The blaring sound of my alarm shook me out of my sleep as it does every morning. The sun crashed through the windows as a confirmation to the time of day, but was deceptive since it was still winter and the building heat was still making its way from the boiler. I commenced my daily routine of stretching as my feet hit the floor, walking to the bathroom to expel any fluids taken in the night before, brushing my teeth, and, the final but most important part, preparing my coffee. Yes, the coffee is the most important part and the last part for valid reasons, not that I need to explain them because they are valid to me, but I will. See, there is a delicate process that goes into brewing the perfect cup of coffee, wait, not just the perfect cup of coffee, but my perfect cup of coffee. There isn’t any magic or special ingredients I use, it is just the time taken to be sure the fire on the stove is turned up just right so the water boils perfectly, never to the point of boiling over and never to the point of burning the bean. The taste of brunt coffee does not encourage the best start to the day.
This simple knowledge was one of the gems I discovered in my free time, something I feel I get a lot of now. Not needing to interact with everyone outside my door has given me such freedom to self that I can sit and enjoy every sip of my well brewed bean, knowing this moment of tranquility will never be ruined because nobody will be there to ruin it. From the outside world I have completely removed myself. The constant bombardment of social media and texting has over step the boundaries of communication, becoming intrusive and imposing. So, I have decided to minimize any contact with people, even family, to just passing phone conversations that eat only a few minutes of my time. My work as a freelance writer allows me to spend as much time as I wish at home, isolated from the annoying whims and voices of everyone else. Like I said, it is freedom.
As I think on this, I hear my cellphone ring in the tone I found to be the least interrupting and turn to see the screen light up with a face. It’s my sister calling for the tenth time this week alone. I again let it play itself to a missed call silence and go back to my contemplation on my freedom, sipping my coffee with a balanced peace. I have missed many calls these past few weeks. Speaking sparingly to loved ones and those I call friends, all while fully using the power that comes with being able to click “call end” when I am tired of conversing about how I have been, how they have been, what’s new, and other things that really add nothing to my overall being. This always seemed like such a waste of time, of valuable ME time, so I would abruptly make an excuse to hang up to get back to some task I was imaginarily busy doing or some urgent errand I had forgotten up until that very moment they called. I always had a way out. This time though, I would spare myself the need to fabricate and ignore the caller, while I sipped away.
As the phone ceased its interruption, I could feel the veil of tranquility fall upon me again, when, just as sudden as the phone rang, I heard a buzz from my intercom. Who was it ringing my bell? I was not expecting any visitors, since I never invited anyone over I was never expecting visitors. The buzzer continued to ring alarming me like a warning to the danger of lingering too long in a burning building, forcing me to place my now cooling coffee upon my table and finally answer its demand. I walked over to the intercom, refusing to rush but with some haste in the desire to relieve myself of the buzzing sound as quickly as possible, “Who is it?”, I waited for the person on the other end to respond, which always seems like it takes longer than it should, “UPS!”. I pulled my ear away in a cringe as the courier’s voice bellowed over the speaker. Why was he being so loud? I buzzed him up, almost in submission, wait, what the hell am I doing?! I wasn’t expecting a package and this intrusion was biting into my alone time. Why did I give this almost unwanted nuisance access to my sanctuary without even a question of who the package was from? As I reprimanded myself for being so easily ready to have human interaction, I could hear the plodding steps of what had to be an overweight gent, lugging what he made sound to be the weight of his whole life up the very few steps it took to get to my second floor apartment. I summoned my inner hermit and peeped through the peep hole as he reached my door. He knocked once, twice, and almost a third time but I had finished my inspection of his uniform and satisfied myself that he was indeed not some secret operative here to do me ill. I opened the door slowly, trying to place in him a feeling of awkwardness so he would know he was not wanted but being tolerated, but before the door was opened wide enough to have a face to face exchange unencumbered by a slab of metal, he had shoved the package over the threshold pulled out his handheld tracking device, tapped the screen and was on his way back down the hall to the stairs. I stood briefly amazed and jealous that he managed to master another level of self isolation, one that let him work and completely be absent from the world. Sharing daily interactions with people but never being actually present for it. He, in that moment, was a master. I closed the door and took the package he gave me to the table where my now cold and ruined coffee sat. I flipped the box around in my hand to find the shipping label and was surprised to discover who the mystery package was from…my sister.
