I’ve had a PC in my home for exactly 14 years. It was the summer of 2000 when I more than willingly traded my usual summertime trip to the seaside for a big plastic box full of metal, strange boards and interesting wires, something my parents couldn’t understand at all. I had already had some computer knowledge of course, if you take into consideration that I absolutely adored my little ZX Spectrum and loved playing on my cousin’s Commodore, moving on to TIM computers of domestic production installed at my mom’s office and connected to a server that took a whole room to function, requiring carefully maintained dust-free environment. After that, a whole new world opened in front of me when I could use those very first 286 and 386 computers bought exclusively for my high school, which was followed by a certain digital delay in my life due to horrible economic sanctions my country had to endure in 1990s, but I still used computers wherever I could – in libraries, offices, internet cafes… until that day when I finally got hold on my first very own, precious and perfect little desktop configuration. I felt like Golum in the Lord of the Rings, no question about it. 🙂 I remember how I personally chose each part of that configuration to be assembled and surprisingly enough, I did an excellent job. My father said that it was probably a totally useless expensive purchase as the “thing”, screen included, would probably serve just to gather dust in my room as I would grow out of it in no time. To his complete astonishment, there wasn’t a single day without that box any more and he couldn’t understand what happened, nor he has ever understood it to this very day. He simply hates computers and can hardly realize how many different areas of human life they essentially deal with in today’s world. Nevertheless, I was and still am very grateful to him for that first configuration that now lives only in my memory, apart from its box case which is the only thing I preserved from those distant and much happier days.
My peaceful digital days abruptly ended with one unusual power outage a couple of years later. Even though the computer wasn’t turned on at that moment, it was still plugged in and when the power came back, something simply “popped” out loud in quite a disturbing way. The power surge was much stronger than allowed and my shock was indeed tremendous, I just sat on the floor and stared for a long time at the box that wouldn’t turn on any more. My warranty had expired and the store where I had bought it didn’t exist any more, so I didn’t know what to do. I desperately wanted my programs and my data back, and the solution arrived as usual from my mother – sometimes I do wonder what would have become of me if it wasn’t for her in my life. I distantly recall that she knew somebody important from the IT sector in our Telecom, so we took the box with us to that at the time big and fancy Telecom building to be “cured”. We sat in a separate room drinking some juice and waiting for the “verdict”. It’s just power supply, we’ll fix it in no time, no worries. Wonderful, I sighed with relief. The box was supposed to arrive back to the room where we sat in any minute and we could go home. Instead, there was this guy who fearfully appeared at the door, rambling something about my desktop icons that for some strange reason got enlarged 10-fold and couldn’t be opened any more, all this after 15-20 minutes of completely normal work. He was hushed up by another guy who confirmed that the problem was very serious, but avoided any discussion on who or what caused the problem. Judging from their faces, it was them who did something, but didn’t want to admit it. I didn’t push things any further, the damage was done and there was no way back. The second guy said that there was this man – and he wrote his name and address on a piece of paper – who could help with such a problem. I will never forget what he said – if there is anybody in this town who can fix it and preserve your data, it’s him. I was skeptical about the whole thing, but I simply had to give it a try. It was just a piece of paper, but it made an enormous difference.
That was how I met my PC handyman and his family, which changed my digital life for the better in million ways. He sat with that computer for 3 straight days and nights and simply didn’t let it die. Everybody else would have given up much sooner, but he was persistent to some incredible point, which is one of his traits that I admire with astonishment to this very day. He saved all my data, refreshed my configuration, supplied me with surge arrest power cords and UPS, all at really modest costs. This humble and modest man would have made a fortune in a different country with his IT knowledge, yet he struggled and still struggles to secure a decent living for his family because of his decision to remain in Serbia. We met on several more occasions, either to upgrade the system or the configuration because there were times in my life when I foolishly aspired to become a successful graphic designer and wanted the best computer I could afford, or simply because of some minor conflicts I couldn’t solve on my own. We stayed in touch and exchanged all sorts of season’s greetings for quite some time, but eventually this ended just like everything else ended in my life, it vanished in the darkness and silence with the arrival of the worst PD episode I experienced so far. I remotely remember that I needed some sort of his assistance at some point less than 5 years ago, but it was my parents who took the box the box to him and brought it back as I couldn’t go anywhere. And that was it.
