There’s no getting around it; my laptop is dying. I’ll be working along, minding my own business, and all of a sudden the screen will go black and my work will disappear behind a dark, impenetrable screen. Every tenth time or so I’ll get the Blue Screen of Death. It’s rather tiresome and it’s happening all too often, but it’s better than the alternative. No laptop at all.
If I had an employer I’d ask them to kindly replace it. There has always been an employer; a staff member savvy in IT who can pump another year of life out of the device, or be the one to give the official word that you’ve earned a replacement. You’ve killed the sucker.
There is no employer now, and that fact eats away at me. This very laptop made possible a Skype interview with a potential employer in St. Paul just before Christmas, an attempt to render the Atlantic a puddle, to convince a boss that I could be the worker of his dreams, I just wouldn’t be in the office for a while.
I got the rejection via Skype in Melbourne, his decency evident in his chosen mode of communication. Not long before this I’d Skyped with my family, who were vacationing in southern England, bubbly and falling over one another in their eagerness to share their stories. My youngest kept trying to kiss the iPad, as if she could reach out and touch me if she could just get her fingers through the screen. When that failed, her smile crumpled and she turned to her dad for a hug, stunned and hurt. Tears were averted but only just.
On my way back to Berlin, during my three-hour layover in the Bangkok airport, I managed to trade Facebook messages with a dear friend, who by some miracle was awake and online in Grand Forks at the same time. I was hungry and told her so, and she offered to push some Girl Scout cookies through the monitor if I’d like.
Our back and forth made me bark with laughter at her comebacks. She commiserated on my daughter turning 16, having been in the hospital room with us as soon as the nurses would allow it. She’s been privy to all that has transpired since then.
When after exactly 60 minutes my connection was abruptly revoked by the Thai Internet service, I was jolted back to the generic terminal where I sat, the endless grey corridor empty but for a man seated down the hall, engrossed in his phone.
“I hope you didn’t succumb to hunger pangs and eat your electronic device!” was the message that popped up 14 hours later when I emerged in Frankfurt and could write to explain my disappearance.
But I would never eat my electronic device. It’s my lifeline home, stringing me from Point A to Point B across this tightrope walk of a year.
My laptop brings me news from home, the sounds of The Current, and occasional emails from friends, dribs and drabs like an IV line keeping me hydrated. M would have me implode it if I could, dismayed as he is at how tied I seem to be to its ghostly presence. I do have to wonder if this laptop is mitigating too much of my year, if indeed I’d be better off to eat the flickering thing and be done with it, go old-school and write out the postcards I buy and never send.
But my freelance work requires a device. And where there’s a device, there’s Internet. This is the conundrum of the 21st century, I suppose, when one minute you can be fully engaged in a conversation with your best friend, laughing with her and at yourself as if you were in the same room, and the next find yourself chortling hoarsely in an empty corridor at a bundle of copper and lithium.