Jillybean's Blog











{May 12, 2015}   “SOMETIMES…Dead Is Better…”

I stared straight ahead at the red “stapler” cleverly protruding from the widely-recognizable bright red logo.

I anxiously shifted my weight on each foot as I waited…

My hands appeared to have meth-amphetamine withdrawal…my fingers couldn’t stop tapping the counter…

Who wouldn’t be nervous in my shoes???

My baby was in the ICU.

My mood for the rest of the year probably depended on what happened next…right here, right now…in the next few minutes…

Is she gonna be OK???

***

The cavalry appeared.

A stranger I’d met briefly only moments ago, the one with all the power, approached the counter.  Ah, my new best friend.

His name tag “easily” said he was a “Technical Support Analyst.”

I silently labeled him “The Gatekeeper.”

He could either give me really good news or really bad news.

He unwittingly had so many answers to my personal questions…would he somehow allow me to continue lugging around forgotten sentimental baggage?

That piece of comprised silicon, spindles and circular disks held secrets I’d once had the privilege of owning solely without difficulty…until a keyboard allowed me to indiscriminately share them.

Old conversations.

Old records of sites visited.

Old emails…

Old versions of myself.

The “TSA” cleared his throat.
He wasn’t happy.  He had bad news.

He shoved a computer monitor toward me to see the diagnosis.

This was all that could be recovered…what had made it back from the dead with our efforts…

Old files reduced to what looked like a lot of computer jibberish.

“We were only able to retrieve 65 percent of your hard drive,” he said.  He pursed his lips, interpreting the results as a reflection of his personal failure.

I clutched my chest and gasped.

“So,” I swallowed…”What could we get back?  Can I get anything useful back?”

“Well,” he said…”If what you see here is still useful to you…then, yeah…”

***
People don’t realize how much they entrust their entire existence and personal relationships to a technological world…the “wholly-incapable-of-such-a-responsibility” technological world.

Our identities.

Our understanding of our status through communication with others…

Sometimes I wonder how many breakups happen over faulty systems, by unreceived/unreliable text messages…when only 899 of 900 go through…

Except that ONE that REALLY mattered.

The power of that ONE unreliable message, capable of ending a fight or inflating a misunderstanding…how a random glitch in the system we created makes a text destined never to make its way to an intended recipient…how that innocent anomaly has the power to destroy trust between humans…a glitch ultimately held responsible for the destruction of perceptions…

Isn’t this how we view our computers?

We trust our LIVES and personal beliefs to these machines…they are our best friends…our confidants.  Our messengers.

They are family.  They know us more intimately than anyone else.  They can work for us or completely tattle on us.

They house all we’ve ever known and been…

Yet, they aren’t even close to 100 percent reliable.

Most of us can’t even be bothered to back them up…

Even so…

***

This man at Staples may as well have been a doctor to me.

He was about to give my computer complete defibrillation…a shock to the present moment.

If this sounds melodramatic, you’ve never lost a hard drive to thin air.

The TSA cleared his throat.

“You only lost some Word files,” he said.  “Your pictures are all recovered.”

Sigh.  Thank God for small favors.
“OK,” I said.  “I’m mostly ok with this.”

***

A twinge of excitement kicked in as I rode home, my dead little computer shrouded in a “Staples”-emblazoned body bag, survived only by three DVDs harboring what remained.

Once I was in the comfort of my own home, what would I see?

What did it know that my feeble brain couldn’t recall on its own?

What are our brains meant to recall on their own?  Only the relatively important stuff??

Was it worth peeking into what was important to me years ago?  What would my old computer tell me?

Did any of it still matter?  Was it still relevant?

Would technology work for me or against me in this instance?

This was the only surviving record of a past forgotten…a salvaged fossil of myself five years younger…

***
I’d had so much hope for my dead computer. I knew it was destined to record memorable times…until it just wouldn’t turn on one day.

I may have actually looked heavenward with clenched fists, demanding to know why it couldn’t be revived.

When it refused to turn on, I remained convinced of its endless treasures.  I’d have to dig deep…

Curiosity ultimately killed the cat.

***

This tumescent excitement reveled in the absence of the obvious question:
What was I about to resurrect?

It never occurred to me, the long-standing words Stephen King wrote in his terrifying tome, “Pet Cemetery”…

Sometimes, dead is better.

Sometimes, it’s better to leave things alone.

Ignoring this admonition, I hurriedly shoved a DVD into my working computer’s disk drive.

Excitement bordered on elation.

This was going to be fun!

The infamous King quote echoed in a tenacious loop.

Somehow my name preceded after a few repetitions…

“Jill…[in Fred Gwynne’s haunting voice]:  Sometimes…dead is better.”

