At 3:46 am, while Anna Darson slept next to her husband of thirty-two years, in a ranch-style house along the frigid waters of Lake Michigan on a snowy weekend after Thanksgiving, an event was triggered, causing a program to gather data from various accounts, which culminated in an email delivered to Anna with the subject line: John’s Journey is Complete.
Anna, her breathes rising and falling, steady as the snow gathering along the lintel slept on, no mobile device or push notifications to beckon from her bedside. Her dreams were unremarkable. Flashes of joy. Blurs from the weekend, from the past. Their daughter Abbie, up from Chicago, making pumpkin pie with her father, George, as the Lions savaged the Packers in a surprising win. The cold air against her face. The bark of the dogs, steam rising from their muzzles, as they bounded through snowdrifts and back toward the house.
It was mid-morning, the exact time unknown, when Anna turned on the laptop in the kitchen to check the weather, when she logged into her email account and saw the message. John’s Journey is Complete? She thought. Her youngest son, living in San Francisco, was there a race he’d run? Anna enjoyed seeing those automated messages when John ran a marathon. Without expectation, Anna clicked on the email.
At 12:46 am, in the city of San Francisco, John Darson’s journey through life came to completion. John wanted to share his story with you. And, so, according to John’s wishes we’ve assembled the following timeline from John’s connected accounts and recorded metrics. Losing a loved one is always hard, but leaving a legacy has never been easier. ~ Journ.ey | The One Less Travelled By
Anna re-read the paragraph again. What was this? What happened? Was, John? Was her baby, her son? Was he dead? She shut the laptop. Stood and walked to the kitchen sink. Her hands shook as she gripped the counter. Her eyes were vacant. Aching to be filled by the whiteness outside the window. The cold reality of winter. She imagined walking out the front door in just her bathrobe, heading east through the hemlocks as they gave way to taller pines. Taking off her bathrobe and laying down in the snow. Feeling the cold against her naked body. The melt forming to her contours. The silence beneath the pine bows, the scent of the needles as numbness set in and she slipped away. Slipped away from this moment and the harshness sent her way. Then, her thoughts came back to the present. George? Abbie? They were out cross-country skiing. No point calling them. Let them have this time together. Anna opened up a cupboard, took down a glass and filled it. She then went back to the computer, opened it, read the email and clicked on the link.
But, what was there to read? There was no story, no legacy. It reminded her of boxing up the household after her parents died. Letters, recipes, ephemera full of love, along with the marks made by her and her brothers: the mismatched doorknob her dad never replaced and the screen door, ripped by her brother, and stitched up by her mom’s careful hand. But this? This journey, what was it? Anna read the top entry.
November 30, 2014, 12:46 am. Heart rate: 0 bpm.
No context. Just a time and a number. Anna scrolled.
November 30, 2014, 10:17 pm. Status update: Fun catching up with friends. Time to head home.
November 30, 2014, 8:02 pm. Check-in: Ozumo 161 Steuart St, San Francisco, CA.
November 30, 2014, 2:50 pm. Status update: Everytime is the wrong time to go to Whole Foods.
November 30, 2014, 10:22 am. Status update: John logged 120 points for #running!
November 30, 2014, 10:20 am. Heart rate: 117 bpm.
It seemed like the page scrolled on forever, but Anna knew it was finite. There would be a beginning, just as there was an end. Photos, videos, status updates, locations, heart rates, blog posts, it all came together in this digital collage in which Anna tried to find meaning, to make sense, but all she found was loss. She called John’s ex-girlfriend and it went to voicemail. Does one even know the friends of their adult children? In the account from Journ.ey there was a page to download all of John’s usernames and passwords. Anna thought about doing this. Thought about sending a message out in the hopes that his on lie friends would respond. But, then she got the call from the hospital. A human being, a voice with emotion transmitted across the country. The railing on John’s balcony gave way. He’d fallen five stories and passed on the way to the hospital. Yes, said the councilor, it’d been sometime after midnight.
The tears felt like they came from Anna’s gut. Grief rose out from the center of her. Fought it’s way out. She’d hung up the phone, but wasn’t sure when. George and Abbie should be coming back soon. Anna had said she’d make chill for them. Have a pot simmering on the stove. She waited for her family to return, for the shadows to lengthen on the walls. Anna waited as the heat switched off, as around the world updates flashed across people’s feeds, and the house felt colder, more remote. The snow continued and beneath it’s weight a pine bough crashed to the forest floor, the needles spreading out, dark against powder.