The box worked, slower and slower as the time passed, but it never failed on me, till that previously mentioned “the end of the world” that occurred 2 weeks ago. I should have known better and I should have worked on preventing that thing from happening, but I simply got lost in the vicious circles dominated by my own demons, that I failed to see the reality around me. When I was rightfully punished for yet another neglected job in my life, one more time I simply didn’t know what to do. I was all caught up in my photo-blogging routine and now all of a sudden I was facing this system32 fatal error… all I could think of was the true realm of data that system used to control and how indeed fatal such loss could be in many ways.
Surprisingly enough, I forced myself to visualize the worst case scenario and I didn’t fall apart. I did cry a bit when I was alone, but not for a long time. I felt some numb acceptance of my fate, convinced that if something should have vanished from my life, it was good that it should be only that box. I couldn’t recognize myself, that’s not how I would have normally reacted to a digital disaster in previous years. I still can’t name exactly what changed me in the course of these last several years, but I know for sure that it must be a combination of things.
I’ve dealt with so many vital losses in my life so far that I think that this trained me how to behave in case of another one. So many things in life are about practice, I don’t see why it should be any different when dealing with a loss – the more you practice surviving it, the better you get at it. Apart from losing entirely my freedom, all my friends, boyfriend, any possibility of having a family and children of my own some day, jobs, income, I also survived a cancer threat 2 years ago when my newly discovered thyroid nodule was eventually diagnosed as benign – such things make you reevaluate your whole life and reset you system of values, making you form totally new priorities. My nodule was and maybe still is benign, but it’s still in my neck. It can always turn malign for some reason as long as it’s there, and that’s something I’m aware of every single day. My parents are both in their seventies and I deeply fear being left completely alone in this world, being the way I am. I take care of two precious dogs and I know that in spite of whatever I do, something can happen to them which would be indeed a devastating blow, because I have no friends or children, they are like two babies who apart from my parents are the only beings that greet me with sheer happiness every single day. I went through some very deep PD pits and climbed some small way back up, but it can surely worsen just about any time – once before I made the error of thinking that I had seen the worst of PD and that it surely couldn’t get any worse, but I was brutally shown that oh yes it could get MUCH worse, so I’m quite aware that I must be thankful even for the moments when things are bad but at least without changes for worse. Or simply – maybe it was none of this that changed my attitude, maybe it’s simply time that passed, maturity I gained, life experience I collected… maybe it’s just depression resurfacing and I just don’t care any more… or maybe after all those horrific flood events I realized that I had no right to complain as I still have a bed where to sleep and a good ceiling above my head.
Taking all this into consideration, losing some “box” simply should have to fall off the list of life priorities for good. Yet, we’re not talking about just any box. This box still contained my precious data from as far back as that famous year 2000, it carried on its disks so many moments from my dear long gone and lost past, files that flash in my mind so many people, places and memories so dear to my heart which was an excellent reason for me not to erase them. There were tons of e-mails, tons of valuable business related data, tons of creative files I made while I attended the Academy of Arts, tons of photos, special songs, video clips, valuable manuals, language courses, translations, books, installed programs – killing it in an instant would definitely equal killing a 14 year old brain that gathered so many information and connections in its lifetime. OK, somebody will definitely say – oh stop the rant, weirdo – have you ever heard of the magic word BACKUP??? Yes I did, but up to a little while ago I didn’t have enough space to save so much information, I had two not very large flash discs and I burnt some DVDs, but that was hardly enough. I recently got a quite large external disc and wanted to start this massive backup, but things rarely turn out the way you planned, at least it’s that way in my life.
