I found the time capsule buried under the pine tree in the backyard. The wood of the little chest was discolored and had begun to corrode at the edges, and its clasp had rusted shut, so that I had to pry at it with a butter knife until the whole contraption popped off and skidded across the kitchen table.
The moment I lifted the lid of the chest, the memories escaped, dancing out of the box and scurrying back into my mind where their home had been all those years ago. The very first item in the capsule was a photograph, the edges yellowed, but the image still clear: Tanya and me, arm in arm, standing at the lookout point at the top of Crabapple Mountain, wearing matching sunhats and tie-dye art camp tee shirts. I flipped the photo over. The date on the back read Jun. 18, 2010. Tanya’s eleventh birthday, and the last one I ever spent with her.
My stomach twisted as I set the photo aside and carefully excavated the rest of the items. A tangle of sticky notes, scribbled with our secret language that we used to write messages to each other during class. An envelope containing locks of hair—mine black, Tanya’s blond—that we cut with craft scissors late at night on a Skittles-and-Sprite-induced high. Tanya’s mother’s cherry red lipstick that we melted in the microwave (“for the sake of science,” we later tried to explain to her infuriated parental unit.) Paper slips from fortune cookies that we’d saved because Tanya said if you threw them away, they wouldn’t come true. Our whole friendship, stored in one 5-by-7-inch box.
At the very bottom of the chest lay a crumpled scrap of lined notebook paper. I fished it out and smoothed it onto the kitchen table, then instantly felt my heart wrench. At the top of the paper, in little-girl handwriting, it read: “It is hereby declared that Tanya Roan and Karah Mason will be best friends until death, and then even after.” Below were two signatures in shaky cursive, and then side-by-side brown smudges. I remembered summoning the courage to prick the tip of my finger for those smudges. I remembered the tack shaking as it approached my skin, and then the thought that finally made me go through with it: You’re doing this for Tanya. You’re doing this for your best friend. My throat was dry as I carefully folded up the paper and placed it in the bottom of the chest. A blood oath still couldn’t keep Tanya and me from drifting apart. I wondered if she remembered taking that oath, if it had meant as much to her as it did to me. I wondered if she ever thought about me anymore, if she missed her old best friend, if she ever hiked up Crabapple Mountain and looked out over the valley and thought of me.
Maybe I didn’t have to wonder. I pulled out my cell phone and stared at the keypad. I’d gotten a new phone since we’d stopped being friends, and I hadn’t saved her number in it, but that didn’t mean I still didn’t know it by heart.
I took a deep breath and punched in the digits. It rang once. Would she recognize the number on her phone screen? It rang twice. She couldn’t have forgotten that easily, could she have? It rang three ti—
“Uh, who is this?”
“It’s m—it’s Karah.” Her voice was so familiar. Wasn’t mine?
There was a pause. “Oh. Hi, Karah. Um, what’s up?”
My eyes flickered to the array of memories laid out across the table. “I just…I was gardening, and I found something. Do you remember when we buried that time capsule?”
The pause was even longer this time. Then, “The wooden one?”
“Yeah. From the summer before sixth grade.”
“I remember, yeah.” There was a note of hesitation in her voice.
“Well, I found it. And it just reminded me of you. And when we used to be best friends and everything. So I thought I might as well call you.” My toe scuffed on the kitchen floor. The silence through the phone was crushing me.
“And maybe…I don’t know, maybe we could hang out sometime?”
“I mean, I’ve been pretty busy lately….” She drifted off. “Just a lot of stuff going on. You know how school is.”
I swallowed. When I spoke my voice was softer than I meant it to be. “I know.”
“Hey.” Her voice sounded further away, somehow. “I’ve actually got to go. I’ve got this thing. But it was cool talking to you.”
“By—” She had already hung up. I let my hand fall from my ear, and I sat for a moment, my heart pulsing in my chest. Then I stood up, gathered all the items and placed them back in the box, and gently closed the lid. I walked outside to the back garden, kneeled under the pine tree, and nestled the chest into the ground. I picked up my gardening shovel and scooped the earth over the chest until it disappeared beneath the soil. Then I stood up, dusted off my knees, and headed back into the house.
Some memories are better left buried.