The Time Capsule

by Matthew Dexter

I could sit here now and tell you how I was such a great kid and everything was great. But that would be a lie. I mean everything was fine. I had it all. Even though I was painfully shy, my childhood was golden and slowly emboldened me to believe that everything was amazing, nothing was impossible, and anything was attainable. But a few rapid mistakes were made as well.

It’s funny stepping back into fading memories and retracing footsteps, as though I could ever want anything more than the treasured opportunity of traveling a dozen years into the past and changing my course. Of course that’s impossible now and so my desire is ultimately purposeless, but sometimes I still lie awake, my ghostlike face illuminated by the merciless gloom of the circular fluorescent moon wondering how the hell I survived so long.

Leaving friends behind forever is immensely difficult to initiate. For me the hardest part was always saying goodbye. You never want those precious waning moments to end. Like that ethereal moment when the sun dances on the distant horizon for a few glorious minutes before sinking precipitously into the oceanic abyss of tomorrow. Or that time you take one last silent glance at your best friend’s face because you know you’ll never see those angelic features ever again.

It’s strange. When you come to live in a certain place for any period of time you eventually come to build up these mysterious sentimental feelings, even if you hate the damn place. I hated this wicked dwelling with an unmitigated and malignant passion. But there was no place else on the surface of the earth I’d rather be. Even though home was both a paradise and living hell, it was still home.

That’s how it was for me at Kent School. Kent was just another ordinary upper mediocre New England prep school. It still is. Situated in western Connecticut along the banks of the Housitonic River, amidst a hilly valley where pretension meets tradition, illicit memories still shiver down my spine whenever I mention or endeavor to remember the vivid, repulsive moments of my expulsion.

I never feared the currents of the ocean would ever pull me under the surface, but some yearning to discover more than the river was flowing copiously through my veins, surging forward in anticipation of explosion. Little did I know that a few instinctive decisions made a decade earlier would challenge the very purpose of my present life and eventually threaten to overthrow all of my fledgling successes.

The first expulsion was the most difficult. Or maybe it was the second way around. These days it all seems the same. After a decade of distancing myself from that haunting New England campus time has become an inadequate measure of classification. Ten years ago I left in a daze of tears for the last time, full of fears and demons, and now those years and months have merged together like weak protruding masses of colliding clouds.

I’ll never return. Even if they’d allow me back onto the campus. Even to bait my twisted curiosity about whether the deans would call the police to enforce the restraining order, or if they’d even bother to remember my name at all if I should decide to show up for the reunion next year. I’m sure so much has changed in so many years. We all have. I’d be surprised if more than a dozen people even remembered who I was, let alone what I’d done that windy wintry afternoon.

Listen, when I said that I was in tears I didn’t mean they were rolling down my cheeks or anything. I don’t want you to read this narrative and think I wasn’t a stoic stubborn bastard, since I was. But the stream of sentimentality was definitely sparkling in my eyes, threatening to pour down my face as I struggled to restrain my final farewells to the place I knew better than myself. My exhausted lower eyelids began to tremble and collect blood as I bid farewell to my past life for the last time. I think it’s because I knew it was the last time that I felt so profoundly grief stricken on this occasion. As if I had finally screwed up my one last spectacular hurrah, it all started to sink in.

Don’t get the impression I’m some sentimental fairy or something, since I wasn’t. Since I’m not. But the raw emotion was boiling through my skin as I acknowledged the gnawing assertion that I could certainly never again return to this magical world which I had created. It was devastating to confirm this with my tortured conscience, but the truth of the matter was that I would never ever be able to reenter the one and only place I could call home.

I had lived there many years, and remember thinking in the midst of my first endless December how I wished this horrid frozen winter would last forever, and these next three snowy years would pass like a majestic dream that never ends. I had never before been so happy, wishing that every second would linger so. It’s one of those truly enchanting aspirations that a person only encounters a few times in his existence. For me this occurred when I was sixteen and living on my own for the first time.

