There’s this poster tube, wrapped up in newsprint (a travel section of the New York Times), resting against the wooden blanket chest in my bedroom. It’s been there for over a year- just sitting there, ready to be unwrapped, ready to be opened, ready to be used.
The poster inside the tube was a birthday gift that I bought for my ex-boyfriend. In May 2013, he was still my boyfriend, and I had stumbled on a great gift: a 23×32 inch scratch-off poster map of the world. You grab a coin and scratch off the countries you’ve visited; after years (months?) of travel you’ll have spots of bright colors scattered across the map to reveal all of the places you’ve traveled to.
I loved the map and thought it was perfect for my ex. In his twenties he’d been on a quest to visit all 50 US states, and since he only had Alaska left, I knew that he would soon start to travel internationally. When we were together, we often talked about all of the places on our “lists”: our dream travel destinations around the world. We planned the places we would see together, the adventures we’d have.
The map was for him, but I knew that in the coming years, as he scratched off countries, I would inevitably be part of some of those travels.
I ordered the map well in advance- his birthday was in August, and I ordered the map in early June. I needed the map early: I’d be driving up to Vermont- where my boyfriend lived- in early July, then flying to France for a month, returning back to Vermont for several weeks in August before finally coming back to Philadelphia. I planned to wrap up the map, leave it in Vermont and have it ready to give to my boyfriend when his birthday rolled around in August.
These details are important because the map never arrived. Well, it did, but not in the way I expected. June was a flurry of activity as I finished work and visited friends and vacationed with my family and got ready for France. Around the end of the month it dawned on me that the map had never arrived, so I asked the handyman of my building if he had happened to see a poster tube arrive in the mail recently (the handyman is the partner of my landlady and they live in the main part of the house that my apartment is connected to. It’s a confusing and quirky building and mail gets mixed up, quite a bit).
The handyman looked at me, squinting his eyes. “No, I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that… no.”
“You haven’t?” I asked, trying to clarify. “It was probably this long,” I held my hands a few feet apart, “and it was a map of the world.”
Recognition sparked in his eyes, quickly followed by a very, very guilty look.
“That was for you? There was no name on it, just the address, we didn’t know who it belonged to.” He shifted on his feet, uncomfortable.
“You have it then?” Already I knew it was a futile question. My handyman has a heart of gold, but also, at times, a careless attitude and complete lack of reliability.
“Well, you see, we didn’t know who it was for. And it had been raining, and the map was wet. It was soaked, it was ruined.”
He wasn’t done yet, so I waited.
“And we scratched it off. We scratched off all the countries.”
I stared at him for a minute. I pictured it in my head: a rainy evening, one too many beers, a scratch-off map of the world at his fingertips.
“It was a gift,” I mumbled. I didn’t know what else to say.
He promised to order me another one, to overnight it. But it was the weekend, it was the 4th of July holiday, I was leaving for Vermont in a few days. I knew there was no way I would get it in time but he ordered the map anyway. It arrived at my apartment the day after I left for Vermont.
So I didn’t have the map ready for my boyfriend’s birthday, but I figured I’d just give it to him the next time I saw him. At the time, there was no way I could have guessed that I would never see him again (that is just a slight exaggeration: I saw him only once after that summer, and at that point the map was the very last thing on my mind).
I returned home in August, my relationship ended, the map sat, unopened, in the corner of my bedroom. All other traces of my relationship were tucked away: photos, stray CDs and books, notes and a stack of letters, a wooden cribbage board. I swept through my apartment and gathered up every reminder, packing most of them away in a box in the back of my closet.
But I left the map in my bedroom, because I didn’t know what to do with it. It was too late to give it to my (now ex) boyfriend, I didn’t want to give it to anyone else, I didn’t want to throw it away. So I just left it there and figured that, eventually, I’d figure something out.
And I have. It took about a year, but finally I figured out what I want to do with that map.
That map is now MINE.
Initially I thought that keeping it for myself would be too hard, that it would remind me of my ex-boyfriend, of all of those unfulfilled plans and dreams we’d had together. But time is a funny thing. I haven’t forgotten those plans and dreams- I probably never will- but they just don’t matter as much anymore. Because I’ve moved on. I’ve moved past that time, and life is about all sorts of new and exciting things again, and not about what I was supposed to share with someone else.
And besides, the map sitting in my bedroom? That’s not the map I bought for my ex-boyfriend. That map was a soggy mess, scratched off by a drunken handyman and now buried somewhere at the bottom of a trash heap.
My map is new and untarnished. My map was overnighted and expressly delivered. My map arrived a day late for my ex-boyfriend, but maybe it was never meant for him at all. Maybe this map of the world- a map full of countries waiting to be visited and scratched off- maybe that map was meant for me all along.