I received a notification last week that I needed to log into my Yahoo email account before it was closed for good.
Why not, I thought.
I typed ‘mail dot yahoo dot com’ into a browser for the first time in ages, logged in (successfully—and amazingly!—on the first try), and found a handful of unread emails from long-forgotten email subscriptions, all of which I deleted without opening.
Then, I looked again, and a realization suddenly took hold of me.
Everything was gone.
Inbox, Sent, Drafts, and the many folders I’d once created to organize nearly two decades of my online correspondence—each one completely wiped clean of its contents.
I set up this email address back in the late 90s, and it was my primary email address until early 2010.
As I stared at this big digital goose egg, I felt twinges of sadness, and also of embarrassment. How could I have let this happen? I thought. An entire archive that I’d taken for granted for years had slipped through my fingers—a record of correspondence with old friends and lost loves; volleys between my mother and me; a zeroes-and-ones trail winding through some of the toughest years of my life; chronicles of a both hopeful and troubled twenty- (and soon thirty-) something trying to figure out her place in the world in digital connection with others—and there was no way to recover any of it.
I did a quick Google search and found similar tales of woe from journalists and bloggers who had discovered their own Yahoo mail accounts erased while searching for something they’d left behind—a high school pal or a contract or an old flame, some ember of the fire that once lit up their younger selves.
And then, as the sadness fell away, a strange relief washed over me. I thought of the pack-rat-ish parents who raised me, who saved every magazine and catalog and Christmas card, and the many boxes and piles of all these things I’d had to sift through when cleaning out the house after Mom died, and how I experienced those same waves of grief and relief in getting rid of so much of it.
Hadn’t I, in some sense, given myself an accidental gift by forgetting about my old email account? Hadn’t my neglect of this archive saved me the energy and time that would have been spent at some stage sorting through it? And would I want to relive much of that correspondence? The misunderstandings between me and my mom, for instance? Isn’t it good to know that there are some things that can be scattered to the winds in this digital age?
Maybe some things are best tossed into the fire without reading them first.
The Yahoo mail account is still active, of course, though I suppose I will let it go entirely into the fire now, once and for all. And I’m smiling.