I could get into all the boring details of my departure from school and how my absence was long overdue, and how I had prolonged the inevitable on numerous occasions, but the truth of the matter is that all I can remember now are Morgan’s sandy brown eyes, and the morbid sound of the organ preceding the Thursday evening chapel service foreshadowing my departure as I grabbed my remaining possessions, slamming my ruffled duffle bag upon my back like a load of bricks.

The smooth lamination on the oak desktop from which I had written my final message of consolatory reflection was given the freedom of expression as I departed. And I like to believe that somewhere in some cathartic, dark, hidden storage room, consumed by intersecting spider webs far up in the quarantined attic above one of the dormitories, my words are still heard every couple of months by a degenerate group of students courageous and stupid enough to explore the forbidden corners of their campus at four in the morning.

As I was about to walk gallantly out the dormitory doorway something caught me and pinned my fingers to the perimeters of the doorframe, fixing me in place as I swung my shoulders around and screamed at the top of my lungs. Morgan was watching me leave from about a hundred feet away.

“You know! You’re better than all the rest of them in this god damn place combined!”

I didn’t see his expression as I shouted it because I began to get slightly molested by those aforementioned tears. I suppose it was a residual effect from my pollen allergies as well. But I had the feeling that he sensed it as an honest compliment and I’m sure he must have smiled like a beautiful blooming flower with that luminous perceptive expression of virtuous integrity. The stylish way that he always exuded it to me in confidence, as if he were the most trustworthy, good-natured person on the surface of the earth, and I could tell him all my deepest secrets without any fear that he would ever reveal them.

And that was that. Like a dream, I disappeared from Morgan’s life forever. The organ bid me farewell and the river kissed me goodbye as the campus and my past slide away from view one last time. There was nothing left to do but pull the fire alarm as I pushed the dormitory door open and slithered out into the dawning dusk like a dehydrated water snake longing for a swim.

* * *

My first few days back were hideous. Being burdened by the burning regret and omnipresent shame of my actions I entered into a sort of depressive comatose state. Within months and years it all quickly faded away, like clouds merging with a snowy mountain on a breezy Connecticut afternoon.

Within a few years of my departure from school I used all of my influential connections and reputedly established myself working successfully in a very respectable career. I still thought of Morgan, but only every once in a while when I had exhausted all other endeavors or a nightmare reminded me of the mountain. Living in separate countries had kept us apart, and things being as they are, old friends are eventually replaced by new acquaintances and faces ultimately turn from strangers to best friends, and life goes on.

I was working for a national suicide prevention hotline. Actually, I was the vice president and had risen to prominence by climbing the ladder to success, escalator style. I did so through my personal connections within the company and also by a series of unfortunate incidences where I had an impressive series of successes talking numerous suicidal individuals away from the brink of their own catastrophes. More than just a phone operator, I had actually had the fortunate privilege of having a propensity to encounter random strangers in the process of destroying themselves.

Every couple months there would be another man on a bridge with a badly handwritten note and a recently purchased bottle of whiskey, or an elderly woman clenching her eye glasses with trembling hands as she steadily edged closer to the corner of the observation platform where the receding safety barrier was leading into the abyss below. She was within inches from the antenna tower, where it was possible to fall if someone willingly leaned downward enough to do so. I grabbed her at the very last moment as she lunged forward, and we watched silently as her enormous eye glasses spun from her fingertips, spiraling seven hundred feet to the crowded city street below. At least I did. I’m not sure if she could see well enough without them. Come to think of it I don’t think she could see at all. She died a few days later, but that story never made the news.

Yesterday it was the pretty young girl with the fist full of pills and the three day supply of prescription sleep medication already sifting though her stomach. She knew the system and was on the brink of swallowing them when she caught my wandering attention. Instantly, I viciously threw her hands away from her face in an instinctive wave of emotion, the glass of water and yellow pills splashing across the marble linoleum floor like a suicidal tsunami.

The problem with this was that she was one of our summer interns and it was my job to hide this unfortunate incident from the attention of the media. Thankfully we had doctors in the building and we were able to pump her stomach in the facility in the basement where we train for such unpleasant disturbances. Plus, the local media and the whole country had enough of my rescues already on record so this one was even more special because it was secret and improved my credibility within the office. Now my reputation sparkled like a diamond throughout the entire company. I was sure that I was going to be president soon enough.

