Yesterday, I performed one of the boringest tasks known to the millennial generation: I switched e-mail accounts. The process involved tracking down and updating every last one of the jillion or so sites (and I’m sure I’ve forgotten many) and businesses and organizations that somehow rely on contacting me via e-mail, as well as messaging every single contact in my address book to let them know about the change. Tedious as it is, it’s a useful process, every so often, to go through your contacts and see who’s actually still there, which of those whimsical Hotmail and Gmail addresses still works, which contacts haven’t yet expired, which people I want to hear from and those I imagine I’ll never talk to again. A couple of dozen dead e-mail addresses bounced back to me and I — diligent girl that I am — deleted them from my contact files, along with names I no longer recognized.
And then I did something simultaneously tiny and enormous.
I deleted my mother.
For close to nine years, I’ve kept her in my Outlook contacts, importing her information from system to system along with everyone else’s: the street address of the house she died in; the long-cancelled phone number; the e-mail address she never used but that my father set up for her because he was tired of her using his account; information about her spouse, now remarried. I’d go to look up another Goldberg and there she would be, her name popping up always a slight jab to my gut, a tiny twisting in my soul. Like when, several months after she died, I had a roll of film developed (was it really such a short time ago that we developed film?) and when I opened the envelope of photographs, there she was like a ghost staring back at me and I couldn’t breathe.
I’m mixed about this. On the one hand, who needs the reminder of heartbreak? Like the semi-conciliatory phone message from my high school boyfriend that I never erased from my answering machine (remember answering machines?), just flipping the cassette to the other side: why? On the other hand, it’s a big step, or at least it’s a step that feels significant: to hit “delete” on the name of the person you miss most in the world, whose name popping up today in my inbox or on my caller ID would be the most welcome of everyday miracles.
I made the call, in the end, on the basis of futility: keeping her in my contact list will never provide me with closure, let alone contact. Keeping her there isn’t so much a form of respect as it is desperation or denial. Much better to wear her rings so that part of her is with me constantly. Much better to pull out a picture and show her to my kids, write another story and say her name out loud: Ruth Laine Goldberg, I have a new e-mail address. You’ll never use it, but I know that we both would have wished that otherwise.