The Garden of Earthly Deletes


Her email: I’m sorry about what happened.  Will you forgive me?  Can you forgive me?  Will you let me come back?

My response: No, after what u said before.  If that’s the way u want things to be then don’t come home..stay with u r mom!!

Her email: Please let’s try to work things out.  I love u.

I thought of her and her broken heart…broken so many times by so many guys.

My response: That sounds like total BS to me…but maybe we can meet at the usual place…just to talk. 

My finger wavered over the SEND key.  I hesitated.  My mind was muddy from the back-and-forth emotions of the last few hours.  I moved my hand toward the DELETE key. I thought about her feelings of remorse for a nano-second and then I punched it like I was squashing a malarial Anopheles mosquito.  I was angry at what she had said to me.  A moment passed.  I wasn’t angry anymore.  I wanted to take back the email and reword it into a plea to stay with me.  But I knew it was too late.  Once that rectangular key is pressed, what was, isn’t anymore.  It was like an erasure of a dry marker on a white board.  This momentary spike of anger I felt had vanished.

Like the final email, I had erased her.  I regretted what I had done.  I failed to stem the bleeding from her soul.  I failed her.

I sat and thought about the situation for an hour.  Then I sat down and wrote a message saying I was sorry I told her to go live with her mom.  I pushed SEND this time.  After getting a cold beer from the fridge, I sat back down at the laptop.  I read in disbelief that the email had bounced back to me.  She had closed her account.  She was unavailable.  She was gone.  I had just deleted her from my life.  She always said it would probably end like this…that I would get her out of my life, that I would erase her.  That I would delete her.  She somehow knew this was coming for a year now.  And I played into her vortex of negativity.

That damn DELETE key.  How does that work, anyway?  How can you delete something?  Where does it go?  I know it exists as pulses of digital bits, but somewhere in the server’s main frame, it must still live.

It’s one of the most basic laws of science: one cannot create or destroy matter.  And, the electrons of the digital bits that make up a simple email message, are made of matter.

So, where is that email now?  Right now at this precise second?  Where are the zillions of deleted messages?

I once read that computers can’t really erase them from existence.  What I read is that in deleting, you simply remove the address.  But the information is still out there…somewhere.  A good hacker could get them back, but I didn’t know any hackers, good or bad.

So I did the only thing I could think of doing.  I took a walk.

I wandered all over the sleeping city until the eastern sky turned pink.  It was then that I spotted the long stone wall.  I had never seen this before.  I walked up to the only door, a great wooden entrance like one would find in a castle.  I looked up.  The sky was turning blue above the twenty-foot wall of grey granite rocks.

I pushed on the door and it opened.  I stepped over the threshold.  All around me was the most amazing and beautiful garden I had ever seen.  How did this place exist without me knowing about it?  I walked along the stone-slab path.  A full minute passed before I realized that there were dozens of words hanging from the branches and flower pedals.  No, not a dozen…hundreds, thousands.  Then it all came into focus in the clear morning air.  Every plant in the garden was festooned with strings of words.  They were not on paper or tape.  They were words that formed sentences held together with some kind of invisible force.  I took one and read it:

So, wat r we doin tmrro nite??? 

I read more.  Each one was full of errors and misspoken sentiments.  Some were meaningless.  Some were pornographic.  Some were declarations of undying love.  And, some were rejections of love.  The messages of sadness and hate and anger hung like dead snakes.  They all hung like that, dead black and serpentine.

I’m not a genius by any means, but I knew that these were deleted messages.  This is where they went to spend eternity.

Everything in the garden was broken.  I could see broken engagements, hearts, marriages, affairs, souls, plans, dreams, nightmares and prayers.  Pleas to God for a healing.  But deleted when the loved one dies anyway.

All those deletes.

The little garden had morphed while my back was turned.  When I looked around, the trees and shrubs now stretched beyond the horizon.  The city had disappeared and I found myself standing in the midst of countless plants, like Dorothy’s field of poppies, that covered one rolling hill after another.  They all were festooned with deleted messages.  Uncountable in number, each message was something not sent to someone over the internet.  Most of them bore the sad, lonely and forlorn aura of a mistake made and then regretted.

But, wouldn’t a simple email correct the mistake?,  you may ask.  Well, I was proof that sometimes that does not happen so easily.  In days of old, if you put a letter into a mailbox and let it drop, it was a done deal and irretrievable.  If you then traveled to the home of the person you had sent the regretful mail, you may be confronted with an empty house.  Or, if you tried to dial-up someone to repair a wound you caused, you could be met with: “I’m sorry, that number is no longer in service”.

It all came down to the same problem.  How could one ever stop a bullet once the trigger was pulled?  How could one run to overtake an arrow that was shot, straight and true, before it struck the target?

I wanted her back and the best hope was here in the garden of deletes.  But, the task was impossible and I knew it.

Or was it?

I noticed a section of the garden where it seemed to be raining, raining new deletes. They fell onto the trees like black strips of strange snow.  If my deleted message were anywhere, wouldn’t it be where the incoming was coming in?

I walked over to that part of the garden.  I began reading the messages.  Some were paragraphs and some were chapters and some were even entire books.  I was looking for only a sentence.  But there was no way I could find it here.  I had to find another way to dress her wound.

I turned around to look for the exit.  I took a step.  There it was, hanging right before my eyes.  Without even thinking, I grabbed it and ran for the garden door.  The vast endless fields had shrunken to the little patch of flowers and trees that I had seen when I first entered.  I crumbled the message into a tight ball and threw it over the wall.  It was a mighty throw but the message made it out.  I squinted as I watched as it hit the top of the wall and bounced out.

I had successfully saved my deleted message from this garden of eternal regrets.

