Light is the breath of my parents who watch over me.
Green caterpillars stop their crawl over a 15-inch screen of leaves.
Everything on my laptop computer turns black. It happens as I sit
on the rug talking with my husband discussing the poems I'm writing
about my deceased parents. No more dancing lights on the keyboard
flashing to the sound of data moving through the processor.
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.
In the morning, after my husband and daughter have left for work
and school, the laptop is still dead. But I have e-mail to read,
clients to contact, Internet sites to research. Then there are the
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
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 number and e-mail address. After
validating my account, the tech begins to identify the proper verse
and chapter from her troubleshooting book that applies to my exact
"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
Juggling latches as I hold the phone to my ear, I disconnect it
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 figure out 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 again.
We start over.
This new tech has the annoying habit of reading the "Next"
prompt which appears at the bottom of the screen as he pages through
the troubleshooting guide. "Next, Next, Next," he says.
All I hear is next, although after awhile, this becomes a mantra.
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
screw drivers and I'm not sure I have one, and even if I do, 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
"What size screw driver do I need?"
He can't tell me, 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 screw driver that will
open the single screw that keeps the hard drive removed from me.
I call back. I wait in the queue. Another tech gets on the phone
and 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.
"That's fine for your company," I suggest in a snitty
fashion, "but it doesn't work for this customer."
She sighs. We test the computer. There is no response.
Now I must prepare for surgery. It's time to remove the memory chips.
I unscrew the proper trap door and remove its plastic casing. Beneath
it are the memory chips, probably about a half inch wide, which
dazzle me with their green brilliance, small veins of silverish
thread 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.
"Press the latches on the side."
I am confounded by her lack of specificity. "Do you mean side
left and right or side up and down?"
She's not sure. "Uh, you're looking right at it. You just don't
know what it is."
Is this the way people are guided when they are about to discover
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 which I use as a pair of tweezers.
Now I slip the chips gently out.
I can sense that I'm getting close. Now 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.
I have completed the autopsy. Nothing.
She orders a technician to come to my house to replace the motherboard.
I may hear from him within a day.
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,
for some reason enfolded in a calm. 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.