#154: I Dropped My Phone

And cracked the screen. The unintended consequences of a cheap pair of pants – the pockets were too shallow and the phone slipped from the left front pocket while I was getting out of the car. D.B. said, when I told him about it, “Now it’s just like the cover of your first novel.”

I was wearing the same pants a few days later and had the phone in my shirt pocket (I had learned my lesson) and I bent over to lock my bike and clack. Pavement again. Enough damage this time for me to bring it to the Apple store, but it turned out that my phone is slightly warped, too. A screen replacement would be too risky; I’d have to pay for a whole new phone and I’m not yet eligible for an upgrade from my cellular provider. I ended up just ordering a screen protector from Amazon to stick over the cracked glass for now, so at least the shards don’t come off on my fingers and I, like, rub them in my eye or something.

It’s the gadget equivalent of trying to find a free parking spot instead of paying for the garage, and finally finding one, but then getting a ticket because it turns out you’re illegally parked. This is also why you should always buy the best pair of pants that you can reasonably afford.

A. just got a case for his new phone. He’d gotten the phone first, and waited until the case arrived days later to activate it because he is more patient than me. A. explained his reasoning: without the case, the anxiety around dropping and damaging it would interfere with his enjoyment of the device. He asked me if I would get a case in the future now that I have suffered loss, and I still wouldn’t. It’s the aesthete in me – I would miss the softness of the aluminum backing and the unexpected smoothness of the horizontal antenna ribbons. I’d miss the way the corners round up to the seam, too fine and precise for the nerves in my fingertips to discern a real gap. I realize all this is specific to the model but I think, in general, I’m interested in the meta-sensation – the meeting of my personal experience with the intent of the designer. That communion is more valuable to me than the risk of damage. (Also I refuse turn into one of those Asian dads who doesn’t peel the blue sticker off the front of his refrigerator.)

I’ll say this though: when I picked up the phone after the first impact, I felt that familiar feeling again. That heavy heart. I write to you again and again about this idea of accepting loss and change and uncertainty with grace, and I find that lately, when that loss has come around, even when it’s something relatively trivial like a broken iPhone screen, the feeling has with it some strange weight. A familiarity.

Maybe it’s a factor of getting older, that you’re naturally forced to say goodbye to people and things and ideas more often, and the mixture of loss and regret – the feeling of heartbreak – it gains a kind of stability. Becomes like an old companion, the kind that when you’re with them you see how they see the world and it imbues everything with a soft wonder. My shallow-pocketed pants turn from a bad purchase decision into a cultivator of attention and vigilance. The cracked-glass sandwich that is now my iPhone glows with a kind of Millennium Falcon charm.

Perhaps that’s where the real work lies – in actually making “the companion” a steady presence in our lives. For every instance where we acknowledge a loss, and express gratitude for everything to come out of that loss, there are dozens of instances that we ignore, dozens of gates through which we never walk. I remember one moment, while I was going through a breakup a couple years ago, when a few friends and I were waiting for our Shake Shack burgers under the lights in Madison Square Park. We were talking about our recent life changes and I joked that I was completely fine, that I was like a romantic Incredible Hulk – That’s my secret, my heart’s always broken.

It was a joke then, but it feels more and more like something to grow into.