Back up your computer right now (notes on winter)

It’s been a cold winter, probably no colder than other winters I’ve experienced in the various places I’ve lived, but this year, for some reason, I cannot wait for spring. I think about the warmer months ahead all the time. When I get out of the shower in the morning and put on a sweater and boots. When I take the dogs out back at night. I’ve always liked winter – I like winter clothes and snow – but this year I’m convinced that everything’s just going to be better, easier, once the temperatures rise and stay that way.

A couple weeks ago we awoke to a mix of snow, rain and ice, a weather condition that serves absolutely no purpose in the world except causing everything to stop working properly. So it was no surprise when getting out of the neighborhood took two times as long as normal, getting to the train station took three times as long, and I missed not only the 7:04 to Grand Central, but also the next two trains and ended up boarding the 7:51.

This was ok, I figured, because, look at it out there, no one was going to fault me getting in 30 minutes later than usual in these circumstances, even in my first week of work.

Still, I was annoyed, and more frantic than I usually am on the morning commute, a time I use for quiet reading, sleeping and reflection. I really cherish that hour and a half, as the sun is streaming in through the window and the whole car smells like freshly brewed coffee, because by the time these same, happy people have made it through the workday and back on the train for the ride back home? Everything has changed.

That wintry morning, as we were getting close to New York City, I put on my coat, got my subway card ready (I work one subway stop from the train station but, again, in these conditions, no one’s going to fault me for paying $2 to ride the subway for 3 seconds) and grabbed my bag to ensure I was prepared for a swift departure, so I would arrive at the office as quickly as possible.

I followed the throngs to the subway stop, caught a rapidly approaching 6 train and was commending myself on a job well done when I realized with a terrible, nausea-inducing, sinking feeling that I’d left my laptop in it’s carrier on the luggage rack of the Metro North train I had, just minutes earlier, gleefully fled.

Because my adrenaline levels were already higher than normal for a Friday morning, my reaction didn’t require much thinking. I got off the subway, immediately caught another train heading back towards Grand Central, traveled the one stop, exited and ran into the atrium and towards the Metro North information booth where I explained to the gentleman manning the booth, breathlessly, and as nicely as I could, “Excuse me. I just took the 7:51 from New Haven. Could you tell me what track that train arrived on and if it’s still there?”

The train, he said, was still there, and unable believing my luck, I sprinted towards the track where I found the train empty except for a few car cleaners, one of whom let me in to search the luggage racks where I was sure I’d been sitting. “I was sitting here, in this seat, facing backwards, with the pomegranate juice poster here in the corner and the restroom at the other end of the car,” I told him. My certainty regarding this fact made it even more upsetting that the computer was not there.

I searched the entire train, pushing the emergency exit doors in between cars open as I tromped angrily along, scanning what seemed like miles of luggage racks, searching in vain because I knew, somehow, that the computer was gone, just gone.

My feats of strength and rapidity in getting back to Grand Central in the face of imminent disaster had meant nothing. That I’d acted so quickly and done everything right somehow made it worse, as though, even though I’d been an idiot in leaving the laptop in the train in the first place, if I’d been even more careless and not realized my mistake for hours, then, maybe, I would have actually deserved this.

My laptop is old. A Mac PowerBook, nearly five years old and missing keys from many nights taking notes at town board meetings and pounding out stories. It fulfilled its life work, really, and I’ve been meaning to get a new one for a long time. So it’s not like I lost a valuable piece of equipment.

Still, I loved it. I loved its old familiarity and clunky charm. I loved the things I wrote on that computer, even if they were boring town board meeting stories for the local paper.

But besides my emotional attachment, I wasn’t too nervous about the actual data on the computer at first. While I’ve never backed the thing up (yes, I do know you’re supposed to) I felt like most things I’ve written ended up in print or on my blog, most pictures on my Flickr account and J’s uploaded our entire music collection to a desktop we have at home.

Then, however, regret levels rising, I started to remember. Almost all our honeymoon pictures in Costa Rica, taken before I’d started using an online picture-sharing site. The slide show of our trip to Italy that J created, along with the perfect accompanying music, that we'd shown to so many of our friends.

And perhaps worst of all was something J told me about later that night. His birding life list, all the species he's seen in order, including locations, was on that laptop.

The days since have included frequent trips to the Grand Central Terminal Lost and Found, where I line up behind commuters who've misplaced their umbrellas and cell phones. The man who works there knows me by now and is quick to tell me that my laptop isn't there. It's about time I give up, I realize.

I bought a new computer, something we'd been planning to do anyway and which suddenly became necessary. A cute little MacBook, lighter than my old laptop, with all its keys in place. It's very clean and fast, and I'm trying to love it but it's difficult. Maybe I would love my new laptop if I'd bought it because I wanted to, and not because I'd been too rushed to remember to take my laptop computer with me when I left the train one icy morning.

I take my new computer to work in my big work bag, the same bag where I put my wallet and keys and cell phone, a bag I'll never accidentally leave on the train.

I have to remind myself that my mistake was just that, a mistake, that I should forgive myself, that J can recreate his bird list and the slide show, and that we'll never forget Costa Rica.

In an effort to try and get over it I downloaded the song "No One" by Alicia Keys, a song I shamelessly love, from the iTunes store onto my new MacBook the other day, making my replacement laptop seem a little more like a personal possession and less like a consolation prize. I think it helped. Maybe in a few months, maybe when it's warmer, I'll have grown attached. The laptop's keyboard won't be so clean and white, the screen so clear and unscathed, but it will be mine. Spring will come, a time for new beginnings. I'll clutch my bag tightly as I get ready to exit the train and, without casting a longing glance at the luggage rack, I'll move on.