*Originally posted 10/13/06*
"A toast," Tom's uncle said from behind me. I swiveled in my airline seat to see him and his wife holding up their half-glasses of rum and coke. Tom and I held up our screwdrivers in return. "A toast to our cruise!"
"Cheers," we four bellowed.
It was one of those moments that the planets aligned and the winds stopped and all of nature conspired to ruin everything. At the exact moment I lifted my aisle-facing arm to toast the rest of the group, the beverage cart passed and the plane hit a little turbulence, which knocked the male flight attendant off of his balance just enough for his slender bottom to smack my arm, which sent Grey Goose and orange juice hurtling through our cramped quarters and directly onto Tom's open laptop.
"SHIT!" Tom cried, backing away as much as he could from the spill. "Shit, shit, shit." The pulpy juice slid over the computer, creating little tributaries of orange juice between the keys. "Fuck," he said, his voice panicked and angry. "Give me your napkin," he demanded. He had already placed his little square of tissue on top of his keys, and it was already soaked through with the remnants of my drink.
I leaned over with my napkin, dabbing at the damage. And the screen, just moments ago playing a DVD, went black.
"Great," he said sharply.
"I'm so sorry," I muttered, collecting as much of the liquid as I could. I turned around and collected the outstretched napkins his aunt and uncle were offering.
"I can't believe you," he spat, searching the center aisle for the flight attendant. "I cannot believe you just fucking spilled your drink all over my laptop."
"I'm sorry, Tom. It was an accident." For some reason I was pleading with him, desperate to make him just a little less angry. Just then, the flight attendant arrived.
"Did you guys need something?" He asked.
Tom's tone switched from furious to cordial. "Yeah, if it wouldn't be too much trouble, we need some napkins. Looks like we've had an accident here." He pointed to his soggy laptop.
The flight attendant sucked air in through clenched teeth. "Wow. That sucks," he said, smiling. "I'll be right back."
Tom didn't look at me, just kept turning the laptop over to release the sticky beverage from between the keys. "Tom," I begged, leaning in so that he had to see me. "It was an accident. I didn't mean to. I'm sorry." I just wanted him to say it was okay, that he knew I didn't mean to do it. But he was already punishing me, and I knew there would be more to come. I was in trouble.
"Sorry? I can't believe you did this." His words, though few, burned me. His face was harsh, unrelenting in his anger.
"I didn't mean to," I reminded him. "It was an accident."
He snapped his head toward me, his eyes full of disgust, contempt. "You need to be more careful."
"But, Tom, I-"
"Don't. Just don't. I just want to get this cleaned up." He played with the power button. Nothing happened. "Great. You see this? It's broken. It won't even turn on now." He tapped some keys, their tackiness audible. "And they keys won't even work. This is just great."
I started to argue, to explain the sequence of events, to prove that it wasn't my fault, but he wouldn't hear it. He shut me out, intent on his laptop and nothing else.
"I'm sorry," I said again, turning to face forward rather than facing him. "I'm sorry," I said to the seat in front of me. If only I'd toasted with my other hand, I thought, then none of this would've happened. God. How stupid.
The flight attendant returned with a pile of napkins and some water. "Here you go," he said, extending the supplies.
Tom took the napkins, but left the water in the flight attendant's hand. The steward nudged the water toward him. "Oh, no thanks," Tom said with a smile. "I think the last thing we need here is more liquid."
Oh, that hurt. Tears sprang to my eyes. "That wasn't necessary."
"Well? What do you expect: Hey, thanks for ruining my laptop, Lar?"
He'd said it loud enough so that other people could hear. I glanced around, self-conscious. "I told you I was sorry," I whispered, hunched down in my seat. Ashamed. "What else do you want me to do?"
"How about being careful? Huh? How about not spilling orange juice all over the place, huh?"
He was scolding me, like a child. And I reacted in kind. I cried. Like a child. And that only served to make him angrier. "Oh, that's better," he hissed, throwing his damp hands up in frustration. "Cry. That's great."