She had been calling me almost every day for the past month. I stayed my distance, sometimes not even listening to the voice messages she left. There was no need to talk, I didn’t need to talk. I found my peace in the time spent to myself, not alone. Being alone is very different than being to yourself. Being alone means you yearn for some type of physical presence, I don’t. All I wanted was my presence, my silence, my individual life. I was not an outcast to society, no, if anything I was wanted by society, invited to parties, social events, gatherings. I rejected those, I made those and all who attended them outcasts from my world, because there was no place for the intrusion on my sensibilities.
I stood now staring at the medium sized box as that thought passed through my mind. What could she have sent me? My birthday was not for another few months and there was nothing I had asked her to buy for me, so what could this be? The box was large enough to hint towards something interesting enough to cause some level of excitement which I quickly squashed like a roach racing to the nearest crack when a light reveals its presence. It would not get to grow into some false joy that we all are filled with when we receive an unexpected gift. I quelled all anticipation as I somewhat cautiously opened the brown shipping box to reveal what was inside. Another box! What sort of game was she playing? I nodded to myself in approval as I logged this moment in my memory as a reminder that this is why I have become the hermit of my loved ones. Choosing to be seen as a recluse, again they are the outcasts, who sends a box in a box with probably another box inside? It would be another waste of my precious moments if I let this unanswered curiosity pass while being so close. I had already exposed what was inside box number one and from the decorative designs of box number two I was beginning to believe there was something worth the time loss.
There was a metallic sheen to the box, almost glittery but smooth with no falling shining scales when I touched it. Where was it from? On the box was simple tag with the brand of a known oddity shop where the items of my tastes easily were marked at one hundred- fifty and up. I immediately felt a rising pang of panic as I pulled my hand away, what was in this box for that price range? What did this mean? Gifts exchanged between people often meant somewhere down the line you would have to repay it. It meant a tie to you in someway and I was all about avoiding those kind of ties. Yet, there this store gift box sat staring back at me with its many faces. There was no where I could go short of completely leaving the room, shunned from my own space, suddenly turned into the expatriate of my own apartment. This is something I could not allow, I would not be made submissive by an inanimate object so with a sense of defiance I found my hands beginning to pierce the crevices of the box, slowly pulling away the other layers that hid the mystery inside. The flaps of the box ripped from each other with little effort and the noise of its separation seemed to resound throughout, why did this seem so loud? Why was I experiencing opening a box as if it was some moment of moments that would become an earmark of a defining change in me?
My hands seemed to move with their own mind as I saw myself pulling stuffing paper out from the box. The paper was a never ending handful of soft sheets charged with protecting whatever now sat at the bottom of this surprise and to add to what was beginning to feel like some outer body story I would scoff at. I heard the ring of my phone break the rhythm with my sisters face again popping up on the screen. I stopped. Almost as sudden as opening had started I had stopped. I looked over to her saved face, smiling from my screen as it mocked me knowing I had fallen into her trap and dared me to answer the phone. I refused, I damned it, and refused. But this had to be finished so I could be done with this box and discard its contents as I knew I would. A message came through the phone but I paid it no mind as I reached into the box and felt…and felt…a note? It read;
“The most expensive commodity is time. I hope you feel happy you saved yours.”
This could not be the gift. This could not be what was gnawing at my mental solace for these couple of hours. I reached in the box again not satisfied with the results of my determined conceding to my curiosity and was rewarded, there was something else in this box. I pulled out what seemed to be nothing but a picture frame, but, as I turned the glass towards me, I saw something that froze me as if time itself had stopped. In it was a picture of myself, my sister, and my mother. One of the last pictures we took before Cancer pulled her away from us, away from me. I was always her baby, the quiet one, the one who didn’t go to parties, break the rules, who would spend weekends helping her bake some overly chocolate cookies or watch a show that always led to a cheating husband getting what he deserved. I loved her forever as a son loves his mother and now I had no one. My sister and friends always tried to remind me that wasn’t the case, but how could they understand? They didn’t have our bond. I wanted to drop it back in the box, but seeing our faces, smiling, together reminded me of something my mother told us weeks before she lost her fight, “You will always have each other, remember that. Time is precious, spend it with each other.” I felt the tears come back, the tears I had avoided for months by avoiding everyone and almost on cue the phone began to ring again, it was her, my sister, this time I may pick up.