vietnam, or something like that. I pulled out another item, a tin box with my Pokemon cards from years before. Was this always in my room all along? I sat there for a moment, unblinking. A broken Nintendo DS showered with blue glitter, The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, photocards, brightly-colored envelopes, more stuffed animals…

Suddenly, the cardboard box was empty. Around me was a pile of trinkets and knick-knacks, both things I had treasured and things I wondered why I kept at all after all those years. It was three-fifty seven now. Reluctantly, I gathered all the items I took out and stacked them on top of each other inside the box carefully. Every item I placed inside was a memory, a part of me, that I was taking to my next destination, whatever that would be like.

The lights were off now. I leaned against my headboard and gazed out the slits of my window’s blinds. The suffocating cardboard stench didn’t go away and I knew it would linger around for longer than my days left in Virginia. But I finally let myself breathe in the air, relieving the tension built in my forehead. I let my arms fall to my side and push my pessimistic thoughts away. As military brats, most of us don’t know of a true home, and some of us will never know of a true home as we aspire to reach the position our parent(s) are in now, but perhaps the familiar stench of our cardboard boxes will provide us with a similar comfort. Because really, what else can we call home?


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