Now and Then

by Eva White

Rita wasn’t someone who usually panicked. But seated in front of her new Mac laptop, she felt her insides turn to jelly.

What have I done? Did I mix up the settings? Why can’t I send e-mails? This is awful! How will I stay in touch?  Maybe I won’t get e-mails.  Will I ever be able to send any again?

She called Apple Care and a young man attempted to assist her.

“Open . . . highlight . . . click . . . drag.”

“It won’t go. Oh, now it will.”

“Let it turn green and release.”

“It won’t—oh, yes, now it did. But I don’t want to lose my address book.”

“You won’t lose anything. I think you would benefit from a session at our Chadstone store. I’ll make an appointment for you.”

And he did. Tomorrow she would be driving to Chadstone. She disliked the speeding cars on Dandenong Road. The appointment was only for fifteen minutes. Should she have accepted the offer? Was it really free?

She poured herself a glass of red wine, then another, and felt calmer.

Where did this panic, this fear, come from? Most of her life she’d been blithely unaware of it. She was a strong, even a brave person; she lived a life many people envied. Yet there was something simmering underneath, and it had surfaced several times in recent months.

She’d been to her “other home,” New York. A hurricane was predicted and the city was to be shut down to an unprecedented extent—no subways or buses, mandatory evacuations. When she was coming home the evening before the hurricane was due to land, having been to a talk at Barnes and Noble by the performance artists Eiko & Koma, and afterwards stopping for a pizza, she’d quite enjoyed the excitement of this unusual situation. Then she found New York City Housing Authority notices posted in her building.

Evacuation Instructions to Residents. Hurricane Emergency.
It has been determined that your development is in a high risk area. The Mayor of NYC strongly urges you to evacuate. It is important that you leave before noon tomorrow, while public transportation is still available and while roads are open. If you do not leave, you are on your own.

Rita had felt panic. What to do? Where to go? The wind howled around the corner of the building outside her window. The river, so close by, appeared ominous. High up on the tenth floor seemed precarious. She knew no one in the building.

She called a friend.

“Do you want to come and stay?”

She almost cried at the generosity of her friend who didn’t wait to be asked.

She packed her bag for an overnight stay, plus valuables—passport, traveler’s checks, computer—and felt the fear. She locked windows and pulled down shades, unplugged electrical appliances, moved furniture away from windows, and the fear was there. She didn’t sleep much. Not until she was on the bus at 8 a.m., together with many others carrying bags and cases, leaving their homes, did she breathe easily again.

Rita remembered the ferry trip to Staten Island a few weeks earlier. She took this trip each time she came to New York. It was into this harbor that she and her family sailed when they fled Nazi Austria. She always felt emotional on the ferry as she looked down on the swirling water alongside the ferry, as she gazed at the grand lady, the Statue of Liberty, standing on her little island in the middle of the harbor, as she listened to the creak and groan of the wooden poles when the ferry came to rest.

These trips, Rita knew, revived emotions she must have had as a three-year-old. The separations, the terror, the unknown.

And the evacuation—it must also have revived the experiences of 1938. Leaving her nanny, her room, all that was familiar, after the knock on the door by the Gestapo. Leaving in haste. Escaping. Followed by months in Prague, staying with people she didn’t know while her parents stood in lines for visas and numbers, trying desperately to enter the United States.

But the computer? Fear of the computer? That was more mysterious. Or was it? A machine, technology that she didn’t understand, the spectre of making a mistake. What would the consequences be? She mustn’t make a mistake. But if she did. Well, it wouldn’t be a matter of life and death, as a mistake in Vienna or in Prague would have been.

The link was not clear but the feelings were there.  Better to face them, give them space, allow them to be. Then return to the adult self, the self that knows a computer is just a computer, the icons are simply icons, irreversible damage is unlikely to be done, a mistake is not fatal. Breathe.

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