***

I poured through old files and long-forgotten Instant (AOL!) Messages between myself and ex-lovers, ex-friends, people who had promised to be around long after reality set in…long after an innocent computer would let them go…

Absolutely, dead is better.

Was my unobstructed impression of who I was back then better than what I could currently surmise in black-and-white?

Which version did I want to go with?

Sometimes having a record of everything you’ve ever said can be encouraging…it can even give you a gauge of where you’ve been and where you’re headed…

…Or it can scare the living hell out of you.

That you could have stayed there and not grown…or not taken that chance…

What if you hadn’t followed that seldom-followed fork in the road?

Where would you be now?

What if I didn’t have the courage at that time to do what I knew I should do, or shouldn’t do?

As I discovered, somewhat presciently earlier, the best times of life had yet to be lived…whether I believed it then or not.  It was true then and it was true now as I stared at the screen showcasing the old files…

Had I really been so needy?  Did messages with friends reveal a person who was so concerned with what others thought??

What could those private exchanges with a beloved laptop reveal to me now?

I didn’t even recognize this person anymore.

***

What would I tell her if I could?

Would I tell her that it would be much more comfortable to stay in Connecticut instead of leaving behind everything she’d ever known for the opportunities, friendships and accomplishments Los Angeles offered?

Would I tell her not to trust others…to trust her gut instead…even with the possibility she would miss out on the great times she’d had?

Would I tell her enough to keep her from causing suffering, to others as well has herself?

And, by the way, how had I ever possibly thought that that was the best it was ever going to get?  How did I not know how wrong that assumption was?

Sure, it was great to find old comments from supportive teachers on projects I’d forgotten about.  Words of encouragement from a priest who’d passed away when I was 14…these were absolutely wonderful to find.

But that’s not all I found.

That’s the chance we take with the dead, isn’t it?

You just never know what you’re gonna resurrect.

Old shame.  Old hurt.

There certainly are wonderful gems that can emerge…but we need to remember…when playing roulette with the past, sometimes dead is better.

It’s like when my parents adamantly warned against using Ouija boards when I was a kid.

There is a danger in prying too heavily into the past, into the dead, into spending too much time in a place you don’t belong anymore.

It can be a vortex.  It can make you linger a little too long…

***

While within the illicit journey emerged an unpleasant discomfort, a renewed pain…the perspective of progress served to show how I’ve grown since…a benchmark.

It also occurred to me that maybe our brain is kinder to us than we thought.  Maybe it does know better…it knows what to highlight…it knows which details to elevate and make stand out among the others.

It takes a lot of strength to straddle the line where the past meets the present, making up the whole of who you are as a person, the sum total of all your parts…and take pride in all of it anyway.

You can choose to stand tall without shouldering the burden of looking back, without retrieving old victories packaged with old defeats to provide the validation you ultimately deserve.

And if you are gonna venture back there, be ready.

***

Sometimes I still wonder what truths lie behind the files the technician couldn’t recover.  I wonder what proof, what evidence was perhaps mercifully left unrevived.

Un-salvaged in order to salvage my present.

And then I remember…Stephen King was right.

Sometimes…dead is better.

When there are things your mind can’t retain, maybe there is good reason for it.

You don’t remember the two-way street of hurtful words and spiteful actions.

The minutia of the tit-for-tat is not recorded line-by-line in your mind…we are wired to remember the promise of a better day, a more optimistic future.  Our very nature compels us to erase reminders of sadder times.  We are called to use our strength to focus on our progress instead of our setbacks.

Digging around in the past becomes a chore that takes effort; we can be lured by the very same curiosity that murdered our feline friend…and it will do the same to our spirit if we let it.

Revisiting has its consequences because you’ve grown beyond it.  You have moved past it.

You already learned the lesson.

The shoe is too tight to fit your feet.

You aren’t the same person anymore, even though old emotions can fool you into thinking you’re right back where you were before when you grace them with attention.

Physics says that looking at particles makes them act differently.  The same is true of certain memories when you dig them up past their time.

Memories are meant to serve as markers.  Guideposts.  The ones that should stand out, that need to stand out, do so naturally.

Curiosity, buttressed by technology, can become a one-way ticket.

When you’re trying to build a great life, is that a chance worth taking?

Learn from the past and let it go.

Life becomes beautiful when you realize that everything happening to you has been serving you…that goes for back then and for the present moment.

And there really is no greater moment than the present, no matter how much we want to glorify the past and the future.

The silver lining presented in this unintentional review of my personal archives came in realizing that, in cases where I had clearly made the wrong decision at the time, things ultimately worked out for the best.

We don’t need further evidence or reminders of how costly it is when you look back while failing to guard your heart…

Looking back too deeply and too often can cost you your future…

And no Staples TSA will ever be able to help you with that.

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Sandy Gentile says:

Nicely done Jill. I so enjoy your posts. Keep them coming.



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