* * *

I maintained my connection to my dear friend Morgan through the buried treasures we secretly left for each other every other September through the ingenious idea he had cleverly concocted during our senior year in high school. Morgan, being the creative benevolent spirit that he was, proposed the brilliant time capsule idea as a tangible way to keep in touch through the vast distances of spaces, places, and faces in-between our continents and changing lives.

Every other year we would return separately in the second half of September and dig up the old aluminum box, which we buried in Nantucket beneath an old decaying fishing boat illuminated by starfish and phosphorescent barnacles. We had been attracted like pathetic magnets to this secluded spot in front of the decrepit sea vessel as if by some prophetic cosmic calling one night, and we promised each other to someday return separately to experience the stellar views dancing above our heads once again.

The rules were that we could only return for two days at a time during the two week span and could only visit the spot for an hour each day to dig up and bury our gifts. It was a stupid idea. A peculiar ritual that grew increasingly demented and surreal as the years progressed.

At first it was the usual innocuous items. Letters, pictures, poetry, music, cheap jewelry. Neither of us ever left a phone number or an email address to keep in touch on any other level, and on the first five occasions neither of us ever encountered one another. Though it seemed on a couple incidences our paths had crossed by no more than a few hours.

Morgan always left very nice letters, carefully protected in plastic bags sealed with many layers of messy glue. I used to write friendly letters too. Until I noticed the dead rabbits stuffed neatly inside the leather guitar box beneath our aluminum time capsule. Then my letters became very inquisitive. Immediately demanding that Morgan inform me how he could kill so many innocent, defenseless little animals.

I knew it was from him because there was always another note on top of the guitar case, mixed in with the few inches of sandy dirt between our box and the bottom of the hole. At first I opened the case with such pleasure and excitement, as if there was actually a buried treasure sitting in my dirty trembling hands.

It was six years since I had last seen the eternally magnificent, beautiful, charming, Morgan. I could hardly contain my obvious excitement while struggling to rapidly unbuckle the scratched metal latches on his guitar case. The rabbits were shaped in such an awkward position. As if the great Morgan himself had actually attempted to make them fill out the case in the shape of the missing instrument.

I was riveted by this hideous discover. I pivoted on my knees and spun the case shut, throwing it back into the hole. The stench bit at me viciously as I began writing an improvised message of shock to my gentle friend Morgan, crying tears into the red ink of the pen, turning the words purple and murky.

I reburied the guitar case and placed it beneath our box, exactly as I had found it.


* * *

Two years later I opened the box in the middle of the night to make sure that nobody witnessed anything unusual. As if I wasn’t doing the most damn unusual of things to begin with. Cursing Morgan with my whispers I directed the flashlight beam upon the dirt and dug with my feet until I reached our box. Inside was the usual items. A benevolent letter written as if Morgan had no idea about the rabbits, giving no indication of having even read my message concerning the murdered animals. It was as if everything was absolutely normal and nothing had even happened.

I placed the flashlight on top of our box and began to shovel into the ground below, ultimately making a clearing around the guitar case, reading the brief message Morgan left in the sand.

“My music was my life. I can’t use it anymore. I am useless.”

I threw the paper on the beach and unlatched the guitar case with reluctance. I was definitely expecting to find something worse than the first time, but didn’t know what it would be. I was certainly surprised by my discovery.

“I found lobsters!”

That was my response, as I sat down on the sand and began crying silently.

About three dozen giant Nantucket lobsters were crammed into every inch of his guitar case. I wrote my reply in a fury of emotions and began to close the case when suddenly I noticed some movement coming from the orange cluster of jaggedly cracked shells and angry mangled claws. It was alive and walked right out of the damn guitar case. Danced right across the beach like a phosphorescent fairy and disappeared into the water.

I shuddered and finished burying the items. Then went home to go to bed. Hoping that two years would change everything. That Morgan would fill the guitar case with butterflies. Live butterflies that flutter with beauty and fly to the moon like florescent shooting stars.

* * *

Morgan and I hadn’t spoken a word to one another outside of the time capsule. It was our only communication and my intention was to propose exchanging phone numbers and emails, getting together after so many years. I had the note all written when I began digging in the middle of the night. It was the ides of September and it looked as if the sand was just freshly planted into place as I tore it apart with my shovel.

