Thursday, October 16, 2008

Day two hundred and eighty nine ... Ghost in the machine.

This would never happen in real life.

Another day comes and progresses as it is expected to the best of our ability.

The usual time for the mail arrives, and we hear and see the iconic white truck scurry away down the street. Its work--bringing joy, angst, tears, confusion, and sometimes enthusiastic complacency--is done for the day.

Said mail is taken out of its respective receptacle, squeezed between thumb and outstretched fingers, and triaged. It is assessed in seconds that some articles are of the junk variety, others are mere menus for restaurants, some are valiant attempts at local car dealerships to curry your business for an oil change, offering "free 24 point inspection" to tell you what else needs doing that you didn't plan on, and some is actual correspondence.

And then, one white envelope makes you drop the rest on the floor, petrified, as you hold it in both hands, shaking like a leaf, staring at the handwriting--your name first, then the return address--checking the post office mark for the date, and then, finally, for a hand-pressed stamp somewhere--anywhere--that says this letter should have been delivered a long time ago ...

... because the person who its from doesn't walk through this world anymore.

And you carefully open it, making sure to not inadvertently rip the enclosed paper.

You slide it out, giving a cursory look around as if to spot a malevolent practical joker, only to find out that it's a letter you have already received weeks ago.

It's a letter you responded to.

It shouldn't be back in your mailbox ... but it is.

And as your limbs start to loosen, and the blood drains from your head like water squeezed from a shower sponge, you can't believe that you feel as fragile and crushed as you did on the first week that they weren't around on the other end of the telephone. You forget how that sensation felt because you were so busy doing things to help forget it happened ... and it had worked ... until now.

And you tell yourself there is a reasonable explantation for why you are holding a duplicate of a piece of correspondence that you already received from a person who can't be reached by traditional means. You carefully put it down on the table and intently and mechanically begin the process of paying a bill or two, as the transfer of money--whether to or away from you--is more likely than not to disturb the heartiest trance.

But, as I said ... this would never happen in real life.

It did, however, happen to me via my computer the other day.

It was an email, in my inbox, in bold print, at the top of the pile, with my aunt's email address as the sender, and it wasn't spam.

It should have ended up in the "old mail" box that I have full of many short to medium length online conversations I have had with her over the last few years.

But it didn't.

It came in as "new."

And it scared the shit out of me.

The date was from over the summer.

The topic was regarding one of my blog posts (she had been a consummate editor, and I dearly miss her linguistic scalpel).

And, regardless of the fact that I could vaguely remember what the email said, I opened it anyway.

I had to.

I had to send it back in the "old mail" box.

And as I waited the two seconds it takes for any given email to load in my box I felt a shiver of energy course through my whole body from head to toe.

Because my aunt stopped sending me emails sometime in the middle of August. She never liked using her computer in the first place (she called it her black devil) and by then she had become too sick to sit up for too long, so it just sat there, and the tower became a pedestal for the cats.

The editing notes stopped coming in.

The silly forwards she would pass along to me, usually conjuring up a groan or shake of the head, stopped coming in.

And she became unable to read my entries.

So I read them to her.

Some of the memories I will always cherish are those of sitting across from her while she laid on the couch, eyes closed, smiling, as I excitedly and dramatically read my latest post. As I would come to a close and say the words "Thanks for reading" aloud I would slowly raise my eyes to focus on her face. It always read like a book: sometimes with a tear-stained cheek, sometimes with a simple smile, sometimes with a confused and perplexed grimace (particularly at some of my anthropomorphizing of common animals or household objects), but always with enthusiasm that I was continuing my exploration of the world inside my head, as well as the one in front of my eyes, via my brain, heart, hands, and computer.

For the longest time I had no idea she was keeping a very tangible record of my work.

There are presently four massive binders in Mattapoisett filled with the first seven months of my posts. This is a photo of one of them.
Turns out, after each of my posts had passed inspection, and the appropriate editing accomplished, she would print each one out and insert the pages into plastic sleeves, then into the appropriate binder, and finally that binder would get put back with the others and wait for my next batch of letters and words to be assembled and published. I was shocked when I first saw them, and told her how I didn't know my words meant so much to her. She smiled and told me that she was from a different time in history when words were put to paper and not just on an LCD screen for a temporary piece of time. She wanted to be sure that if the whole of the internet infrastructure were to crumble and fall, and we were left with nothing but what we can make with our hands and what we can read from the ink that is printed on a page, that she would have a record of my accomplishments, both in the actions they describe and by the language I used to convey them with.

Ink on paper.

A permanent record of thoughts in a very temporary existence.

This is the picture she chose for the cover of the collection. Each one bears the same photo. It is of my mother and me in 2000, directly following a performance by my band, Drunk Stuntmen, of a silent film score which we wrote and performed to accompany the 1924 silent film version of Peter Pan. 

It shows her love, her admiration, and her joy for her boy.

My mother was unable, of course, to read my writing and to know firsthand of my recent successes in my struggle with my many demons, but my aunt felt that this is how she would react if she could.

And I would have to agree.

And so, when this intangible and unpredictable piece of communication popped into my mailbox on my computer screen I knew it had to have been a mistake. 

But just like the other day when my Aunt Norma (who knows me by my childhood nickname, "Beaner") received an email from "Alex Johnson" (which is the name of my late uncle, and her husband) last week, and told me what a start it gave her to see his name on an email in her inbox, it made me think of this.

She knew it wasn't him.

There was no way that could have been possible.

It only took a few seconds and one click of the mouse to discover that it was, in fact, me emailing her, and everything made sense again.

I had written her about my Aunt Lynda and how I'm dealing with the loss and how I am finding strength in some of the strangest places.

I'm sure she would have enjoyed this post, and a few others she never got to see while she walked this earth.

So I'm going to print it out and put it with the rest of them like she liked to do ... just in case.

Who knows where it will all end up.

Best not to worry too much, there's so much left to do.

And on we go.

Thanks for reading,




drunkstuntmenbow said...

Hey Beaner,
That was a good one.

guess said...

That one is a "Keeper"..print it out!!

F. Alex Johnson said...

Thanks guys.

I liked that one too.

Glad it wasn't just me.