The United States saw an exponential increase in technologies. Beepers, basic cable, behemoth-sized cellular phones, and computers that have since been fossilized. Vanilla Ice, old school hip-hop, and gangster rap. Overalls and innocence. The 90s birthed a generation in transition—one that would, one day, juggle between manual labor and auto-correct.
I became the final ornament to a family of now five. I like to think that my brothers were super excited when they found out that their new toy was coming to them in the form of a sister. My father’s favorite story of my arrival was when he, like Mike Piazza, caught me as my mother released me from the grip of her womb. Ironic; I grew up to be the catcher for my high school softball team.
We were happy, especially on Saturday mornings when everyone under the age of ten was up watching the baby Looney Tunes.
The beeper bill for the month came out to $10.81. “Welcome to the new year. If you would like to try voicemail, you will get the first month free!” We had an IBM and perforated printing paper. Our computer screen was so versatile that it had two color options: black and blue. Black when my brothers and I learned how to count using digital apples and strawberries, blue when my mother typed her imagination through metaphors. Once she printed her work, I had the privilege of carefully separating the edges from the paper.
In school, I was introduced to a speedier, more hi-tech computer model called the Macintosh. This computer was so advanced that its printing paper did not need my small but experienced hands to rip its sides. In retrospect, its striped rainbow-print bitten apple logo gives me the impression that the company had not yet achieved its standards of perfection. The rainbow was a reminder that they were still looking for their pot of gold.
December 31, 1999
The frontier to the new millennium. Y2K. Frenzy over the potential crash of all computer systems and electricity was all over the media, but in my home, a “whatever happens, happens” lifestyle dominated. The adults felt there were more important things to worry about, like refilling their drinks and reminiscing about life back in the Dominican Republic. Moreover, I was only seven and the only things I was occupied with were the twelve wishes I wanted to make for the next year. With every grape came a wish, although after the seventh grape, I was tired of eating them.
The ball dropped in Times Square and our lights did not even flicker. The people on television seemed so relieved that the light of the world was not extinguished. I used to think that whomever was in charge of technology should have played a prank on us and should have shut everything off for at least a minute just to freak everyone out. After the minute passed, he would turn everything back on and everyone would laugh and move on with their lives. Now I know that things are not that simple.
My parents decided that with the commencement of the twenty-first century, it was a good idea for our household to follow everyone else’s. Therefore, they upgraded our rickety household IBM to a clean, white Compaq. It was our first step into the future, but it came with a lot of little manuals and instructional CDs. The coolest thing in the world was the spherical Logitech web camera that was included in the box. Wait a second, does this mean that we can take pictures and record videos? It was a discovery that kept me busy for hours at a time; I practiced impersonations, accents, and took pictures of my sleeping brothers. Now I had something else to do for fun on Saturday mornings. When I wasn’t playing back my heavily pixelated videos, I tried my hand at art on Paint. The Compaq gave me the ability to do so many things that I thought myself multi-talented. Additionally, our printer gave us the capability to print paper without the perforated edges, which relieved me because I grew out of finding that task enjoyable.
A cataclysm. On July 4, 2002, my father decided that the status of the United States was decreasing at high speed, so he jumped on an airplane and went back in time to the Dominican Republic. He believed that he was being realistic with his decision, unlike the rest of us. His choosing flight over fight was interfering with our dream. We did not have a rainbow-printed apple to give us hope. He left and that was that, but the rest of us did not lose our balance—we were the substance and the heart of the family, and we remained. We could not let our father thwart our development as a unit, although I spent many teary nights by my mother’s bedside.
Was this it? There was a vacancy in my house, and a sense that someone was bound to walk in at any moment and set the energy straight. My brothers and I sometimes waited for emails from my father; he did not send many, and the ones he sent were short and generic. I love you, guys. No, you do not. If you did, you would have been here. As time passed, the emails became less frequent.
My beloved Compaq felt the pain of my father’s absence when it began experiencing symptoms of deterioration. Pop-ups, anti-virus scans, and crashes were among the most common. Sometimes, it refused to turn on. Dan the computer man came to my house many times and tried to fix whatever was going on with our Compaq. First, he tried to put all my mother’s documents in one place and deleted the rest. That seemed to fix the problem for a couple of weeks; however, it proved to be a placebo. In no time, our ticket to a different way of life crashed again, and my house was going through a personal Y2K. Eventually, Dan concluded that the problem laid in the computer’s PC and we had to replace it. Okay, Dan. We did not replace it right away—where were we supposed to get the money? However, the Compaq’s disorder kept interrupting my mother’s writing, so she decided that it would probably be best if we did. Luck was on our side when one of her cousins donated an extra PC to us. When it arrived at our house, I looked at its Dell symbol with disappointment. Not only was it not a Compaq, but it was black, so it did not match the rest of the system. Nevertheless, I turned it on and it worked, so in time it worked for me.
Even though he left, my father made sure to call on our birthdays and Christmas Eve. His topics of conversation fluctuated between asking how old we were and offering empty promises. As we got older, my brothers and I carved all the details out of our responses. Sometimes we would nod and roll our eyes, expecting him to see our movements, but technology had not gotten that precise yet. One day, my oldest brother and I turned the tables and called him. Don’t call us anymore. And that was that.
