"The hard drive is dead."
When I said that to my wife of 14 years, I was really saying, "Honey. Eight years' worth of pictures of the boys are gone. Even though for weeks you've been asking me to back them up because the laptop was slow and making weird noises. And I said I would. Also, wasn't some of your writing on there? 'Cause that's gone too. And the home movies. And everything else."
Well, maybe not gone. The computer and its click-click-clicking drive were sitting in a repair shop, where I hoped a wingman could bail me out. Turns out the failure was mechanical. The easy $150 fix was off the table, but maybe all or most of the data was still on the drive. To get it, my wingman would need to send it out to a squadron of data recovery specialists, at a cost of up to $1,200.
There it was. It's easy to call pictures of your kids priceless, but suddenly mine had a specific and rather steep price tag. T-ball games. Birthdays. Yellowstone. Twelve-hundred dollars.
There's one photo in particular I kept thinking of: our 5- and 3-year-old boys meeting their little brother the day he was born. The baby was swaddled tight in a blanket in Mom's arms. Our 3-year-old, a little freaked out, said, "He doesn't have any arms." Snap. Great picture. Great moment. I remember thinking, "We're all here now."
Well, we might all be here, but that picture is gone. Still, the fact is, there are plenty of other shots of the kids out there. The proliferation of digital technologies means it's certain that even after the crash, there are more photos of our kids than there ever were of me or my wife. Grandparents and friends are constantly pointing cameras at those boys. I take cell phone pics and send them to Facebook. We've even got some actual, honest-to-goodness printed photos.
When it comes down to it, though, I really want those pictures we lost. Eight years is a long time. We're not going to get another chance to record D's first steps.
On the other hand, a little compiling from friends and family and we'd have a respectable album. With $1,200 we could take a vacation to make new memories and take new pictures.
In the end, the deciding factor will likely be my guilt. After all, this was my fault, and it would be great to tell my wife, "The hard drive is alive." But then again, don't be surprised if you see us at the Dells, snapping pictures and trying to make up for lost time.
Steve Nelson, St. Paul, is program director for Minnesota Public Radio News.