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If You Ever Need Anything…

August 7, 2017 Leave a comment

About a year ago I found an old phone of mine. A black Blackberry Style, the last flip phone I ever owned and one which I reluctantly traded-in for an accursed iPhone 5c. The blasted thing had to be replaced a few months after I got it because the battery shuffled off it’s mortal cathode and expanded, destroying its guts. I still use the replacement 5c that Apple sent, which is itself starting to fail now.

Anyway, a micro SD card occupied the slot for the Blackberry’s memory card, and it contained pictures and files that I thought lost. Among them I had stored a profoundly important message from my mother, sent to me in a vulnerable time. I received it shortly after I had returned to the University of Michigan after I had taken a medical leave, and I hadn’t yet regained firm footing.

The message itself boasts naught but silliness; it had a picture of a dog, morphed by the magic of digital jiggery-pokery to appear as if it could speak. A robotic voice translated the text of my mother’s message to speech: “Hi there, Joshua. I love you, honey. I’m always here for you. If you ever need anything I’m always here.” I downloaded the file onto the phone’s micro SD card and kept it with me for as long as I possessed the phone.

I lost track of it sometimes after the bedeviling iPhone replaced it, and I made peace with that loss. My grandfather likes to collect old electronics, so it may have found its place betwixt a vintage Motorola Digital Personal Communicator (aka, the Post-Reagan Grey Brick) and some forlorn rotary telephone. Strangely enough, I found it in its original packaging, wedged between a box for a Canon SLR tripod and a stack of old magazines in the computer room closet.

I essentially tore open the box, hoping to find the phone and micro SD card inside, like some mediocre pirate treasure. To my great relief, and no small amount of astonishment, I discovered both. I pulled the micro SD card from the phone, set it into an adapter, and plugged it into my XPS M1330. I crossed my fingers and uttered a chant to whichever passing deity cared to notice, hoping that the tired, worn computer would recognize the card.

Good fortune smiled upon me as the computer recognized the card, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Of course, the XPS had to ruin the moment and demand what in Hades it should do with the card. “Duh. Open it, you caliginous pile of replacement parts,” I said, perhaps a skosh more vicious than the laptop deserved. In fairness, it did call to mind the Ship of Theseus. I may have melted the motherboard once.

I downloaded the files onto my laptop and sorted through them, like I discovered an ancient archive. Old pictures of erstwhile friends and of my cousin during her toddler years. Pictures I had taken during my time at the University of Michigan and around Ann Arbor. Snapshots of a trip to Chicago and Ohio. I hadn’t realized that I had lost so much, and that loss swept over me like a wave. Old emotions boiled and churned, bubbling to the surface.

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I wonder why we hang on to those feelings, those long, dark winters within ourselves. The pictures inspired rumination of my mistakes, meditations on what I might have done differently, and regret over those that I had lost over the years. Happy memories, buried beneath the rubble of past false steps, only deepened the paroxysms. I stand in awe of a picture’s power to conjure our most powerful emotions, based on the movement of infinitesimal electrons and the translation of patterns of 0’s and 1’s into small squares of color arranged in very specific patterns. These two concepts don’t seem related in the slightest, yet when I see the arrangement of those squares into recognizable images the emotion is triggered.

That tangent illustrates an important truth: our minds, like the pictures we keep, are snapshots of the past. Neurons and chemical composition, not binary, store them. Our minds, however, often fail to accurately capture strands of past events. Emotions, evocative of everything from turmoil to peace, color our memories and bias us. We don’t truly get an exact rendering of reality, but a caricature of it. Pictures represent a paradox in that they both elucidate our memories and cloud them; we see a part of the whole and fill gaps with fiction or guesses.

When I found the file that my mother sent me I downloaded it. I didn’t have any media players capable of properly opening the extension, .32G. They could playback the video, but without sound. I decided to store the file in three locations (I love data redundancy, and you should too) and decided to put off finding a codec or a media player that could handle it. The file, stored in binary, resided in three hard drives, existing but simultaneously not existing. In my mind, pushed aside. In the drives, 0’s and 1’s that bore little relation to my memory of the content of the file.

It stayed in that limbo of existence and nonexistence until last night. I flipped through some old files and found it there and felt a mighty urge to see it. “If you ever need anything…” It lived in my mind, just on the edge of hearing. So I took to the internet, laid some waste with my superior google-fu, and installed VLC media player.

I pressed play and listened to the message spoken by a silly dog. My back straightened and I felt more resilient, as if it had staunched the flood of bad memories. I didn’t ruminate or obsess. The words galvanized me; inspired me to find a better context in which to put these old feelings and recollections. The memories were linked to a depression that had once gripped me very tightly, and that message was a bulwark against it.

I love you too, mom.