I was just trying to read my email via the college's webmail program and, in the middle of trying to delete a message I'd responded to (simplification program for life: touch a piece of electronic mail once and then move on), the screen went up to the top and I got the message that I have 0 messages now. Zero. Big empty donut hole.
Of course now I'm thinking there must've been 10 or so crucial messages in that list that I didn't get a chance to see. Maybe Mom wrote me a message from Boston, where she's visiting my sister, my sister who's supposed to be having an operation, and maybe Mom wrote me an email to say that things aren't going as well as they should, I should drop everything right now and book a flight. (Yeah, yeah, that kind of important message comes by telephone. It's just fun to have a dramatic moment now and again.)
Maybe I got a message from an editor of a challenging publication with a history of rejecting me--Ploughshares, or Passages Northwest--begging me for a new submission of at least 3 poems if not 5. (Yeah, yeah. Dream on.)
Maybe someone from the dim past discovered my email address and got in touch with me again after 20 years of silence--the first serious boyfriend, F, from college, who has disappeared leaving no forwarding address into the bowels of New England. He's written me to tell me all about his life since 1986, when we graduated, in detail. He's going to be in Green Bay soon with his family and he'd love for all of us to get together, only I have to email him back and let him know if it's okay. Now I'll never be able to send that email to him and that'll give him the impression that I want him to stay lost, he'll make a mental note, and that'll be the last I hear from him ever again. (He's not the sort to go to a college reunion. Well, neither am I, come to think of it.)
Why did this happen? Is it a mirage or reality? What was the last thing I did before the obliteration event (OE, henceforth)? I was checking my spam quarantine and I found an email from a high school friend in there. Great! I clicked on the whitelist button. Slowly, achingly, the little wheel at the bottom of the screen churned and churned and churned. Bing, the window came up. Beth's message was gone--delivered, I assumed.
Then I went back, paged back, to the email window. Responded to a student's email. Hit SEND. The wheel chugged and chugged and chugged. And then, after a longer pause, it stopped. And the screen was collapsed. O messages.
I shut down Firefox and restarted it. Logged into my webmail account. Still 0. I checked my files. After another long hangtime, I got 0.
The rational part of my brain tells me that the college system went down momentarily. The email program hit a snag in the stream. I'll check again later and all those messages will reappear.
But what if they don't? asks the part of my brain known as Worry Wart. WW is a real bitch. She likes to insert herself into my daily routines like a small electroshock device. Her favorite message is this: 'You forgot your purse.'
I didn't forget my purse today. I did lock us (Lizzie and me) out of the house this morning. WW hit the panic button. Lizzie watched me go into the garage and freak out further (WW up a notch) when I realized that the extra key is no longer in the flowerpot. "Hey," Lizzie said. "I have a key."
"Yeah, in my coat. Zipped into the sleeve."
Phew. WW recedes with my heart as it slides back down my throat.
One disaster averted. Will this email inbox be the real disaster? Strange, but with an inbox set to 0 I feel unmoored, set loose, drifting. Even if it is an illusion.
I hope it's an illusion.