Here is a quote from “The Glass Essay,” a poem by Anne Carson: “You remember too much, / my mother said to me recently. / Why hold onto all that? And I said, / Where can I put it down?”
And here is a story: Sam and I fought about memory. He told me that he never deletes old messages, pictures or emails, because we should always keep track of the people we’ve been. Sam loves the glass coffin of the Internet, where everything is pretty, intact and dead as a doornail. At first, I told him that I could not adopt his method: at the end of a relationship, in a fit of angry grief, I storm through social media, destroying all the evidence in sight. I unfollow and unfriend without a second thought.
But it was a question of accountability, he said. “I refuse to forget past mistakes and missteps.” And at the time, despite our differences, this struck me as a noble endeavor. Ah, yes, I thought, I have met a person who cares about empathy in the way that I care about empathy. Self-flagellation appeals to me; I love the idea of an endless wake, gazing into the glass coffin forever, reliving and remembering all the complexities of loss. So, I thought, when (if?) our relationship ends, Sam, I will not delete these messages, emails and pictures. I will preserve this version of me, ugly and flawed as she is, because grief and guilt are productive emotions.
In August, I admitted to my family that my computer was having problems. For a while, I had lived in a happy, forced oblivion, refusing to acknowledge the screen’s spasms and the fan’s drone. But finally, a few days before I went back to school, I confessed: It makes the noises of a dental drill, I said, showing them the device. The computer was four years old and I had not treated it with respect or care, but let crumbs gather under the keyboard, sharp corners dent the metal shell. The thing was ugly, too. I had covered it in stickers, kept a tacky record of my travels: Paris, Louisville, New Haven, San Francisco. (I forgot to buy a sticker in Russia.) It bounced around my backpack and overheated on my bed, until some small mechanism melted, sputtered to a stop. My mother offered me her laptop, and I felt no regret as I exchanged one silver rectangle for another. It did not make uncouth noises in quiet coffee shops. Its screen did not seize up. The metal shell was soft and cool to the touch.
At the same time that I was exchanging gadgets, in late summer, Sam was showing me — slowly, hypnotically, the way a magician lays out cards — that he did not love me anymore. You do not possess sufficient mystery or beauty to justify your self-destructive streak, he was telling me in some complicated code, and I was mesmerized by the sudden loss, the guilt and grief. I read and reread all the nasty (and valid!) accusations. I stared at my face in the mirror, swollen and pink as a pig head. Everywhere I looked I saw scorn or indifference.
Here is another quote from “The Glass Essay”: “It pains me to record this, / I am not a melodramatic person.”
I didn’t give my mom instructions as I handed over the old computer. I only realized this when she called a few days later, and asked for my password. “We’re taking it to the Apple store, and if they can fix it, we’ll give it to Dad.” I told her the password, then pictured my computer in the hands of a stranger: manicured fingers on the ugly, stupid stickers. I expected to feel some regret or resentment — if the stickers were lost, so too was the proof, the detritus of my past four years on planet Earth, the record of all the people I’d been. For a second, I wanted to say: take off the stickers, and bring an external hard drive to the Apple Store. Ask the employees to upload all my files and folders to that hard drive, then mail it to me, along with the stickers. But I only listened to her talk, stories of coworkers and new neighborhood restaurants, small changes and accidents.
There are no songs, photos or messages on my new computer. I open the folders sometimes and stare at the dead, white screen. Then, a little window pops up, asking me to “sync” photos, songs or messages from another device. I close the window. Sam and I haven’t talked since I got back to school, but I want to tell him, you, my mom, my dad, anyone, that it’s all bullshit, all the rules and axioms and commandments and imperatives. Love me, trust me, tally up your failures, pick difficulty for its own sake, sacrifice everything for art, express no ugly feelings, have no ugly feelings. But, a third quote from The Glass Essay: “The vocation of anger is not mine.”
Inertia carries me from one day to the next.
Contact Jane Balkoski at firstname.lastname@example.org .