On the other hand, losing something for a mentally stable person is one thing, while such loss for somebody like me is something entirely different. If you’re healthy and well and have means, you’ll go on from the point of the loss and build yourself a life again. In my case, I’ll probably never be able to function the way I used to ever again and I have to live with it, but at least when took a look at my data I could have a sense of dignity, knowing that I could document with something tangible that I was not always the useless person I became due to my illness. I could open a file and motivate myself by saying – there, I made this – if I could do it back then, maybe I could try again. Fourteen years are quite a long time, there were so many people who left marks on my computer but are not present in my life any more – nevertheless, by just looking at those marks I could bring them back to my life in my memory, the same way as when you take a look at an old photo and travel back in time.
Among the last things but not the least by any means, that computer had on it my full size photos of things I published here, and those weren’t simply blog posts and nothing more. I took up my camera after a very long time, and it took a certain courage to do it and believe in myself. There were people here who liked my photos and inspired me to go on, making me believe that I was doing it well. I was building some creative meaning into my days after so much time and it was a step further up from the bottom of the pit I fell in. Taking that dignity away from me would be quite painful to say the least.
I was sitting on the floor once again, staring at the box. I needed badly my handyman again. To save my computer. To save my dignity and my nerves. To save that large portion of my lost life. To make everything the way it used to be. To make that familiar dolphin reappear on my desktop and convince me that everything stayed the same. To take away the tears and the pain. To restore the system, to restore hope. Hope of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel even just one more time before I die. To give me a second chance to motivate myself to give my life a meaning. To help me regain the illusion that I didn’t fall as low as I actually fell. People sometimes really have no idea what can be hiding behind simple “things”, just like they have no idea that PC handymen can sometimes heal human souls as well.
I had to find his phone number and his address again. It’s been almost 5 years. Where is he? Is he working? Is he well? How is his family? The words from the beginning of this story – if anybody can fix it in this town, it’s him – resonated in my head over and over again. I didn’t know what exactly to say to him if I found him after such a long time. Will he remember me? He lives way out of my comfort zone, and even though I’m doing better, that’s not something I can handle well. How will I do it? Who will help me? And… is there hope? His mobile phone rang and there was some weird operator’s automatic machine voice talking in some incomprehensible way till I got a word or two. He wasn’t available, but the phone was – in Greece, that much I figured out. Many Serbian people go to the Greek seaside during summer, nothing strange about it, I was convinced in my heart that it was just a vacation. His home phone was changed and I didn’t remember the address any more. I forced my brain till it came up with the street, but I couldn’t squeeze out the home number. Fortunately even just a street name was enough to locate him, and I dialed the phone number. A female voice informed me that he was on vacation in Greece and that he was coming back – the following day! I think that I shouted something like OH GREAT, leaving the girl totally puzzled. It must have been his daughter, but I was too anxious to realize that I didn’t even realize who I was talking with.
I left him two days to recover from the trip and time zone change, then I pulled together my anxious mind and dialed his number. Right there something happened, something that goes far beyond this whole situation, something perhaps small but immensely precious for me – I said who I was and he shouted – ohhhhhhhh it’s youuuuuuuuuuuuuuu…… in such an incredibly happy way, as if he heard again from a long lost, but very dear old friend, it virtually brought tears to my eyes. It’s been literally ages that somebody was happy to hear me, let alone – that happy. And he said a strange thing, that he and his wife were talking about me a couple of days prior to leaving for Greece, wandering what had happened with me – telepathy? 🙂 He asked what computer I had now, and I said – the same as the last time you saw it. He replied – no way, no way, impossible… I would never believe that that PC was still alive, it outlived at least two times its own generation! He added that so many things had happened to him and his family since we spoke the last time and we agreed to meet at his place.