I am almost completely certain that my family was the last to partake in the luxury of owning a flat screen monitor. Our faithful Compaq was leaning towards off-white or eggshell, so we decided that it was time to move up the tech ladder once again, and replace more pieces of our mulatto computer. My mother went out and bought a sleek, black, flat screen monitor. Our Compaq’s mouse did not age gracefully either, so my mother went to Radioshack and bought a new, black mouse there. It was time to bid farewell to the remaining parts of the Compaq, but our desktop was finally coming together again. We made a not at all seamless transition from Compaq to Dell. As a result, regardless of the fact that the pieces of our computer came from different places, our projects ran smoother at home.
After our talk with our father, we did not hear from him for a long time. This was perfect in our eyes; he was stuck in the past and we were moving up in the world. My mother was trying to deal with my brothers and I growing up, while my father attempted to live the life that he had envisioned for himself long ago. Our Dell mixture was barely surviving the tests of time and I imagine it felt lonely because it was being replaced by its cousin: the Mac. My brother worked for the York College newspaper, Pandora’s Box. As an employee, he was granted the right to own an Apple MacBook Pro until the time of his graduation from the college, when he would be forced to surrender it. This beauty of a laptop came a long way from its dinosaur-like ancestor Macintosh that I used in elementary school. The Apple logo was still a bitten apple, but the rainbow had been eliminated, perhaps because the company felt that it does not need hope to withstand the passage of time. The Apple Corporation possesses a certain arrogance, but it is overlooked because it is establishing itself as one of the top technologic industries in the world. It was right where it wanted to be. My brother’s MacBook was platinum and flawless. The bitten apple on the outside was a pure white. Unlike any of our home’s desktop computers, the Mac had a built in camera that, in comparison to our old Logitech, was high quality and simply more fun, thanks to special effects that were unheard of in my house years ago. I could not spend hours exploring this contraption like I did the Compaq, but I could not bring myself to use our Dell when I had a nicer toy to play with.
My mother, on the other hand, remained loyal to our Dell, despite all the headaches it caused her. Deep down inside, I know she knew that it was not going to last a very long time, but her conscious mind was not ready to admit it. All her work was done on the desktop and whenever she had a problem, she would call one of my brothers or me to fix it. Get rid of it. She would not. She was holding on to her dream as my brothers and I concocted different ones for ourselves.
The Dell went into cardiac arrest and stopped turning on, mimicking the behavior of our late Compaq. My mother breathed deeply and accepted its fate. Our family had great fortune in the realm of keeping up with technology because coincidentally, our neighbors had a complete desktop computer to spare because they were undergoing an improvement of their own. Furthermore, the computer they were giving us was also a conglomerate of different brands; the monitor and mouse were Dell, and the PC was LG. Variety is an unavoidable trait that my family has acquired. However, there was a false element to this computer because the system that was installed on it was a counterfeit version. Every time my mother turned it on and the system notified her that it is not genuine, she would ask me what that means. It’s just not real, Mami. She looked at the screen for a second and resumed her work.
When we turn on the Dell now, it roars with anguish. Listen to that motorcycle, my mother would say. She still uses it to do whatever she needs to do, but her care is not the same. She does not keep a concerned grasp on it as she did to our other computers. Her feelings toward it are strictly professional and she even snaps at it when it does not give her what she wants. My brothers and I have absolutely no use for it anymore, as my oldest brother purchased a MacBook Pro after his college graduation and I won a functional Toshiba in a scholarship. Our entire home has become a mixer for Macs and PCs, which is great, but my mother is in need of a connection to a computer she can call her own. She has not experienced one since the Compaq, and as a result, her dream was altered.
My brothers and I are in the midst of working towards some dreams and disposing of old ones. Over time, we have expanded our knowledge of various technologies and we own plenty. Nevertheless, I find myself caught in between constant action and arbitrary moments of laziness. I find myself wishing for a robot to pass me the remote control, and simultaneously complaining about having too much time on my hands. Technology has spoiled us and my dream is to resurrect the foreign idea of doing things yourself and running around a track under the sun rather than playing Madden all day on an Xbox and asking Siri to read you a bedtime story.
My father called in the beginning of the year. He and my mother spoke for a while and I could tell that he was feeling desperate about something because she kept telling him to push forward. Even after all these years, my mother tries to motivate the man who betrayed her. He just needs to talk to someone. She passed the phone to me and I attempted to adapt her attitude. I was successful; I was as indifferent as I have ever been towards him. I was not surprised when he busted out his ten-year-old promises that I did not miss. I’m planning on going in February. Really? He told my brother the same thing, but neither of us knew whether we should believe him or not. He wants to come so that we can talk, although I do not know what he could possibly have to say if he has been repeating the same information for a while. My brothers and I have agreed that he is not to enter our home, because it is the sanctuary of a dream that he excluded himself from.
Who knows? Maybe if he comes we will buy a brand new computer.
Copyright 2015 Pilar Gonzalez
Pilar Gonzalez is from Queens, New York. She recently graduated Magna Cum Laude from the City College of New York with a degree in Theatre and Creative Writing. This past summer, she assistant directed an Off-Broadway production of Shakespeare’s Othello at the Davenport Theatre in New York City. There, she will be directing a movement piece that she conceived entitled, I Celebrate Myself: A Conversation with Walt Whitman, in February 2016. Pilar has translated many works of poetry from Spanish to English which she has read at festivals such as The Americas Poetry Festival of New York and is excited to read her own work soon.