I turned my back to him, conscious of his aunt and uncle right behind us, witnessing our squabble. I tried to hide my tears, but I couldn't. Hot and fast they ran down my face, dimpling my shirt with wetness. My mouth, though I tried to keep it straight and firm, twitched and turned into a frown. I was mortified. Quickly, I unbuckled my seatbelt and walked, head down, to the lavatory.
I cried there for a minute, then dried my face and returned to my seat, where we didn't speak for the rest of the flight.
The laptop was ruined. It wouldn't turn on, the DVD drive wouldn't open, and Tom was furious. Of course it had to happen on our way TO vacation, not home. Of course. And he was angry with me for the duration of the trip. And I didn't mind that he was upset with me. And I accepted the responsibility for not being careful enough. But I just wanted a softness in his voice, something that didn't make me feel like a toddler who'd just drawn all over the walls. I accept his frustration, but I was longing for just an ounce of kindness.
I continued to apologize, to remind him that it was accidental, that my arm was hit. But nothing was enough. I was met with "Be careful," "Why didn't you hold your drink in you other hand?" and a litany of other refusals to accept my remorse. "Well," he said, "I guess you'll have to start saving up for a new one," he said, halfway through our trip.
I was shocked. "What?"
"Well, you know, if I can't get it fixed, it's going to have to be replaced. And you ruined it."
"It was an acc-i-dent," I cried. "Are you kidding me? You're going to make me buy you a new one?" I barely had enough money to support myself, I had to scrape together the money for the flight to Florida if I wanted to take the cruise he'd given me as a present. I was broke. How could I afford a laptop?
"Of course," he said, intimating that I was crazy for thinking otherwise. "I mean, I'm going to try to get it fixed, but I'm pretty sure Girlfriend Spilling a Screwdriver All Over the Thing isn't covered in my warranty."
Weeks later, after he shipped the sticky laptop back to Toshiba, claiming that it'd been sticky since he bought it, careful to remind them that he'd bought it as an open box, it came back fixed. No problems. No charge.
"You're lucky," he said, removing the new laptop from its box. "If they wouldn't have fixed it, you would've been out three thousand dollars."
I offered a half-hearted chuckle, still irritated that he'd expected me to pay for a new one. Though I wasn't sure of what was fair, exactly, in this situation, I knew that he was making sure to remind me I was being let off easy.
I thought of that this morning, hunched on my bedroom floor cleaning up the water I'd knocked off of my nightstand while reaching for the snooze button. It wouldn't have been such a big deal, except for what happened to be sitting right in front of my nightstand: The water pooled in my makeup bag, all over all of the CDs I'd just brought into my house from my car. It beaded on my camera, and a little droplet glimmered on my iPod's case. But what terrified me was the trickle of water running down the length of my laptop.
I quickly wiped down the laptop, getting rid of any water I could see, terrified that Billy would wake up at any moment and see what I'd done. I didn't care about my makeup brushes or my CDs. I needed to make sure my electronics were okay.
The water had barely touched my laptop, but it was in the crease between the screen and the body, and it scared me. I had to dry it out. So I blew on it, I carefully ran my finger nail, wrapped in a towel, over and over the crevice. I glanced up at the still sleeping Billy periodically, worried he'd wake and be angry at my carelessness.
And, just as I wrapped up my drying process, he stirred. The laptop was open and airing out on the bed next to him. I looked at him like I was a kid who'd just been caught stealing candy.
"Whatcha doing, baby?" He rolled over to face me.
"Oh, I spilled some water," I said, trying to sound nonchalant. "I'm just cleaning it up."
He opened one eye, saw the laptop on the bed. "You get it on the laptop?"
"Just a little bit. But it's okay. I dried it all."
"You should be more careful, baby," he said, and he looked at me and smiled. Not angry with me at all.
And what struck me wasn't his placid reaction, but my fear. I was scared - seriously scared - that I'd be in trouble if he woke up and saw that I'd marred the laptop in any way. I just couldn't believe that, after all this time, at twenty-six years old, I'm still afraid of my ghosts.