Parents Talk Back by Aisha Sultan

An Email Apocalypse

I couldn’t remember the name of a woman I needed to contact, so I typed a few keywords in the search bar of my Gmail account. This is my failsafe way of turning up old contacts.

Nothing at all came back. That was weird; I clearly remembered our correspondence from a few years ago.

Then, I noticed something even stranger. My inbox said it had around 12,000 messages. Unless it’s spam or ads, I haven’t deleted an email from this account in 13 years. My inbox should have more than 75,000 read messages.

What was going on?

I filtered the emails by date. There was nothing before 2017.

A deep sense of panic washed over me. Much of my work, contacts, personal and professional history lives in email. How did 60,000 emails just disappear?

It got worse.

I noticed my drafts folder was missing about 400 messages. Whenever I need to jot down interviews, observations or ideas I plan to use later, I start a draft email with a specific subject line. I started doing it more than a decade ago.

We can all agree that this is a terrible system. But I did not expect it to vanish into thin air one day.

I frantically emailed whatever contacts for Google I could find. While I waited for a response, I told my co-workers, fellow journalists who also traffic in hundreds of emails a day, that most of my digital record-keeping had mysteriously disappeared. Their faces registered the shock I felt, but then they reassured me that, surely, everything would be recovered. We live in the Age of The Cloud. Nothing is ever deleted from the internets.

I wanted to believe them, but in my sinking heart, I knew this was the curse that has haunted me.

I’ve been a saver (some might use a stronger word that rhymes with “boarder”) of written material my entire life -- letters, notes, cards, books, journals. Growing up, I kept a box in the garage filled with letters from my grandfather, notes folded into complicated shapes from my best friends in middle school and even Valentines from grade school. The summer before my senior year of high school, lightning struck our house and burned down the garage. Those letters turned to ash.

I restarted my collection of written memorabilia and again accumulated boxes in my parents’ garage -- yearbooks, letters, college term papers, grad school research. After the boxes collected dust for years, my father asked if I could please take my papers home. I mailed two large boxes from Texas to Missouri. A month later, I received a letter informing me that the boxes had been destroyed in a processing facility in Atlanta.

The curse.

This Gmail account had become the digital version of those boxes.

It was just a matter of time, I figured.

Maybe I should burn some sage to remove this hex, I suggested to a colleague.

Maybe you should go to the Apple store and see if their geniuses can help you, he said.

That sounded like a better plan. Oddly enough, my missing drafts were showing up on my iPhone’s Gmail app, though I wasn’t able to open them.

I headed to the mall, carrying my history like an albatross. Even the geniuses were stumped by my email apocalypse. Had someone hacked my account? Was there a problem with Gmail’s server? They had no explanation, and suggested I try to contact Google again.

I headed home dejected.

Nonetheless, I called Google support and a gentleman said he would send me a recovery link that would attempt to restore everything that had been deleted in the past 30 days.

A glimmer of hope.

Of course, the recovery link refused to launch. I should have accepted this fate hours ago.

I tried one last time. This time, it went through.

The rep said it might take up to 24 hours to recover the account, and that it wasn’t guaranteed to work. I turned off my computer and went to bed.

I had a nightmare of being kidnapped. As soon as I woke up, I logged in to my account.

By God, the emails now went back to 2015. They were coming back from the ether.

Bit by bit, the lost years started reappearing. By the next day, I had more than 76,000 emails back in my account, and all 700 drafts were also restored.

I still don’t know what happened or why, but I’m not one to question miracles.

Perhaps the curse is finally broken.