Our first computer was a desktop that my father and I bought piecemeal from various hardware stores around Baclaran back when I was seven or eight. This was in the early 2000’s, when we still bought those ISP cards to connect to the internet, and connection was nowhere near decent until around midnight – and even then we could do no more with it than play online chess while waiting for an e-mail to load. The total price of the unit would have totalled no more than 10 to 15 thousand by today’s standards, powered by Intel’s Pentium CPU, 256 megabytes of RAM and somewhere around 16 gigabytes of storage. I remember those were pretty good specs back in those days, and it felt like Christmas when our family finally gathered around the assembled unit, booted it for the first time, and the black-outlined flag (it was still a flag then) of the Windows 98 operating system welcomed us into the future. This would be the computer that would get me through elementary school and, with a later upgrade to 512 megabytes of RAM and – gasps – 72 gigabytes of storage, the first two years of high school.
My first laptop was an 11-inch NEO cherry red netbook that my father passed down to me after about a year of usage, at which point he decided the screen was actually too small for him so he bought himself a bigger, shinier, 15 inch MSI workhorse. This fascination with new toys I clearly take from my father, who not only introduced me to computers in the first place, but would also end up teaching me much of what I know about programming today. The NEO I never got to name, as it was still before my introduction to Jessica Zafra, and I never got much use out of it. The screen was too small for much of what I needed to do at the time, which included editing videos and designing promotional posters for club activities. Even for the IDEs for the Arduino and LEGO robotics kits that our school club played with were hardly usable on that puny machine. Most of my actual work I still did on our family desktop computer, which miraculously continued to work well into the 2010s despite at its best having only 756 megabytes of RAM.
That NEO laptop, however, would be instrumental in getting Caecilia into my hands. In 2013, towards my last year of high school, the same junior English teacher who’d introduced me to Macbooks and Jessica Zafra and just the year before had helped me into winning my first national writing contest, told me of another one that had just been announced. The contest was hosted jointly by the Philippine Veterans Bank and Philippine Daily Inquirer, and it challenged students to the task of interviewing real life veterans who had fought in the second world war and writing stories about their experiences. The contest promised really big prizes: aside from cash, the first, second, and third prize winners were to receive, respectively, the latest generation iPad Pro, a 15 inch Acer Aspire Laptop, and a Samsung Galaxy Tab. Though by then my fascination with Macbooks had already started, it wasn’t enough for me to find any value in an iPad, or any tablet computer for that matter (for the record I still don’t). It was the most unusual competition I’d ever joined in that I joined it specifically with the goal of coming in second.
Long story short, I did come in second, and the prize was handed out during the awarding ceremony in the ballroom of some upscale hotel in Makati (I forget now where, though I know a casual Google search would lead me to the news article on the Inquirer that covered the event, the same article that laughably mistook my grandmother, who had accompanied me there, as the Amazona veteran I’d written about in my winning piece). I felt that same electrifying joy that every kid feels on unboxing a new toy when I pulled Caecilia out from her packaging. The plastic teal chassis was still sleek and shiny then, the hard drive still fresh and free from bloat. I spent the rest of the day after the awarding ceremony tweaking Caecilia to my exact preferences, the first laptop I’d ever really considered my own. This sense of ownership, sappy in retrospect, came with the knowledge that I earned Caecilia. It wasn’t a hand-me-down like the cherry red NEO, which quickly found its way to my younger sister, then about to enter her last years of high school herself. My family would have had to scramble on months of pay to afford a modestly priced laptop like that. But I had it, and it was all thanks to my hard work and good fortune.
Caecilia would come very much in handy as I entered college, and the need for a portable workstation became real. The world had become a much more connected place than it was in my pre-teen years. The ability to sit in a coffee shop, connect to a WiFi network (local Starbucks were much more generous with their internet back then), and get on with my homework was a boon, as it was also the time when I was first discovering the horrors of getting stuck in traffic along EDSA. After classes in Diliman, I would have to make the horrific odyssey from campus to SM North EDSA, where a fight to the death ensues among hundreds of desperate commuters for the last tiny bit of space on the northbound buses. When the prospects of getting home before ten became Herculean – and this happened quite often – I would skip the Battle Royale at the bus terminal and hang out at the Starbucks on the rooftop of Trinoma until around closing time, grab a dinner at Jollibee, and then take the bus when the current of commuters had thinned out. I can’t even begin to count anymore the number of problem sets, writing assignments (I took a number of writing classes back then), and extracurricular projects I’d worked on while stranded at the mall.
Caecilia also became quite special for me in her seven years of service being my daily driver as a young writer struggling to get published. Every single story draft I put out from the years 2013 to 2019 I had given birth to and reared with Caecilia. I remember the night I finished the draft to my first piece to make it on Young Blood, Memory and Hereafter, late at night on the first floor of the house we were renting at the time. I remember the trembling in my fingers as I saved the changes to the final draft, copied the contents into the body of my submission e-mail to the Inquirer, and then pressed send. I remember opening Caecilia again one morning about two weeks later, when I first heard the news from a friend from high school that they had just read my story in print. Sure enough, it was there on the Inquirer website. I immediately ran out and bought copies.
Years later, with a few stories in publications like Graphic and Quarterly Literary Singapore and I still tremble whenever I prepare a submission for my next story. I call myself a writer but still question myself each time I open a new blank file. But I can’t deny the progress I’ve made in the past seven years with Caecilia. Halfway into this blog post, I’m sure you felt quite weird reading a guy in his twenties lamenting the passing of his laptop, and this far down I can only assume that if you’re still reading this, you’re doing so with a raised eyebrow. But this isn’t just another nerd feeling attached to his machines. Caecilia, my laptop, carries with it an immense amount of history – and not just browsing history, which I’m sure to scrub clean every now and then anyway after many a questionable browsing sessions, he he. Seven years is a long time. A person can go through so much growth, accumulate so many experiences, in that span of time. And Caecilia played an important role in those seven years.