Thursday, February 16, 2006


I have been unable to access my email all week.

Yes, I am one of those stupid, stupid people who does web-mail and does not back any of it up. Periodically I go through my Inbox (dating back to early 2000) and delete all the mail I don't want to keep. This generally creates enough space in my inbox for me to continue functioning on the "free" level, without having to upgrade my status to Preferred Member (which really just means I have to pay to do what I did for free, before).

My husband (who makes his living in computers) has been telling me for ages that I need to do my mail differently. And he has even offered to set it all up for me.

Now, I am one of those people who can't be bothered. And I don't mean that I won't work very hard to get something or I don't want to get a little dirt under my fingernails. I mean that I literally can't be bothered about certain things, much the way I described Eliot in my story, running.

Unlike ninety percent of America's women, I generally have only one pair of shoes at a time. I just can't be bothered to care about shoes. If my shoes are worn out, I'll keep wearing them without thinking about it, until one rainy day when I step in a puddle and have to live the rest of the day with a water-logged sock. And I will live the rest of the day with that sock, rather than run to my bedroom to change it, because, well, I simply can't be bothered. And even then, I am as likely as not to step in another puddle the very next day and the next week and the next month, before I finally, probably on impulse, buy a new pair of shoes. I am adaptable. To anything. This is good in some respects. But every now and then I'll see a stack of books on the floor in front of the bookcase or glance at the china cabinet where a game that we played a year ago still sits, or I'll take last-year's overlooked Christmas ornament from the top of the microwave to put it on this year's tree, and I'll think, "I really should take more notice of things. My life is all about reaction and not at all about prevention.

It shouldn't surprise me, then, that when I tried this morning, for the 6th consecutive day, to check my email, I was able to access my mailbox only to find that it had been wiped clean. All of my mail from anybody for the last six years is gone. And unless finds the method and the generosity to restore it for me, I will never see it again.

I'm trying to decide if this matters to me. On the one hand, I kept all that mail for a reason, and my relationship with all of you who email me is important to me. Also, although perhaps somewhat sadly, most of my friendships and the larger part of those individual friendships have taken place via email.

On the other hand, how important is it that I hoard or revisit those conversations? I have my memory. I carry them with me. I don't remember many specific emails, but the whole of those conversations, over the years, has informed the way I know each person and the way I know myself, because of him or her. Life is organic. When we try to go back in memory to a specific place or time, it is all different, anyway, even if we've taken great pains to preserve it intact.

Several months ago I sorted through my "Treasure Box", a box containing memorabilia from my childhood and adolesence. The treasures therein did not give me the pleasure I thought they would, though many of them I would never part with, willingly: like the letter my older brother gave me at Summer Camp one year.

Camp Gitchee Gumee set up a "Secret-Brother, Secret-Sister" arrangement on the first day of camp. Every boy was given a girl's name at random and every girl was given the name of a boy. During the week each camper was to write friendly notes or give small gifts to the person bearing the name on his or her slip.

About mid-week I understood that whatever boy drew my name out of the hat must have asked someone to point me out and realized he'd drawn the short stick. I cried. I withdrew. I couldn't look in the mirror at my fuzzy hair and my awkward body draped with garage sale clothes. I knew that some boy had been sorely disappointed and didn't want to risk peer-taunting, even to send me a friendly note.

The next day one of my cabin mates handed me a folded letter. On the outside were the printed words, "From your Secret Brother." Inside were several kind paragraphs, replete with mis-spellings and poor grammar, but to me they could have won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

At the end of the week, when the Secret Siblings were revealed and nobody stood up and showed himself when my name was called, the truth slowly began to dawn on me.

Michael told me later that he had asked a girl to write the letter for him, so I wouldn't recognize his handwriting, and that he'd dictated the mis-spellings and grammatical mistakes so as not to arouse suspicion, because most pre-teen boys just don't know how to write.

I wasn't let down when I learned the truth. I was used to being overlooked, especially by boys. But not another girl in that whole camp had a brother who loved her the way mine loved me.

I still have the note, tucked away in a box somewhere in my garage. And I'm glad I have it. But what's really significant is that it did exist, and I read it, and I learned something because of it, and I carry that tender piece of my brother with me every time we talk.


laura said...

That's really sweet Rae. You learned o very valuable lessons: remove socks when wet & don't use because they are unreliable. I've lost a few important emails through them. Looking back I think it's bad feng shiu (sp?) to hold on to the past like that. I think I need to be more about the here and now. I can choose to be all pissy that I trashed Brad and Pauls' old emails or I can say, 'that is what I needed to do at the time. there is nothing for me here, I must move on.'

And damn girl, use gmail for cryin' out loud. ;-)

Love you.

Michael Ciani said...

You had me laughing out loud with this one, not at your misfortune, of course, but rather at your descriptions. But then you nearly made me cry with the brother story. I barely--barely--can even faintly remember that. And it made me mad; what kind of idiot wouldn't want you for a Secret Sister? I don't think you were jilted; I think there was an unfortunate mistake and somehow no one ever got your name. Anyway, it also gets me thinking about how we can do something so small that will still make an impact 20 years later. Probably in a good way or in a bad way.
Anyway, I am sorely sorry about your email woes; I think I would cry for a week if I lost all mine. But don't let it get you down. Love you much, miss you much, wish you could visit soon. (Although it's probably good you're not visiting when Laura is; I don't know that we could fit all three of us in this apartment!)
Big Bro

Rachael said...

Michael: well, you were a great big brother, excepting the Sarcastic Phase, when I couldn't even converse with you without getting some smart-ass interjection every few words. Eventually I conceded, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" and Sarcasm has been my great friend ever since.

By the way, my email was returned to me. And I am pleased.