I do not have precognitive abilities of any sort. What I have is an awareness of the many things in my life that are undone or have been poorly managed and an ever-present sense of doom because it’s all going to come unraveled some day, isn’t it? I cannot possibly address all the things that cause me to worry in the few hours I have available each day, so as emergencies arise I make choices. Triage. Mostly I live with low-level anxiety that occasionally peaks in the middle of the night, causing me to wake up, heart racing, panicking about something I cannot or will not take care of in the middle of the night. Pointless adrenaline.
When our second child was two years old, we bought three betta fish from the pet store. Each boy got a fish tank in his room and the adults had one for the living area. The boys’ two bettas died shortly after acquisition due to childish overfeeding and general lack of parental oversight. Though his living situation was barely better, the adult-owned fish, Prince (the Purple One), survived for many years. Prince the fish weathered abominable tank conditions, periods of feast and famine, and road trips for at least three family vacations where we could not find a fish-sitter. I never woke up panicked at the thought of Prince dying, but many a night I took a look at his dirty little tank, sighed a heavy sigh, and went to bed with a quick prayer that he would survive until morning. He did, for five years. Last week our oldest son sprinkled food in his bowl and realized the stiff little guy was no more. Only his plastic plant had kept him from bobbing to the surface, belly-up. His tank was decently clean and there were no signs of foul play. It was just his time.
Nevertheless, Prince’s demise heightened my usual sense of impending doom. I’d been waiting five years for that fish to kick the bucket. Now that he had, my fears were validated! See — he did die! Never mind that he lived a year past the average life span of a betta, he was dead! Thus my worries about our poor fish parenting confirmed. Which worry would come to fruition next?
Cue our desktop computer, older than the fish and, though better cared for, still ever on its last legs in my mind. Once in a while it becomes non-responsive when left idle and has to be manually restarted. Frequently, it is so slow in accomplishing tasks that I wonder if it’s taking a nap. I try to walk away for a minute or two and come back rather than sit and fume at the screen. A few nights ago it was non-responsive and came back up in a halting, maybe-I-will, maybe-I-won’t way upon forced reboot.
My writing, small amount that it is, is backed up on a flash drive. Most of the software on the computer we either don’t need or could easily replace. But the pictures! Six years of digital pictures only patchily backed up in other places. I had been meaning to buy an external hard drive for more than a year to back up the pictures, but had never gotten around to it.
With the betta in our freezer on my mind, when the computer stalled and stuttered I thought, “This is it! This machine is going to die tonight and I will lose everything!” I packed up my youngest son and hustled off to Target to buy an external hard drive at 9:30 PM.
I should pause here to explain about the gas station. I drive a 1999 Nissan Maxima that used to be my father’s. The Maxima is lovely inside, with leather heated seats, but has at least three dents and a noticeable scrape of white paint from another car on its exterior. During the past few months, I’ve been approached twice at the local gas station by a man who runs a “mobile auto-body-repair service” and will hammer out those dents for me right now, for a very small fee, if I’ll follow him down the street. Both times I’ve politely refused. (This is creepier in the retelling than it was as it happened. I think he just wants to fix my car for cash, not kidnap me. Probably.) The second time it happened, when I got home I asked my husband if he ever had people randomly offer to fix his car when he was at that particular gas station. He has not, but twice he’s had guys knock on our door and offer to buy the non-running beater car in our driveway for cash and/or trade, and he went through a 10-year period where people were constantly trying to sell him speakers out of the back of vans.
Back to Target. My son and I wandered the aisles for a few minutes, but it was late and I didn’t want to take too long, so I asked for help. The clerk walked me to the external hard drives, answered my one question, and walked away. Up came a guy in a leather jacket who had been hanging out in the aisle waiting for prey. He pointed to a 1TB drive on sale.
“That’s a good deal,” he said, “What do you need it for?”
“Backing up my desktop.”
“How big is it?”
“I don’t know.” The computer is old and was never top-of-the-line, so there’s no way its hard drive is a Terabyte. Besides, I mostly just needed the photos. But I didn’t say this, so he assumed I’d wandered into the computer section unprepared.
“Is it an old computer?” he asked.
“Yes, at least five years old. There’s no way in hell it’s a Terabyte. Oh- sorry.” Why did I apologize to him for swearing? Why was I still talking to this guy?
He graciously inclined his head, my faux pas forgiven. “You know,” he said, “I could back this up for you. I have a business fixing computers; I could give you my business card.”
“I’m here now because I need to back it up tonight. I’m afraid the computer is about to die.”
“That bad?” he asked. He started to tell me what to do with my computer: turn it off if it’s going to overheat. If it does die, don’t throw it away; take the hard disk to a professional who can save it for me . . .
I interrupted. “I thought I’d buy this, take it home tonight, and copy the photos I want to save onto it myself.”
“You could do that, but it might be tricky. What are you running?”
“Hmmm, permissions could be a problem.”
“I have administrator privileges on my own computer. I set it up, after all.”
“Oh. You’ll be fine, then.”
“Go! Buy that, go back it up!” He waved me away with a ridiculous air of authority. Did the guy just hang out in Target, pretending to be in charge? What did the employees think?
At home I told my husband this story and concluded by saying, “I can’t decide if he’s an opportunist, like the gas station guy, or if it was because I’m a woman. You know, like I’m baffled by the confusing computer parts and should be grateful for his manly assistance.”
My husband laughed. “Good thing I wasn’t the one buying the back-up drive. I might have taken his card.”
I opened the tiny slip of paper with three-step, picture-only directions for using the hard drive and showed them to him. Step 1: connect the hard drive to the computer. Step 2: run the wizard. Step 3: for more information, look at the instruction booklet or go online.
“This is what he was going to charge me to set up. This.” I shook my head and went to plug the thing in.