Though it was only 10 p.m., I was asleep, worn out from work and holiday shopping. I mumbled something and rolled over. I obviously didn't grasp the seriousness of the situation. Otherwise, I would have started screaming and crying. That came later. While I snoozed, he got out the owner's manual and tried to fix the glitch. The next morning he told me nothing worked. I work from home and had projects due. I already was behind. "How long do you think it will take to get if fixed?" I asked. He shrugged. He suggested I be at the Apple Store when it opened.
I drove to the mall with my laptop buckled in beside me as carefully as a newborn baby. The technician behind the counter asked me, "So what's up?"
"My computer died, and my life is on the computer."
"Is your life backed up?"
I suddenly remembered an episode of Sex and the City, when Carrie's computer dies and everyone keeps asking her when she last backed up. She doesn’t know what backing up is. Why didn't I learn from her? "Well," the technician continued, my slender silver box between us on the counter, "what exactly happened?"
"A question mark keeps flickering."
He made a face and a noise. I knew it wasn't good. He opened the computer and started clicking. In seconds, he was ready to diagnose. He told me everything was gone. He couldn't get it back. The hard drive had failed. My chin started to crumble. I felt hot tears in my eyes. Every source developed in a twelve-year journalism career. Every story I wrote. Notes from half-finished stories. I looked at him for sympathy. He wore a red holiday T-shirt with a little ornament on the chest and an Apple logo on the sleeve. His bedside manner was lacking. He shoved a piece of paper with some phone numbers on it toward me. Data retrieval experts. They might be able to get some of it back, he said, but it wouldn't be cheap.
"Like how much probably?"
"You won't spend less than a grand."
My college friends' addresses, pictures of my daughter, babysitters’ phone numbers.
"But they will be able to get everything back?"
He shrugged. "Maybe." He ordered the part he would need to fix my computer, regardless of whether I gambled on the data retrieval experts. He typed in my phone number and promised to call when the part arrived. I left in shock. I wandered into the mall, which was getting crowded with Christmas shoppers, and then outside, past the Salvation Army bell ringer, toward my car. I cradled my damaged computer in my arms. Phone numbers for friends and colleagues, a paper trail of memos to editors, due dates for assignments. I got in my car, then placed the computer carefully in the passenger seat. I buckled my seatbelt, stuck the key in the ignition, and started to cry.
Epilogue: I took my laptop to a data retrieval shop that afternoon. I was quoted a price of $950 and told it would take five to seven days. I was thrilled. However, my emotional roller coaster ended several weeks later when the gurus told me all the usual fixes had failed. I ultimately got a new hard drive at the Apple Store under my warranty and started the new year with a blank slate.
What you can learn from me: Dan at the Apple Store (much more helpful than the first technician) explained to me several options for backing up. I could spend $150 or so on an external hard drive. Then, I would simply drag anything I wanted an extra copy of into the icon for the external hard drive. Cheaper options, he said, include "a big stack of blank CDs" or a memory stick that can be plugged into the USB port.
"Is there anything I could have done to avoid a hard drive failure?" I asked. Not really, he said. Hard drives are like tires. It doesn't matter how much you spend on one, it can still get a hole in it. You need at least one spare at all times. I certainly will be backing up from now on. You should, too.