Three hours before metal forced metal over the Jersey barrier and her car became a parking lot for a truck on the other side of the highway my friend sent me a text. The fairly meaningless bunch of fifteen words appeared on my phone without much grandeur. I mentioned them to a coworker, and then promptly forgot about them until I learned of her death the next morning.
I’ve saved those words for eight months. I need a new cell phone, mine barely works. But it has that message in it, so I’ll make do for a few more weeks, maybe another month. It’s a stupid message really, meaningless but it’s the last thing I have from her, so I can’t get rid of it. Not yet.
When we write we don’t think about the permanence of our words. If anything authors worry our work is fragile. We back up a thousand times, never leave the house without our USB drive key chain, and send paper copies off to live with relatives just in case. We hope someone will pass a pleasant hour or two reading our work, but expect them move on, not memorizing or really retaining what we’ve written. Sometimes we dare to dream a phrase will stick with them, a line will affect them so deeply they quote it but mostly, we expect to be in one ear and out the other.
I know my text message wasn’t meant to be saved but it makes me think about the things that are. I have books, penny dreadfuls written on yellowing paper, lovingly stored away from the sun because of the person who held them once. I keep cards just to save the handful of letters scrawled on the bottom.
Your writing might be something quick, something you just need to finish, but it might also be the first thing someone reads from you. Would you want it to be the last? As you fire off a few emotional words or a lackluster phrase, think for a minute about how they really sound and what they might say, years from now, when you find them again.