The case was filled with music. Songs and lyrics he had wrote were crumpled up into little balls in the guitar case and the note explained it all.

“I didn’t have what it takes to go professional, my dear friend. I just didn’t have the magic ingredient.”

And with that I began to realize that my wonderful friend Morgan must be upset with not yet having fulfilled his boyhood goal of becoming a professional musician. For he had the intellect to do many extraordinary things, and had in fact graduated with a business degree from Princeton University in little more than three years. He was certainly worthy of greatness. But some dreams are unattainable for us all, even the extraordinary Morgan himself. He was only human after all.

The last line on his note was written much smaller, and I didn’t noticed it until I was just about to toss the message aside and leave. The words sunk in like an anchor smashing into the bottom of my stomach.

“I am going to kill myself dear buddy.”

“If I must for some reason return to this same god forsaken spot of Nantucket earth having not yet achieved my deepest dreams and ambitions in two more years I will succeed in achieving what you thankfully and blessedly failed on top of that snowy mountain. Unlike your fortunate situation, nobody will be around to save my life. Saving you from falling was my calling my dear boy. Hope for the notes my friend. Hope.”

I told Morgan through my words that he would achieve everything if he only believed in himself as much as I and everybody else did. I told him how we needed to see each other again, and then I went home to dream about the future.

* * *

Two years elapsed like a magic dream, and I found myself once more on hands and knees in front of the treasure. This time the earth was not so neatly preserved and it looked as if an animal or a person had unearthed the first few inches of our usually perfectly level spot. I wandered if our perverse intricate secrecy had finally been jeopardized, instantly spinning the flashlight in wild nervous circles toward the Atlantic Ocean and the rolling dunes of the darkened beach.

The moon was full, the wind was furious, and my heart was racing like a balloon full of helium toward the glorious stars above as I began to open the time capsule and read the beautiful note from my companion. He told me that he agreed we should meet and suggested we do so as soon as possible. He said he could not wait and promised it would be today.

Gently removing the guitar case from the hole, I sat down and read the note in the sand.

“I hope we meet again someday under different circumstances.”

On the bottom it mentioned the directions of his savage scavenger hunt.

“Now walk to the ocean and look for the freshest hole!”

I did so immediately and easily found my dear friend Morgan sitting in the bottom of the hole, transfixed in such a precarious posture of elegance, his hands in the sand and perched in the most peculiar position imaginable. A mass of crabs were feasting happily on his corpse. With his wet ragged clothes he looked like a defeated scarecrow who had just lost a significant struggle with the vicious sea vultures who were triumphantly pecking through his fresh putrid flesh.

I buried our boxes and then returned to hurriedly burry my loyal friend Morgan in the wet shallow grave which he had so neatly dug for himself, as if even in death he decided to show off his fantastic talents. For how perfectly he could dig the dimensions of his own sand coffin.

I began to cover Morgan with the wet sand from the neat square pile when suddenly I noticed a piece of paper protruding through the bottom of the hole near his left hand. I knelt down and reached into the golden grave, lifting the envelope from the sandy tomb with a whisper “I‘m sorry,” and as I stood up and read the words I wondered why Morgan was so wonderful.

“I would have buried myself alive but couldn’t accomplish such an ambitious endeavor.”

Even in death the distinguished Morgan wanted his suicide to look meticulous and impressive. I wrote a brief note, placed it in a bottle, and threw it into the September sea. I watched a star dance into the moonlit horizon as I said goodbye one last time. That’s the last correspondence I ever had with my dear friend Morgan.

I do believe and hope that someday that note will get into the hands of the angels who hold my hero in their hands. If I could I would confess this incident to the appropriate authorities, if I thought it would make any difference. But someday I’m gonna be company president.

© 2008 by Matthew Dexter



About the Author

Matthew Dexter is an American freelance writer living in majestic Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where he writes memoirs, novels, poetry, press releases, journalism articles, short stories of literary fiction, and everything else in between. His work has been published in numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and abroad. He can be contacted at


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