Light is the breath of my parents who watch over me.
Green caterpillars stop crawling on a 15-inch screen of leaves. Everything on my laptop computer goes black. It happens as I sit on the rug reading the poems I've been writing about my deceased parents. No more lights flashing on the keyboard.
The laptop rests on the burgundy carpet and is ensnared in a hopeless tangle of adaptor and modem wires; the kill has been made and the predator is still in the neighborhood. I guard the carcass.
Tomorrow I want the computer to turn on, hope its aberrant behavior is due to my failure to pay it sufficient attention. This has happened before. For the moment, I ignore its lifeless screen.
But in the morning after my daughter has left for work and school, the laptop does not go on. I have e-mails to read, clients to contact, Internet sites to research. Then there are the poems.
Why’d you have to get sick and leave
when I was too young to know how much
I’d miss you; birthdays, holidays, your touch,
even in my dreams you drop by infrequently.
Sometimes I think I hear you breathe
by the seashore, in a gully near the rushes,
walking together picking several bunches
of flowers near the entrance to the beach.
Even, if by chance I saw you materialize,
would you recognize your daughter,
back then, a young girl who fantasized
about living opposite from the way you taught her,
what part of me would you recognize,
my feet, my eyes, my hands cupped with water?
I turn the page in my notebook to several toll-free technical support numbers.
I retrieve my daughter's mobile phone from downstairs and dial. Ten minutes into the wait queue, Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony is interrupted by the voice of the tech.
"Hello, my name is Pat. May I help you?"
I verify my name, address, phone, and e-mail address to help her validate my account. Now the tech begins to identify the proper verse and chapter from her troubleshooting book.
"I've got it. Step one. Unplug the power source from the computer."
We get as far as the battery. The tech advises, "Turn the computer over and remove the battery which is near the media and data source." She doesn't know what that means either.
I whine, "But I don't know where the battery is."
The tech provides me with its latitude and longitude.
I see two latches that are supposed to flip some kind of trap door at the bottom of my computer, but I cannot identify anything to pull. I voice my confusion.
The tech doesn't listen and drones on like a real estate agent about location.
Juggling latches, I accidentally disconnect the phone.
I wish we could sit and talk
after all these years, have that exit interview
you wouldn’t allow. Everyone knew
it was cancer. Marty cranked up in a bed, chalk-
white; Olga, flying around unable to renew
her liver. Maybe you didn’t want us to boo-hoo,
while you were being stalked.
In any case, you couldn’t hear
over the IV dripping. We asked each other why
this was happening, days smeared
together any amount of head banging or cries
wouldn’t dissolve my orphan fears.
It was time to whisper good-bye.
Before I call back, I return to the trap doors. I realize that the molded plastic rises at the bottom of the computer are the very handles I've been looking for. I press the latch open and grab the handle. Something slides out and it is, indeed, the battery.
I call back. I wait in the queue. Another tech gets on the phone and validates my account. We do the name, address, phone number, and e-mail thing, and start over.
This new tech has the annoying habit of reading the "Next" prompt that appears at the bottom of the screen as he pages through the troubleshooting guide. "Next, Next, Next,” he says. I think, all we have is now and maybe if we're lucky, next. He intercedes. "Let's go to the training guide. That's where all the really good stuff is. Next, Next, Next," he reads.
Next I am to remove the hard drive, but need one of those itty-bitty screwdrivers and I'm not sure I have one, and even if I do, I don't know where they are. The tech gallantly waits while I open all the drawers in the house and do a quick scan of the basement.
I get back to the phone and report, "I can't find one."
"I'm sorry you'll have to call back after you can find one so we can run through the tests. We also have to remove the memory chips."
He can't tell me what size screwdriver I need, but suggests, "Why don't you just take the unit with you to the hardware store?" Next.
I'm out of the house carrying the computer, which at this point, is minus its battery and DVD unit, its underside exposed. I drive up to the hardware store and find a small screwdriver that will open the single screw that keeps the hard drive barricaded from me.
I call back. I wait in the queue. Another tech gets on the phone. Validates my account.
The new tech tells me that we need to start from the beginning. She explains that since I wasn't able to remove all the components, the previous techs were unable to properly log my actions.
Now I must prepare for surgery. It's time to remove memory chips.
I unscrew the proper trap door. Beneath it are the memory chips, probably about a half-inch wide which dazzle me with their green brilliance, small veins of silverish thread are traced inside each one. A river flowing to eternity. There are two boards. One contains four chips that are stacked vertically, the second contains two chips that are stacked horizontally. Then I am commanded by the tech to remove them.
The services over, it became apparent
you were quietly gone away from me,
never to come home and put up a pot of coffee;
suddenly I became my own parent,
the one who knows all the ways to stare at
four walls and strip them to beams,
to clear out obstacles or move them with dreams;
look at the future and become clairvoyant.
For years, I walked around in stealth
mode, kept my eyes focused straight ahead.
My goal wasn’t to accumulate wealth.
I wanted to know how a person can be dead.
I learned how to watch out for myself.
Everyone said I was a tough kid.
I see two shiny metal things that look like the rounded edge of a fat paper clip, maybe a safety pin. I describe them to her.
"Why don't you try to press them?" she encourages me.
I do, press the metal heads, and the chip is released from its hold to the board, rising to my fingertips that I use as a pair of tweezers. Now I slip the chips gently out.
I can sense that I'm getting close. The tech directs me to place the door to the computer chips over the board, and to turn the computer right side up. I turn on the power and carefully listen for some sound of life stirring inside the shell of my desecrated computer.
Nothing. The autopsy is complete.
She orders a technician to come to my house to replace the motherboard. I may hear from him within a day.
That’s it. I hang up.
I am bathed in a warm light that falls through the window, and makes a circle around me on the burgundy rug. I am encased in a glow. I’ve gotten through my own uncertainty with guides along the way. Somewhere I hear a gentle whirring and it is at this precise moment I know that light is the breath of my parents.
Today I saw you near the BART station
where Chinatown’s elderly practice aikido
everyone dressed in jeans and loose shirts, on tip-toe
dissecting the air into equal rations.
But where did you come from? Former patients
in hospital gowns, maybe on tour from a distant do-jo
facing each other, repeating each form in slo-mo
without the help of medication.
I couldn’t believe it, there under the blue sky
tumbling on the plaza like two kids
who’ve never needed to stop and ask why
life bounces us back and forth in a fine sieve
grinding our edges until we give;
I saw you so quickly, I didn’t have a chance to cry.