GHOST OF THE DIGITAL AGE

by Savannah Gerlach

In any given room I predict which of my friends and which of my strangers will die first. I note which ones will marry each other, rob banks, and which ones will reappear in my plot-lines thirty years later. When I stare at myself in the mirror, trying to identify my own end, a nictitating membrane lowers itself over my eyes and stops me. When I heard that you died ten days after graduation I looked for you online. I went to the usual places: profiles, search bars and the Herald Sun. The obituaries didn’t know you had a birth or death date, only that you were “joyful and beloved.” It didn’t know you tunneled into your computer screen after school, just that you had “big plans.” A month later I forgot your last name and a year later I went digging again, curious for fossils, but the pages were gone.

Every now and again, when I roam the web at 3 a.m., curved over my desk, my protein bars and thermos flask, the aluminum stars hanging shapes in my window, craning and reforming into constellations millennia before we notice the patterns, I mistake you for a chat room ghost. Your screen name stands in silence on the screen. You join conversations to listen, then you wander off into the terabytes, the Amazon wish-lists and the Minecraft planets, the pixelated wastelands.

I’d like to tell your family that memory, these days, is an infinite physical space never fully erased but preserved in the deep files, running through the bloodstream of databases of rocket launchers and racing stocks. ERROR 404 just means you’re somewhere else.

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