“The Element of Freedom” by Rocio Iribe

I joined the Marine Corps in 2007.

He was a Marine as well, but two years later it all ended.

It was as if the light had been turned on in my room for the first time. I saw it clearly lining the top shelf of my TV console with my DVD player and speaker set sitting on top of it. It was a white towel with a pattern of the four aces on it. Alicia Keys was singing at full blast about sleeping with a broken heart, and I snapped. I wanted nothing to do with it, with any of it! I sprang up and grabbed an empty box. All of it had to go now. RIGHT NOW. I pulled the towel and threw it in the box like a madwoman, followed by the rest of the stuff he’d given me: the ace of hearts necklace, his corporal chevrons I got pinned with in Iraq, the gray teddy bear wearing the pink t-shirt that read “I love you this much,” the Hollister sweatpants, the pictures from my wallet. Alicia Keys, still at full blast, sang “If you ask me, I’m ready.” I taped the box shut. It was the year 2009, the year Alicia Keys released her album The Element of Freedom, and I haven’t had a significant relationship since.

It took me about six months to dig myself out of that hole, to find that light, to breathe again. Beat by beat, note by note, with each item I threw in that box, I found my strength again with Alicia Keys. Never again, I told myself. I taped that box shut with a finality I suspected, even then, I would never come back from. I turned and walked towards the open and welcoming arms of the Marine Corps. I threw myself into the ritual of closing boxes. There was no greater place for that sacrament. Nothing mattered because I knew in a couple of years, I would be packing up and on the move yet again, closing boxes and taping them shut.

So, I lived as a lover and chaser of the light. I drew strength from being on my own, on the move, with my taped boxes. I thought my ability to do so was what defined my strength as a woman.

But, in all honesty, I’ve grown tired. The boxes have become heavy, and I’m not even really sure why I’m carrying them anymore. I’m not saying I’m ready to put them down, much less open them. But between you and me, if the right person came along and offered to help me carry them, I don’t think I could refuse.

Rocio Iribe served eight years on active duty in the United States Marine Corps. She was deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2008-2009, with 9th Engineer Support Battalion and Operation Enduring Freedom in 2013 and 2014, with Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1. She is from Los Angeles, California, and is currently pursuing her undergraduate degree in Art History, with an emphasis on Architecture and the Environment at the University of California, Santa Barbara.