I noticed the mailbox at the end of the block when we bought the house. That will be handy, I thought, picturing myself strolling to the corner, letters in hand, smiling and nodding at neighbors as they sat on their porch swings enjoying a cool evening breeze.
Four years later, I had yet to use it, partly because I got in the habit of mailing things from work, but mostly because “strolling to the corner” was just another way to say “walking,” an activity that is dangerously close to “jogging,” which we now know can cause brain damage.
Then, one Saturday, my wife said, “That electric bill really needs to get in the mail today or the lights are going to go out.”
“No problem,” I replied, remembering the handy mailbox on the corner. So out the door I went, electric bill in hand.
That’s odd. Why can’t I see the mailbox? I’m a huge fan of the doctrine of object permanence. I learned it as a toddler and embraced it. Things don’t just disappear because you stop looking at them or leave the area. They’ll still be there when you return. So I know the mailbox is there. The fact that I can’t see it, however, is troubling.
A trick of the light, I tell myself. An optical illusion. It’ll come into view any second now. At this point, I’m 15 feet away from the seemingly invisible mailbox. A few more steps and I’m at the corner. I’m two feet from where the mailbox is supposed to be, staring like people stare at the empty parking space where their stolen car is supposed to be. In cases like this, we, for some reason, think tilting our head will help.
I tilt my head, first to the left and then to the right. Still no mailbox. Hindsight being 20/20, I realized that anyone else would have walked out their door, looked toward the corner, noticed there was no longer a mailbox there, and gone back inside, but not me. I walked to a non-existent mailbox, because my brain is wired to favor a scenario where the post office is field testing new, transparent, mailboxes.
I considered turning around and going back home, but was still trying to focus my eyes on the air-where-I-knew-there-should-be-a-mailbox when the low rumble of a truck interrupted my concentration. I turned to look at it as I heard it brake, come to a stop, and idle, diesel exhaust filling my nose.
Why can’t I see this truck?
I hear a sliding door open, footsteps in sync with jingling keys, and the mailbox being opened, followed by the rustling of letters being thrust into a sack.
I feel an odd sensation in my fingers holding the electric bill.
Mailbox closes. Retreating footsteps. Truck put in gear and speeds off.
I turned around and walked home
“You were gone a long time,” said my wife.
“Yeah, they moved that mailbox that used to be on the corner. I had to walk around the neighborhood and find another one.”