I did not grow up in the golden Age of the Internet. I can still recall a time when chat boxes weren’t the primary form of communication, when e-mail was a thing for adults, when my friends and I only talked to each other through three-way phone calls or hanging out after school.
I remember how my very first e-mail address was made for me by a friend, combining my first name with the name of the boy I liked at that time. I didn’t know how to make my own yet. I used that e-mail address to create accounts during first forays into social media. I’ve grown up a bit since then, have made myself a more formal e-mail address I wouldn’t be ashamed to list 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 colourful 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, anthromorphic 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 after, I can’t remember what I wrote, and I assume that letter does not exist anymore. We’re still friends.
Before, it was easier to forget.
She was the longest relationship I’ve ever had. Three years’ worth of growing together, of discovering ourselves through the prism of another person. She was with me during Christmas, the darkest time of the year, and also New Year, the best. 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 e-mails. At that 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, but I wasn’t brave enough. The girl who looked like she always had chocolate-chip cookies in her pockets. 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.
I rarely feel the need to keep mementos of the past. It was never hard for me to throw away letters and trinkets that echo how love happened at this particular point in time. I have found that it’s easier to put things out of my mind when I don’t have to keep anything to remember it all by.
Today, however, my e-mail account was heavy with almost 2000 unread messages, and as 9-5 employees are wont to do, I 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 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 6pm, how we couldn’t decide what to wear. How I couldn’t wait to kiss you. Sometimes it was interesting, but mostly mundane. Love showed itself in the small things then.
As I scrolled through it all, I noticed how the conversations turned into lengthy fights as our relationship neared the end. Arguments fuelled by jealousy and insecurity. Sometimes the issues were heavy, but still, mostly mundane. We were holding on by a thread, could almost see the exit sign. I swear I could taste our bitterness like everything is still happening today.
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, 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 can 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.