It was buried in a carton of not-quite-ready to be discarded items – in a box full of once important souvenirs, knick-knacks, key chains, and tired, old refrigerator magnets. A tiny notebook of hurriedly scribbled thoughts, both profound and profane, lay atop a collection of what can only be described as junk. Not the kind of junk that gets consigned to the garbage, but the kind that gets shoved into a box for an indeterminate amount of time – “just in case.”
As I rifled through the box, bits of memories floated through my mind – a wry smile here, a grimace there. Some things finally found their way to the waiting trash bin, others got tossed back in the box – no, not yet; might need this; not sure; oh, look at this… sigh. A tiny cassette caught my eye. Puzzlement turned to recognition as I picked it up and realized it was a mini cassette from an old voicemail machine. Why in the world did I keep this?
As fate would have it, the grab-bag box of treasures also contained an ancient voice memo recorder. Curiosity won out, so I grabbed the tiny cassette and the voice recorder and went in search of the right size batteries. The “junk drawer” in the kitchen - a more current version of the “junk box” – held the batteries I needed. That was lucky, I thought as I loaded the batteries, stabbed the cassette in, and pushed play.
I still don’t remember making a decision to save that mini cassette; don’t remember even knowing what was on it. I don’t remember ever listening to it before, but I must have. How else would the tape be wound to the precise spot where my father’s voice would leap out at me when I hit play?
“Hey, Kim, it’s your dad.” That voice – the one I hadn’t heard in years, the voice that was at once so foreign and so familiar, wrapped itself around my heart, pushed all the breath out of my lungs and dropped me to my knees. I don’t know how long I sat there on the floor, heart pounding out of my chest, awash in tears, pushing rewind and then play, over and over again. I fumbled to find the volume button as a strange keening filled my ears, drowning out my dad’s recorded voice.
Eventually, I removed the cassette from the machine and held it gingerly in my hand, examining it as if a treasure had fallen from above. And indeed it had. Carefully, I placed the treasured cassette back in the box it came from, covered it up and closed the lid. The contents of the entire box had miraculously increased in value, simply because of their proximity to the tape for all those years.
I replaced the box in the top of the closet where it had been stored for years. I couldn’t risk moving the tape to a “safe place.” How could it ever be in a place safer than that box – the box and its contents forever seared in my memory?
Today, the box sits in a new closet, in a new house, still untouched, still bearing all its treasures. I haven’t listened to the tape again. Not yet. But I know it’s there. I know he’s there. “Hey, Kim, it’s your dad.”
If I ever need him. He’s there.