I gained much in 2015. But every gain comes at a cost. I should know, because this year I sacrificed one of my most defining relationships.
Even worse, I did so consciously. Willingly. I could have saved it, but I let it go. The day will haunt me for the rest of my life.
It was a superb Friday morning. I with no courses to teach; my wife off work. We awoke to the somewhat-faithful sound of my cell phone alarm clock (it occasionally faltered, no doubt realizing that I sometimes needed extra rest). I stretched my arms, rolled over, and took her in my hands. At least five years we had been together, though I couldn’t recall the exact date we met. She wasn’t everyone’s idea of beauty. Some would call her old-fashioned. True, she couldn’t take care of me like she used to, and there were so many others out there that would do more for me than she could ever dream.
My friends saw the signs. I began to fall out of the loop, missing out on socializing because she wouldn’t let me communicate with them. They held an intervention. They told me I didn’t have to stay in this relationship forever. That I could get out. That I’d be better for it.
I didn’t just ignore them – I lashed out. They didn’t understand. She understood me, and I her. She was low-maintenance. She was simple; just like me. Why would I ever give that up to tread back into the waters of the unknown? Besides, I knew just how to push her buttons.
We had just been on a trip together. She drew plenty of attention, as she always did. Strangers asked about her. Acquaintances became friends because of her. Her uniqueness was her charm. “They just don’t make ‘em like this anymore,” I’d say as I stroked the back of her black jacket. Her face was filled with color, but she always wore black. It’s funny the things you remember.
While she was charming others, she was hurting me. When I wanted to reach out to those newfound friends, she wouldn’t let me. When we got lost in a foreign city, she didn’t offer to help us find our way to lodging. She just yelled at me, saying she didn’t have the energy to go on. She was like that in the final days.
As I held her, I knew this morning, August 28, would be our last together. That I needed to move on. My heart protested. “So she’s aged; so she’s not as sharp as she used to be. You’re going to desert her?”
I got dressed, a little nicer than I originally planned for an off-day. We took some pictures together. I don’t know why. Maybe it was to preserve memories. Maybe we were pretending that the end was not the end.
I drove her up the road a few miles. Even on our final journey together, she stayed nuzzled close beside me. I cared about her too much to just throw her to the curb. I arranged for a specialist to help her through the transition. He would put her in a program while I thought about my future. There was something special about her, so much so that even in her declining health, he offered to pay me to take her under his care.
We didn’t draw it out. We said our goodbyes and I turned away as she was taken to a back room. I took a deep breath, and began to become aware of my surroundings. I was being watched. The faces were younger… more vivid. And, I must admit, attractive. Maybe my friends had been right all along.
The man returned from the back room with an uncertain look on his face. She didn’t take well to the program, he told me. Something had happened and she couldn’t be saved.
I wish I could say the news hit me like a punch in the gut. But it didn’t. We knew her chances were slim.
He apologized and said I could collect her and take her home with me.
It was afternoon when I buried her in the side yard. My wife stood beside me wearing an exhausted, almost annoyed look.
“Are you done yet?” she asked as I spread dirt over the casket.
Everyone deals with grief in their own way.
I have a new phone now. A full-fledged smartphone. Android… to defect to the Cult of Apple would be the ultimate betrayal. It’s nice to have apps and stuff, I suppose. Okay, it’s really nice. It’s also probably a good thing for the professor who so often is asked to lecture on the future of media to actually have the device that is the fastest-growing platform for media consumption.
Hokum, I say. I miss my KIN.
It was a predecessor to Windows Phone. Predating widespread smartphone usage, I was on a Verizon family plan loaded with minutes and messaging, but no data. As I browsed Verizon’s online inventory, I came across the KIN ONEm. It did smartphonish things – it had a web browser, email, a camera, and the ability to play music and video. It had both a touchscreen and a keyboard, which my clumsy fingers still miss. And best of all, it did not require a data plan. Essentially, it was a pseudo-smartphone when you had WiFi, and you didn’t have to pay an extra $30 a month. For me – tech savvy but not tech needy, and above all, a cheapskate – it was perfect.
And the phone really did become part of my social identity. Friends would see me after a long hiatus, and quickly ask, “Do you still have that phone?!” And it really did strike up conversations with strangers – though, the phone itself was so shoddy that calling them later to continue the conversation was no sure thing.
It was the shape. The KIN was sort of rounded. It was lovingly referred to as an egg, a hockey puck, and “Diabetes Phone,” for its similarity to a blood glucose tester. Inside my pocket, it infamously looked like a can of dip. The touchscreen popped up, revealing the keyboard underneath. I still maintain it was a cool design.
I resisted upgrading to the point it became comical. For all its faults (if you plugged in the charger with the screen turned on, it would short out and die), the phone lasted five years. My friends really did hold an intervention in my office to tell me to get a new phone, and I really did angrily resist.
But its demise was becoming inevitable. It stopped receiving MMS messages correctly. You can only ask friends to fill you in on group messages so many times. I was finally coming around to the niceties (I still won’t say necessities) of a smartphone. And after years of slumming as a doctoral student, I now live in a household bringing in meager salaries from two full-time jobs (hey, to us, it’s like Scrooge McDuck’s swimming pool). Oh, and it’s what the wife wanted (“I can’t send you pictures at work!”). So there.
We took the phone to a Verizon store to trade it in for credit toward a new phone. I warned them about what I was bringing to them, but they insisted it counted as a smartphone for trade-in. Naturally, it didn’t; I doubt their computers even knew what it was. And it definitely wasn’t going to be transferring contacts or anything else. It was basically D.O.A. But, a deal is a deal. I got the credit toward a new phone and got to keep my faithful KIN. It was a happy moment.
Finally, we really did have a burial service in the side yard. The KIN, along with its charger, was placed in a cigar box and sprinkled with the earth. However – and this is the twist at the end – the tomb is empty! Three days minutes later, I brought the phone back inside and tucked it away in my nightstand (yes, it still rests beside me every night).
Should anything happen to my new giant-screened, generic monstrosity, I know Diabetes Phone will be ready to answer the call (pun fully intended) and live again.
Until she returns, rest in peace, old friend.
ca. 2010 – 2015