I saw the bolded text in the browser, and my computer was behaving strangely; still, people I trusted told me I was just sick, that it was impossible that anyone would hack me. But nobody looked at what the computer did. I was never able to replicate its actions and show the computer to an independent observer, but it was so real to me in the moment.
On the night before my tenth wedding anniversary, I sat on the sofa. The memory stick was in the computer, and I was backing up documents to the cloud, when I saw my C: drive disappear. Taking its place was a single foreign drive on my Dell. I didn’t know what it mapped to, so I clicked on it to explore. It was filled with files of my work, organized strangely. How had someone found all my e-mails and saved them as .txt files? I didn’t know how to do that. I went back a level to search for the rest of the files on my laptop. There were no files on the computer. I panicked and took out the memory stick.
The drive disappeared, and my files returned. Fascinated, I put the memory stick back into the computer. I didn’t remember having saved these messages. I suspected someone had tampered with my flash drive when I opened my coffee-table drawer and found a fancy pocketknife inside.
The file organization started with projects I had done over the years in grad school: reports, papers, and research summaries. As I clicked through each item, I was impressed. It looked like a portfolio
of everything I had ever worked on and spent time to create. I enjoyed looking into my files like that. My favorite rediscovery was the science fair project that Jamie had worked on to measure and record her
entire stuffed-animal collection. Then came the pictures. I started to tear up as I saw beautiful moments of motherhood flash before my eyes—pictures I’d taken of Jamie playing at the park, pictures of her
all dressed up and happy, smiling for me, her mom. Then I got upset when I saw pictures of Jack leering at the camera. I remembered how angry he had been at me while I’d taken the photo. It ripped at my
core. Why did he look at me that way? It inspired me to decide that I needed to finally get out of the situation in which I felt so helpless and trapped.
Reading people’s affirmative e-mails to me and seeing professors’ comments on my graduate coursework liberated me from Jack’s degrading view by reminding me of the quality of my work and the
beauty of my personhood. Professors’ feedback, colleagues’ letters of reference, and friends’ words of love and support piled up on the mysterious drive, and I cried as I read them.
Then the browser launched a few different websites. A comic book that popped up on a health-promotion website reminded me of my story with Dr. Richard, in that it was similar to my birthgasm. The
web page described the adventure as a two-team, good-versus-evil event. I became transfixed by the idea in the story. I skimmed over Dr. Richard’s battles and studied my own. I saw the graphics tell me
I’d get sick again, then fall in love with a foreign man. They showed me trying new things I didn’t know I’d liked, and then there was this picture of what looked like a swirling cauldron. In the graphic, the
man and I looked down at a dark pool. We stood near the edge, where a plank went out over the water. It made me think of the fiery pit in The Lord of the Rings, but maybe it was just a diving board over a
pool. The man I loved explained the financial meltdown; then he was carried away to prison. Then I lost my vision. The comic book ended with me looking back at the story.
During my tour of the Internet that weekend, as I started seeing bold text on the browser telling me all these things, I decided I must be insane. I figured, to be on the safe side, I should go back on my
meds. I walked over to my wooden box with an elephant painted on it, opened a bottle of antipsychotic medication called Abilify, and took a full dose. When I checked my browser history again, I found
“why take pills” in the toolbar search box. Then I asked how the browser knew about the pills, and I found bold text highlighting the word “listening” on the next page I visited.
I turned on some music for whoever was communicating with me, not really believing that it was possible to be experiencing what I was experiencing. I couldn’t believe someone would choose to target
me and play with me so intensely just to be nice. But so far, they seemed nice enough. When I asked “where are you?” in the search, a picture of a map near JFK airport appeared.
I thought about calling my psychiatrist, but he wasn’t available on the weekends. I decided I would make an appointment first thing Monday morning to tell him what was going on. I couldn’t believe I was so sick. I was delusional, right? It hadn’t happened like this before. I had never had such crystal-clear communication and imaginative experiences. Who would ever believe me? If I told people about this,
they’d think I was full of crap. So I decided I’d document everything for myself and keep writing instead. That was all I could do. But when I read the bold text in the browser, it triggered me to start looking for
signs all around me again. I didn’t know where this invisible person’s power to interact with me ended.
The next page that opened was that of the Central Ohio Fiction Writers’ Ignite the Flame contest, announcing that they had extended their deadline. I went back to the mysterious drive, opened a story I’d
written that Dan had inspired, and submitted it to the contest.
Excerpt from the Ignite the Flame contest submission “Winter Storm”
She lifted her hand to her hair that had come undone from her bun at some point during the evening and swung it to one side of her shoulder. Her breasts were still standing erect as if they hadn’t been informed that her orgasm was over. She simply looked at them in delight. “I’ve never seen my nipples look like this before.”
“It is a very becoming look on you.” He winked at her.
She blushed, which he thought strange after all they’d shared, another tribute to her recent loss of innocence.
“You must let me see you again.” He brought her hand to his mouth and kissed her knuckles.
“Thank you, but you cannot. For I am afraid I would be ruined.” She looked like a woman having second thoughts.
“My guardian didn’t arrange for travel when he sent for me.”
“Guardian. You didn’t warn me. Am I going to have some old fellow hunting me down asking me to come up to scratch?” Daniel asked.
“Oh my lord, had the thought occurred to me I should have said something, but to be honest, I don’t think he thinks much of me. Since he took me on, he hasn’t ever sent for me before, even the holidays were spent with the staff at school. In fact, we have yet to meet.”
