Goodbye to a Friend

In the early hours of Saturday morning, after nearly seven years, three operating systems and two trackpad replacements, my 13-inch MacBook succumbed to what I can only assume was a combination of old age and complications related to a 2009 incident with Lemon-Lime Gatorade.

I met Kevin, my MacBook's given name, on a sweltering mid-summer afternoon in 2006. The end of my undergraduate career was weeks away and I was slouched at a desk in the living room of my shared Brooklyn Heights one-bedroom frantically pecking out one of my last collegiate assignments, a term paper about Christopher Columbus' travel journals. I was in the middle of a paragraph ridiculing Columbus for his theory that the Earth was shaped like a pear with a nipple protruding from the top when the screen on the laptop I was using, a battered Dell gifted to me after high school graduation, went black.

"What the hell?" I said.

"What's wrong?" my roommate yelled from the other room.

"I think my laptop just died."

I waited for several seconds, hoping the screen would relight. It didn't. I hacked at the power button a dozen or so times. Nothing happened. I checked the wall outlet to make sure it was plugged in. It was.

"Yup, it's dead."

I paced the room as I tallied my options. The paper was due in less than a day and I figured I could attempt to track down an affordable repair man on Craigslist, camp out in one of the computer labs on campus for the next twelve hours or bite the bullet and just replace my dilapidated Dell. I assessed the state of my bank account aloud.

"The MET still owes me a paycheck. I have a babysitting job on Pierrepont Street on Friday night. There's $300 left from that scholarship I got for that essay I wrote. I'll probably get at least a hundred bucks for my birthday next month."

I took a deep breath.

"Screw it."

Figuring I could probably buy a new laptop and still feed myself without having to ask my folks for help, I grabbed my keys, yelled a goodbye in the direction of my roommate's bedroom and hustled to the Court Street subway station. After a sweaty 10-minute wait, a Manhattan-bound R-train screeched into the station behind a hot blast of New York City air and carried me to within a few blocks of the Apple Store on 59th and Fifth.

After several minutes spent poking at the display computers and eyeing price tags, I chose a 13-inch white MacBook because it was very pretty and because Apple offered to throw in an iPod and a shitty printer if I could produce a valid student ID. I tracked down a salesperson, told him what I wanted and kissed $1,400 goodbye. Careful not to make eye contact with anyone who might be interested in muscling away from me what was then the most expensive purchase of my life, NYU tuition notwithstanding, I rushed back to Brooklyn to restart my paper.

In the years since that frantic afternoon in the Big Apple, Kevin and I have been through a lot together. We left New York together after graduation and spent the following fall in my parents’ basement searching for jobs and binge watching episodes of Grey's Anatomy on DVD. We moved to Chicago together, where we traversed my first few years of full-time employment, my coming out and the rise of social media. Then, after nearly four and a half years in the Windy City, we headed west to San Francisco together, just the two of us, a pair of duffel bags and a tennis racquet, where we've been living ever since.

Until Saturday morning.

Thinking on it last night, I came to the realization that if Kevin were a person and not just bits of metal and plastic, he could expel far more information about my life over the last six and three-quarters years than any other entity, including Google. In that time period he’s seen my college transcripts, my grad school essays and my work resumes. He’s been privy to my photo albums, my playlists and my travel itineraries. He knows the ins and outs of every Gchat conversation, Facebook post and Skype chat, every Amazon purchase, bank account transaction and Netflix rental. He's even seen my Web history, which, to be honest, plays more like a diary than any actual diary I’ve ever kept. I know it’s silly, this sentimentality over 5.2 pounds of hardware, especially in an age when Apple products get a twice-yearly reboot and competing devices show up on shelves every other week, but when I think about how drastically my life has changed since that summer day in New York City in 2006, how quickly life has happened to me, how gone my twenties nearly are, I realize that my laptop had been one of the few constants.

There are, of course, things I won't miss about Kevin. For instance, his battery became so warped in his final years that pressing any key in the lower left portion of the keyboard would cause his whole body to rock hard to one side and then fall back again like a seesaw. And, by today's standards, he's a bit on the heavy side. Long gone are the days when I'd happily haul him around in my backpack, instead opting to tote the much slimmer MacBook Air made available to me by my place of employment. Despite all of his flaws and shortcomings, however, wherever I was living, whatever I was doing, I knew that I could always return home and he'd be there, his gentle light pulsing like a breath, waiting up for me.

Steve Jobs, the late CEO of Apple and one of the many folks responsible for the 13-inch MacBook, said in the film Memory & Imagination, "What a computer is to me is the most remarkable tool that we have ever come up with. It's the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds."

I think Mr. Jobs comes close, though more so than any bicycle, our computers have come to be our companions, our lives happening both around and in and with them. A remarkable tool, indeed.

As I type this goodbye while simultaneously putting through its paces the brand new 11-inch MacBook Air I purchased to accompany me in Kevin's absence, I can only wonder where the next seven years will take my new consort and I.

Hopefully nowhere near Lemon-Lime Gatorade.

Rest in peace, 13-inch MacBook.


Note: This post appeared on Thought Catalog on April 11, 2013.