As I walked through the doorway, I found myself on my own street.  I lived nearby.  Putting my hands in my pockets, I walked in the direction of home.

I heard the squeal of rubber tires and the bump of a car as it hit the curb near me and came to an abrupt stop.  I turned.  There she was, clawing at the front door of her car.  She flung it open and ran straight into my arms.

“My email was slow today,” she said.  “I got your reply.  So you’ll give me another chance?  You will, won’t you?  I so love you.”

I put my arm over her shoulder and we walked back to my place, our place, as if nothing had happened.




These Haunted Mountains That I Love

Many of my blog posts tend toward the melancholy.  The themes have often been about loss, grief, aloneness and death.  That’s the way my mind works.  I stare at the rain.  I walk through the fog.  I wander old and forgotten cemeteries, reading the names, dates and wondering about lives lived a century ago.  It’s not depression (I’ve done that), it’s a sense of what was here once and is now gone forever.  The following post follows the rules my mind sets for me when I sit down at my MAC.

I live in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State.  We moved here over a year ago after buying a house on a lake in 2000.  I’m living a dream…a lifelong dream to be here full-time.  I climbed my first mountain when I was five years old.  That was followed by years of family camping at the State campsites like Golden Beach.  When my family dynamics changed and my three brothers began to grow up and go our separate ways, I headed for the High Peaks and began to summit the Forty-Six.  When my backpacking friends began to lose interest I moved onto wilderness canoeing.  I travelled onto Alaska and worked for the USGS.  I lived on glaciers thousands of years old, but the Adirondacks always called me back.  The smell of the balsam, the sand beaches and the blue-green crystals of the Opalescent River.  No other place was like it.

The protagonist in this tale, you need to know at this point, was not my father as one would expect.  Rather, it was my older brother, Chris.  He showed me the canoe waterways and the routes to Marcy.  He was my mentor and my backwoods guide.  He taught me many things but one briefly spoken comment lives with me to this day and can darken the brightest shimmering sunlight.  “The Adirondacks,” he said, almost off-handedly, “was all about death.”

These days I live the life I thought I always wanted.  At last count, we have a 1920’s antique canoe, two other canoes, five kayaks, snowshoes, X-country skis and four bicycles.  What’s not to be content about?  To be here every day of the year…watch the seasons change and feel the peace.  But amidst all this, something is missing.

These lakes, mountains, streams and trails are harboring a ghost.  They are truly haunted.  I can barely walk out beyond the light of the campfire when I can feel “it” following me.  So, I sit and stare out the window at the rain and nap and lose myself in finding ways to avoid confronting the spirit that can make me weep.

Chris and I stood on many mountaintops in the fog, rain and total darkness.  Once we got lost coming off the back side of Colden and, by all rules of nature, should not have survived the sub-zero night without a flashlight.

He owned an antique guide boat that he bought in the 1950’s somewhere at a camp on the upper reaches of Raquette Lake.  He paid perhaps $50 for it.  My mother thought he was nuts to give his money away on something that was old and disused.  A person could see sunlight through the planking.  It became a family joke as we waited and watched him slowly and lovingly restore the craft at his place underwood the apple tree in our backyard.  It took about twenty-five years since he was only able to work on it during college and graduate school breaks.  The result?  I was with him as we made a slow and easy tour of Long Pond when a camper stopped washing his pans and came down to the shore to have a closer look. (This was years before the Guide Boat Renaissance).  The poor fellow, wiped the drool from his lips and jokingly (?) offered his wife in exchange for the boat.

I sat in the “swells” seat on one trip through Slang Pond when a sudden lightening storm-swept over us.  Chris calmly pulled the boat under some evergreens and held onto a branch while the violent bolts struck around us and the rain water began to deepen at the boats bottom.  All the while, he just grinned at me, enjoying every clap of thunder and drop of cold precipitation.

I was lost with him in the woods at Long Pond.  That would be bad enough but for the fact that it was pitch dark at the time.

I remember sitting at a campfire one evening when we spoke of how we’d like to die.  I said I saw myself, sitting alongside the trail with my water bottle and Kelty pack beside me.  A mountain peak, Haystack perhaps was our goal.  The path rose gently ahead of us but melted into a bright light that was golden and blinding.  It was then, I told Chris, that the legendary DEC ranger, Clint West “Keeper of Marcy’s Door” would wander out of the bright light, take his ranger hat off and wipe his brow.  I calmly watched him stride up to me.  I knew in my mind that he had passed away in 1953.   Clint stopped and said: “There’s a lot of trail work to be done up yonder, Pat.  “Come on,”  he said gently and with serene comfort, “Let’s go.”  I shouldered my pack and went off with him…into the light.  In my story, I remember looking back at Chris and waving a final good-bye.  I looked back at him again and saw a certain sadness creep into eyes.  He waved back and then turned and looked back down the trail we had just hiked.  Chris listened with a smile.  Then he said simply that he’d like to pass on by having a massive coronary while under his guide boat, on a long portage.  Interestingly, that was not how he “walked on.”  Me?  I’m still looking for that light up ahead on the trail.

I can assure you, these few bits are but the surface of a deep pool of memory.  But those stories are for another time.

So, here I am.  Owning all the accoutrements of outdoor adventure and unable to find the peace these mountains once promised me.

I can’t drive a back road, turn a corner on a trail, circle an island for a campsite or stare into the deep cold waters of the lakes without the ghost of Chris standing there, just out of reach. I have trouble looking up at a cumulus-heavy sky and not feel or see him.

Because he’s everywhere, and not just in my imagination but also in the molecules that make the raindrops and silt of the rivers. And, someday far into the future, perhaps a part of him will lodge among those blue-green crystals of the Opalescent River.

                   non semper erit aestas