A Toast I Didn’t Give

Ben and Kathy asked their friends to entertain them the evening before their wedding. I was hard up for inspiration, but fortunately they had something specific in mind for me. I was to recreate a dramatic reading I gave about seven years ago of a poem entitled “The Great Christmas Tree Slaughtering Ground.” (Ed: coming soon in exciting online form!) I’d performed it back at a coffeehouse in college, and Kathy had been in the audience. This was back before the two of them fused into one super-intelligent entity, making it one of the earliest times that I met Kathy.

The past is a long time ago. It’s dark there. In my case, this was four computers ago. So I had to do some digging to find a copy of the relevant WordPerfect 5.1 (!) file. I went poking through the various poorly-labelled backup directories on my laptop, without much success. It wasn’t, for example, in the copy on the laptop of the contents of a CD I made to mirror the contents of a zip disk that I backed up my account on the research server that backed up the files on the student computing society that contained a copy of the directory on my desktop computer where I kept my data from the university servers.

I decided to go back to the horse’s mouth. I pulled my college computer from out of the basement and plugged it in. After I finished marvelling that I had a Windows 95 computer with a joystick port again (Do you realize how many old games I can’t quite get to run properly under XP? Especially frustratingly, I can’t get the sound settings on SCUMM games to click, as it were.) I started looking for the poem. And couldn’t find it.

It was odd. I had a few classes’ worth of papers and a bunch of archived mail, but surprisingly little of anything else. Even the desktop was less cluttered than I remembered. Plus the file dates and email dates didn’t seem to be showing much of anything before September of my senior year. Odd. I had some vague memory of clearing off cruft, uninstalling played-out games, and straightening up the desktop as of around graduation, but where had I moved all my data.

Then I remembered. It was all gone. At the start of the summer between junior and senior years, I’d hit the wrong button when pine started up for the first time in a new month and erased three years worth of email. That wouldn’t have been too bad, on its own (I POP-ed a copy of all my email down to my computer), except that I had a catastrophic hard drive failure later in the summer, which took away the rest of my bits. The manufacturer had given me some spectacularly bad tech support that might have made things worse, and even the raw disk image I took of the drive didn’t yield anything reconstructable as my stuff.

As I remembered the story, I remembered also that after a few days of intense frustration, I’d resigned myself to the loss and moved on, a little sader, a little more paranoid. Now that I remembered that three years of my electronic life were utterly gone, well, I took it pretty hard. Mortality, loss, nostalgia, self-criticism, you name it.
It wasn’t the only data I’ve lost irrevocably, but most of the rest was stuff that I knew was fleeting when I created it. (There was this Temporary Autonomous Zone of a newsgroup I posted some stuff to …)

Now, actually, I did find the poem. I’d written it in high school, and so I had copies that had been propagated forward independently of Umberto (the computer) and Abulafia (the hard drive). But in the search, I remembered other poems that I was pretty sure I didn’t have in harder copies, and many many emails to Ben, and all sorts of other goodies that I really kinda wish I had around again.

Oh well.

And so to my point. Marriage is a bit like backing up your data. When you’re young and invincible, making backups seems like something that older, more “responsible” but less interesting people do. You lose stuff sometimes, but you don’t sweat much over it.

But then there comes a day, perhaps it sneaks up on you gradually or perhaps you realize everything all at once, there comes a day when you’re emotionally invested in your files. You’ve poured so much of your heart into them that to lose them would be to lose a part of yourself. You never thought you could feel this way about data, but now you do. These data are special. You back up not because it’s the “responsible” thing to do, but because you do not want to contemplate what it would be like to lose them.

Marriage, too, is the formal recognition and the most profound protection of an emotional bond beyond all else.

So here’s to Ben and Kathy, and long may your bond endure.