The Internet remembers us
I did not grow up in the golden age of Internet. I can still recall a time when chat boxes aren’t the primary form of communication, when e-mail is a thing for adults, when my friends and I only talk to each other through three-way phone calls or after-school get-togethers.
I remember how my very first email address is made for me by a friend, combining my first name with the name of my crush at the time. I didn’t know how to make my own yet. I used that email address to create accounts during my first forays into social media.
I’ve grown up a bit since and have created an email address I won’t be ashamed to put on a resume, but that very first one is still the same address I use for my current Facebook profile. That’s close to a decade ago.
Breaking up was different then. We did it through letters handwritten on colorful stationery, through common friends passing the word during break time and in-between classes, through text messages peppered with basic emoticons, always with a short shelf life based on the memory capacity of one’s phone.
Easy to forget. Easier to delete, easier to throw in the garbage.
That was before the Internet became exponentially more popular and accessible than radio and TV. Today, distance is not distance anymore, at least not in the way it used to be.
I was 15 when I fell in love for the very first time. The fall was meteoric; the story was a cliché. He was my best friend, as many first loves go. I remember writing a long letter pouring out my feelings for him, teenage hormones raging on three pages of pink stationery with white rabbits in various cute poses: A rabbit eating a piece of cake, bunnies smiling buckteeth smiles, anthropomorphic furry images softening the passion in my confession. I remember asking my computer science teacher to look it over and to please send it to him. She did. He turned out to be gay. Years later, I can’t remember what I wrote. I assume that letter does not exist anymore.
Before, it was easier to forget.
She was the longest relationship I’ve ever had. Three years’ worth of growing together, of finding out who we were in relation to another person. She was with me during Christmas, the darkest time of the year, and also New Year, the best one. Birthdays. My mother’s cancer. Our first dog, family reunions, graduation, the occasional out-of-town vacations. We were together during the good, the bad, and the in between. Naturally, that relationship also yielded three years’ worth of photos, status messages, tweets, text messages and emails. At the time, we had no idea we were just tangents in each other’s stories.
Other people have come before and after. There was the boy who broke up with his girlfriend of seven years to take a chance on me. There was the girl who had a girlfriend and for whom I eventually wrote an essay about how we could never be friends as a way of saying goodbye. There were the “flashes,” people, who, at the moment, felt full of possibilities but turned out to be impossible eventually. Most of these combined online and real-time interactions, the Internet making up for the empty side of the bed, the Web bridging time spent apart. It was the new normal.
Call me immature, but I never felt any need to keep mementos of the past. It was never hard for me to throw away letters detailing how love happened at this particular point in time. I had this mindset that if something is over, it didn’t count anymore. I don’t have to keep anything to remember it by.
Today, however, my e-mail account is heavy with almost 2,000 unread messages. As 9-5 employees are wont to do, I have dedicated myself to the task of cleaning up the mess to distract me from my endless to-do list. I deleted promotions from various businesses, sent social media updates to the trash, and hit “Delete All” on hundreds of useless entries in my inbox.
Then I made the mistake of clicking on the “Chat” tab.
In an instant, a list of our previous conversations came up on my screen. There you were on February, teasing me about my dislike of the soppy rituals during the 14th. There I was, describing how bored I was at work. There were countless exchanges where we told each other about the little things we were doing: What we ate for lunch, our plans once the clock hit 6 p.m., how we couldn’t decide what to wear. Sometimes it was steamy, but mostly mundane.
As I scrolled through it all, I noticed how the updates turned into lengthy verbal fights as our relationship neared the end. Arguments fueled by jealousy and insecurity. Sometimes the issues were heavy, but still, mostly mundane. We were holding on by a thread.
Prior to this, I wasn’t even aware that this archive even existed. I wasn’t ready for the tidal wave of remembrance that hit me, the technicolor memories refreshed in every line that unfolded on my screen. It was as if our relationship had come back to life, a Frankenstein powered by an Internet connection, a ghost made up of bytes.
It’s a curious thing, how technology has transformed the way we say goodbye. I wonder if it’s still possible to truly forget and let go when it only takes an instant to access the online scrapbooks of everything that has gone before.
You and I have parted ways, but the Internet remembers us still.
There are digital corners in which we’re still holding hands, where the end hasn’t reached us yet. That one comment you left on my blog years ago, verbatim chat logs preserved in my GMail, the photos of us others have posted: They live on. Overlooked and forgotten until an accidental tap or click lets them breathe again.
I have thrown your letters away. Deleted every message you’ve ever sent me. Erased all the physical and digital records of affection that I could find. I have no need for them, and neither do you, I assume. The sleeping memories of the past in my mind are enough for me.
But there are faded, dusty corners of the Internet that root for us still.
They exist frozen in time, untouched, unaware of the fact that some loves do not survive and never will.
Jamie delos Reyes has worked in various capacities as a writer. A few of her pieces are up at intensityfour.wordpress.com, among other places on the Internet, and she’s also the cofounder of White Wall Poetry, a group of spoken word artists. She’s still trying to figure out what those things even mean.
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