Roy Gilbert

She Put Her Unspent Love in a Cardboard Box

In the back of my closet is a small cardboard chest with brass handles and latches that has followed me to every new address; it’s the first thing I find a place for as the moving truck pulls away. An old sticker on the bottom says it was purchased at Ross for $26.99. The only remaining contents are three wrapped presents marked in my mother’s tidy cursive: “Engagement,” “Wedding” and “First Baby.”

My mother, who put her business degree to use running a small nutritional beverage company with my father in Santa Rosa, Calif., while raising my older brother and me, was always prepared. By day she made marketing slogans, distribution strategies, five-year plans. By night: bubble baths, pillow forts, bedtime stories.

She and I had the same February birthday. Each year my parents arranged elaborate parties. She once spent a week making a school of origami fish to swim through tissue paper seaweed across the ceiling of our dining room.

When I was 3, she learned she had advanced breast cancer and immediately began to prepare by researching every available treatment: conventional, alternative, Hail Mary. She flooded her body with chemotherapy and carrot juice.

Each day, she would sit for hours at our long oval dining table, her straight dark hair tied back, surrounded by piles of paper, studying dense, technical paragraphs.

“Medical research,” my father said as he shepherded me from the room.

She was always looking for a way to survive.When I was 7, the materials on the dining table began to […]

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