Saying Goodbye – An Ersatz Moral

Last night, I said goodbye to an old friend.  A friend who used to burn the midnight oil with me while the rest of the world slept.  A friend who got me through some of the best and worst times of the so-called “best years of my life”. A friend who rarely failed me, even under intense pressure.  That, my friends, was my 2000 Sony VAIO, now formatted and soon to be laid to rest in the recycled heaven of Best Buy.

I was upstairs in the office cleaning out the detritus of years and years of fastidious, almost compulsive recordkeeping, when I stubbed my toe on a heavy briefcase under the desk. Lo and behold! My fully loaded, 13 G C: drive, 40G D: drive (hush, you; that power was unheard of back then), 50M of RAM laptop gazed back at me, complete with Catwoman sticker on the lid.

Memories flooded through me, of long hours spent gazing at its enormous 15 inch screen.  Of AIMing with college classmates, of cursing at the clock as the night lengthened into unholy hours of morning while I wrote and studied, furiously clickity-clacking keys as I powered through papers driven by the power of my intellect and procrastination.

For those of us who can claim Generation X and Y status, we grew up plugged into the Matrix.  We cultivated symbiotic relationships with our machines, gradually becoming one with them as the power of the PC and the Internet grew.  Phones fell out of favor as we anxiously awaited the familiar bling of our AIM chatbox, or the ubiquitous “You’ve Got Mail” of our AOL inboxes (don’t lie, you had one too and I’m sure your user handle was as lame as mine).  Multitasking became our greatest talent; of course I can talk to 10 people while doing research and writing my thesis! Doesn’t everyone?

We learned to trust these technological wonders with all our photos, important professional and personal documents, our unfinished novels that would sleep comfortably in their hard drives until we were ready to unleash our acumen on the world or the thesis or dissertation that would take us to the next stage of our career.  We would grow angry with them, scolding them as if they were defiant children, then begging and pleading with them in desperation to bring back our essay on the influence of post-colonialism in Jane Eyre. We came to store our very lives in them: work, school, play, and social life all found a home in our computer, who became our old, dependable ersatz ally and companion.

Yet as everything in life, things slow down; they grow weaker and become less able to handle the ever increasing loads and burdens put on them. Towards the seven year mark of my laptop’s life, it would shut down inexplicably in the middle of a task, usually to the soundtrack of my screams of frustration.  As hot as it was in the figurative sense, it literally grew too hot to sustain extended periods of work and would shut down in an act of extreme self-preservation.  Years passed as it sat in my briefcase, like a toy in an attic as I moved on to a bigger, better, faster toy.  I’m desperately trying not to draw connections between my beloved but now obsolete laptop to Jesse the Cowgirl of Toy Story fame. I believe I’m failing.

Yet, here it was in front of me. I remembered and smiled, feeling its familiar, excessive weight on my lap, the still-faulty fan seemingly burning a hole in my jeans. All nostalgia aside, I had an office to clean and a duty to perform; it was time for me to usher it to the next state of its being, whatever that may be. So, after years of putting it off, I found myself saying goodbye to my Sony, feeling much like Travis must have felt as he prepared to send Old Yeller on to the afterlife.

It was a surprisingly emotional event. I have a habit of hanging on to possessions long past the time when I should have let them go. Childhood toys, stuffed animals, and now old computers and electronic devices (I still have my first Sony Walkman. To quote Henry Jones, Jr., it belongs in a museum!). In letting go of them, why, I’d have to acknowledge that those times are in the past! That I cannot get them back, no matter how hard I try! See, I’m not always good at that. I hold on to things as if to keep them alive – to keep that past alive – just one moment longer! If my laptop is here, then the potent memory of my college undergrad years are still here as well! This faulty logic seems to sustain a strange fantasy, a fear of the present and a compulsive need to cling to the past.

I am no hoarder, but I imagine the horrible struggle to let go of objects such as this begins much in this manner.  It is less about the object itself and more about resisting change. Despite the sadness, I knew the right thing to do was to let it go and in so doing, free myself from the spell it had over me. In a way, like Travis, I too felt like I had made another step towards adulthood.  The older you get, the more you realize that what’s really important are not these things to which you have attributed value but how you grew as a person in these moments and the memories you retain from such experiences. Even as I began the formatting process, I was thankful for the opportunity to experience this superficial wisdom. I’d like to think that my computer would have gone out like the Terminator from Judgment Day, with a heroic thumbs-up in the end.

Thanks for serving me well all those years, my friend. Thanks also for the unintentional life lesson. Maybe we’ll meet again someday.

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