Not that long ago it seems, before cell phone contact lists and computer address databases, there was The Address Book. Even though that information is stored on both my phone and in a computer file, stashed in a top drawer of the night stand I still keep the address book that my mother gifted me years ago. It has botanical drawings on the cover. I think of her every time I look at it and it makes me happy to see it. There is something satisfying about physically feeling the cover and opening it to see what is inside. It is a bit outdated, but I try to keep it as current as possible. As a backup to technology, there is something personal and real about having it.
For the sake of portability in the pre-smartphone days, I also had a little address book that fit in purse or pocket. Back then, if you really wanted to be mysterious you kept a “little black book”. And if you aspired to appear popular, that little black book would be filled with names and numbers of potential dates and romantic interests, although mine was filled with neither. Well, okay, maybe a few. It was pretty tiny – only a couple of inches high in fact. And actually, my little black book was blue, only because they were out of black ones the day I bought it.
This little book has been obsolete for decades. I stumbled upon it the other day for the umpteenth time as I was looking for something else. It was lying underneath other outdated things at the very back of one of those drawers you never open. Periodically it turns up and I think “Oh, I should look through this thing and then get rid of it”, before it returns to the oblivion of the drawer again. Finally I have addressed the address book. Not only did it take me back but also aback. I could not help reflecting upon a few observations.
At least half of the entries were written in pencil. This was a deliberate move due to the transient nature of the people that I knew. We were young and in flux. Only those who you could pretty much count on to have any sense of permanence were considered ink-worthy.
As I flipped through each page, it was sobering to note how many people listed were no longer living. The elder generation of course – grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, their friends. But there were also peers who had passed on, which caused me to stop and reflect on that. It didn’t seem possible.
Perhaps blue was an appropriate color for that book, as most of the couples listed were no longer couples anymore either. The little book reads like a Directory of Divorce. Out of an entire A through Z there are actually only four couples left on those pages who are still together after a few decades. Not only that, but hardly anyone was still residing at the same address listed anymore – except for the four couples who also happened to be the ones still married; apparently complacent in both relationship and location. Everyone else seems to have moved out or moved on, sometimes numerous times, indicated by the multiple erasures. Even some of the ink-worthy people had cross-outs. Practically all of the phone numbers were obsolete too.
Lastly, there were a few transient friends who I did not expect or desire to ever be in touch with again in this lifetime, and at least one where I had to stop for a minute and wonder “who is this and why are they in my book?” There was only one “I wonder if they are still there?” address that was worth saving, and I copied that onto my computer with the more current information. As I went through each page, I tore it out and put it into the shredder until they were all gone.
I was left with two things – the empty blue cover and a profound sense of the impermanence of life.