Deja vu continued, it was again me and my mom, one more time together, we put the box into a bag and dragged it to a taxi. The trip was more than unpleasant for me even though I was sedated for the occasion, but we made it. And there we were, in front of his building and images started coming back at full force – all the moments when we were there, what we did, how we did it… the building looked the same, the playground in front of it as well and it was comforting, as though I didn’t miss out that much of life in these last 7 years… but then the illusion inevitably vanished when I pressed his doorbell. There was that man, the face looked the same, but he gained a lot of weight, he smiled much more than he used to, he let me in and there was that room I remembered, only drastically changed. New, modern and stylish furniture, new TV set, new working point. “Waking up from a coma after a long time” effect started choking me again, then I saw his wife – at least she looks exactly the same, I thought with relief. We sat and started talking, and his wife confirmed that many things changed. Then she added in some automatic, seemingly careless and ironical way – among other things, we had cancer as well… I was like – wait, wait, what did you say?? Cancer, she repeated. Who had cancer? I did, she said. Breast cancer. What in the name… Yes, she added – I had the operation, radiations and chemotherapy, full pack. I took another better look at her and there was that face that I remember from before, not changed in any possible way, yet the woman went straight to hell and back again. Her mom died of stroke shortly after the end of her treatments. My handyman had bad issues as well with some huge blood vessels that burst somewhere in his respiratory tract which resulted in heavy bleedings which led to hospitalizations and all sorts of procedures. But I didn’t see any of that, I saw two positive and smiling beings, appearing strong and cheerful and really happy to see me and my mom again. I simply had to mention to my handyman that he seemed to me much more cheerful than I remember him, to which he said something that struck me deeply and still does – I am more cheerful, I have to be, I realized that life is very short.
I can’t define exactly how I felt after these words – humbled, ashamed, sad, angry with life, ready to pick up the box and dump it to trash outside…
Life indeed is very short, life is about us, people, about what we carry in our heads and souls and not about files on some discs that can vanish at any time. Suddenly it all lost weight and meaning, and I was just happy that we were all still sitting there, alive, talking, feeling more or less well at this moment in time. Me and my mom left the box at his place and wandered away in the night, burdened with many thoughts and questions without answers, yet I was for some reason convinced that it would all be well. I had a panic attack on the way back home because I wanted to be “brave” and use the public transport, I had to get off the bus and get back onto another one, but that was by far the furthest I went somewhere with the bus in the last 7 years, especially at night.
If somebody can fix it, he can…
It took him two days at his place and at work and another day at my place, it took us several additional phone calls during which he instructed me what to do, but we did it. Files are alive and kicking, Windows was repaired without re-installation which means that all my programs are still here, the dolphin is looking at me from the background… but most importantly, I got another huge lesson in life priorities. It makes me think again that everything happens with a reason, maybe that digital disaster was necessary because I had to realize something important and be pushed to the limits to see how much I can do.
I don’t think that my handyman will ever realize how much all this meant to me and how much he has helped me in all these years that we’ve known each other. I thank him and thank him and keep saying that he did a lot for me, but the story is way much deeper that he’ll even imagine. The only point is that as long as we’re all alive, computers will live as well, in one way or another. If we’re no longer here, the box will be nothing more than that mass of metal, boards and wires from the beginning of this story, useless object somebody will dump to trash without thinking twice about it. I don’t blame that person who will come after me and do it, life indeed is short and he or she will never have time or interest to go through all the bits and pieces my life consisted of, his or her time will inevitably come as well.
I got a second chance to go through my data and travel back in time with my programs, and even if it doesn’t last, I will at least hopefully have some more time at my disposal to come to better terms with those days behind me, which account for almost half of my entire life so far.
Agoraphobics hate leaving their comfort zone, but they loath change even more. However, no matter how much you try to run away from change, no matter how long your life remains frozen in time, that big life out there still goes on with or without you, it simply doesn’t care. And nothing ever stays the same. So take good care of precious people, beings and things in your life, because you never know how long you’ll have them by your side.