Delete forever.

There's no creative way to begin this. I canceled my plans for tonight. It's been a long week. A long, drunken week. So I biked home, orange juice and baking supplies in hand. Took a long shower. Tidied up the apartment. Stared down the dirty dishes in the sink, walked away.

Tonight started as the sort of Friday I used to embrace. I'm more at peace with this breakup and my single life than ever. To complete this sweet new life: I have Internet access in my apartment, finally, after an epic struggle to get connected. I was prepared to settle in with my laptop on the sofa for the night.

But I operate on a system of delayed gratification: You can do _____________ if you finish _____________ first.

So I told myself, "You can be lame and play on the Internet all Friday night if you do something productive to help kickstart your new professional life." Which meant clearing up some free space in my Gmail account. Sure.

And I knew just where to start.

When John and I were dating, especially when we were just starting out, he'd send me songs. An MP3 courtship, if you will. There was more than a gigabyte — old soul, R&B, country, funk, Lucinda Williams, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan — stored in my account. The songs are all on my hard drive now, safely unchecked in iTunes so there are no ugly iPod surprises during my long commute. I don't need those messages. So I methodically clicked through every message he'd ever sent me. Hundreds of them. Looking for the little paperclip that told me he'd attached a little piece of his heart. And I deleted them.

Said goodbye to Irma Thomas and Aretha Franklin and Al Green and Millie Jackson. There are riffs — hell, notes — in songs that will always remind me of him. A musical flip of the hair at the beginning of "Hurts So Good" that seemed to make its way stylistically into every song he played on his Gibson acoustic in my sweet, sunny one-bedroom, before everything got so complicated. Before he stopped playing.

Said goodbye to Lucinda. All four messages, each with three or four songs attached. Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, Essence, Sweet Old World. He had so many stories about her music, about seeing her at a tiny bar in New York City just off Washington Square Park. So many stories about everything. My guitar class played a horrifying rendition of "Essence" before I'd even heard the real version. The way you move is right in time with me. When we walked into Park West last year for her concert, she was in the middle of that song.

Said goodbye to Led Zeppelin. "The Ocean." My reply: a proud proclamation that I'd loved that song since my senior year of college — long before I knew him — I first heard it in History of Rock 'n' Roll class. He was hooked. I can't be sad listening to Zeppelin, and I could write volumes on what their music means to me. I probably should. I went to my iPod today, in fact, looking for "Custard Pie" because I needed to strut. I needed to feel like a woman. Zeppelin is my musical sex; I'm starved for it.

Goodbye to the Rolling Stones. I always hated the music. But they were him. More than Led Zeppelin, more than the real soul singers and black musicians that John so idolized. These were cocky white men who distilled all the vibrant, filthy joy out of that black music and turned it into trashy British rock. I never ran across the e-mail that contained "Angie." Maybe I deleted it once I'd downloaded the MP3, knowing there'd be a time when I could hardly bear to see the filename. I don't know if I'll ever listen to that song again. He used to play it himself for me when I couldn't fall asleep.

And goodbye, Bob Dylan. "If You See Her, Say Hello." One of the first songs he ever sent. One of those songs I'd listen to and think, "I'll never make him feel this way. I'll never give him a reason to write songs like this. This time is different." I woke up last Sunday morning, head spinning from my hangover du jour, to it playing on the radio. I switched it off and begged for more sleep. I just lay there, staring at the ceiling.

Going through those messages, I also ran across the old chat transcripts from those work days when I got nothing done between song swaps and tiny text boxes; his frequent missives riddled with unnecessary commas and em dashes, which I always teased him about. I remember every single message. Remember phrases and how I reacted to them. Remember being terrified that he was falling so hard and telling me so honestly. Remember just closing my eyes and feeling my feelings, and…dammit. How wrong that probably was.

The e-mails, the music, the commas and em dashes, stopped suddenly in June. I stopped them.

I made John a mix CD when we broke up for the last time. I sealed it in an envelope with a card, as he helped me move the last of my things out of our shared apartment and into this single-girl haven, this shelter from the breakup fallout.

The songs were all in order. I thought they brought forth all the feelings I couldn't articulate when he demanded more explanation, more reasoning. The CD closed, of course, with "Angie." Because of course I still loved him. But all the dreams we held so close seemed to all go up in smoke. So there was that.

Angie, you can't say we never tried. / But ain't it time we said goodbye?

I thought he'd appreciate it: Music was our story. But he didn't. He told me he'd never listen to it. Ever. Then he returned the CD to me a few days later, back into the envelope it came in. Snapped in half. This is my story now.

Remembering things like that make this all easier. If I weren't such a pack rat, I'd just have deleted everything he'd ever sent me. But a nagging feeling tells me I'll want to read through those messages some day. Someday, I keep hoping, it'll hurt so good. Instead of just plain hurting. The Stones tell me I'm a fool to cry, but here I am anyway: I went into the Trash folder, clicked "Delete Forever" and let the tears fall.