Unease crept over Daniel as he thought of his ward traveling from her school over the next week sometime. But surely she wouldn’t have received his request so soon. If this was his ward, he was the world’s greatest cad.
He leaned his head back against the pillow before asking, “Do you know who I am?” When she didn’t answer, he lifted himself up on the elbow and looked at her deeply. “Have you any idea, because I am beginning to think I know who you are,” he said.
A few weeks later, I got an e-mail from the contest committee. I’d lost. In fact, my entry had placed dead last in the competition; I had received the lowest marks of all the works submitted. They told me
the hero was a cad and the heroine was unconvincingly innocent. I was disappointed. It was depressing to see how poorly my work had been received. I didn’t understand why the browser had told me to
enter my story in the contest. Did it want me to realize that I was writing bad romance? I figured if it could communicate with me, either there was someone doing this in real time and I had choices, or time was predetermined for us.
One morning during this time, I walked toward the subway after dropping Jamie off at kindergarten. I had an appointment with a lawyer in Manhattan to try to plan a way out of my marriage, but by the time I reached the Bank of America ATM in Park Slope, just before the subway stop, I was too afraid of what the New York Times app on my iPhone was telling me to get on the train. The material I’d read was so alive and vivid to me. I’d just finished a story about inequality, when I stepped over a pile of about 150 Equal artificial sweetener packets, spilled on the sidewalk on Tenth Street. The packets spoke to me in a deep way. Then, when I passed my building, I saw that someone had left books on the stoop. One book was a story of a woman finding herself in Tuscany after a divorce; another was on meditation and healing. I thought someone was giving me clues that I needed a divorce and some meditative healing.
Then the messages intensified as I began reading a story about the British royal family. The text got to me. It was as if someone were walking along next to me, telling me what I was feeling in response
to feeling played with. They knew how it felt to be hacked. I stepped into a bank doorway around the corner from my home, and tears streamed down my cheeks.
It wasn’t my spam talking to me this time; now the New York Times app was observing my response to the situation and telling me how it thought I was feeling as I walked along the streets of Park
Slope. It told me I would be afraid. Was somebody watching me? I was in the grips of intense paranoia.
I tried to find the phone number for my psychiatrist, but my hands were trembling too badly. I could barely manage. When I saw my brother’s phone number, I aimed for it with my shaky index finger.
It took two attempts to land right on his number. Erik had been at a friend’s beach-house share over the weekend and was in a crowded car, on his way back to work in the city, when I called.
“I need your help,” I choked out, terrified to be saying it aloud in public.
“What? I can’t hear you,” he said. “Hey, guys, quiet down. It’s my sister—something is wrong.”
“I’m scared,” I said, my voice quivering as I stood in the doorway facing the corner. “Can you come help me get to my doctor? I can’t find the number, and I need help.”
“Yes, just give me half an hour. We’re almost back. What’s wrong?” he asked. “Is everything okay with Jamie?”
“Jamie’s at school, she’s okay, but I feel sick,” I said, as waves of emotion threatened to overtake me.
“Are you gonna be okay till I get there?” he asked.
I choked out, “Please come soon.”
“Where are you?” he asked.
“I’m at the ATM by my house on Seventh Ave.,” I said.
“Go get a coffee, and I’ll be right there. It’ll be okay. I’m here for you,” he said. After I hung up, I walked to the Connecticut Muffin, where Erik had said his friends could drop him off, in the heart of Park Slope. I reopened the New York Times app and started reading again. My hands visibly shook, and tears were streaming down my face. One woman saw me crying, did an about-face, and walked the
other way. Her nonverbal communication—that act of turning her back on me—made me feel painfully isolated, rejected, and stigmatized.
Her brief eye contact showed that she was afraid of my tears, when what I needed to feel in that vulnerable moment was the calm of love and acceptance.
I opened my writing app, called My Writing Spot. I needed to record what was happening with my phone and my experience; I knew nobody would ever believe the New York Times app could have been hacked by someone trying to speak to me. There was one bolded line in an article that particularly captured my attention. I studied the text: “Leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad.” Then I read it backward, and new meanings presented themselves. Did this mean that if God had instant messages, Jesus wouldn’t have died for our sins? I sounded out “Die.” Then JC meant Jesus Christ. And when I read IM, I read Instant Messages. A represented America, L stood for love, and I translated “sina” to “sinner.” Was it why General Electric was for a deal?
Messages were coming at me rapidly in my wildly stimulated state; words and signs kept blossoming into new strands of thought. The only way to gain control over my thinking was to define terminology that I could live with. I created a code set to interpret the English language based on delusional love. While I waited for Erik, my medication still hadn’t taken full effect, so instead I created a safe space within my psychosis by using semantics and the code for love. As afraid as I felt sitting on that bench, I fought back against my fear by identifying concepts that held deeper meaning for me than the messages
I was seeing in bold print. I typed into my writing app a list of what letters in the words meant to me. I used the alphabet to define words that I could live with. I focused on protective concepts. A few
of the first definitions I created were:
A = America
C = see
D = delusional
E = energy
L = love
M = mother, God, love
O = orgasm
S = Sunny, science (rare)
T = the physician
Y = why
My new language had a very limited vocabulary, using only the definitions I wanted to see. I was into it because it always sent good messages. As I sat with my iced coffee, I calmed down, knowing I was
safe within the personal meaning I assigned to the messages in the New York Times articles I was reading.
Another mother sat down across from me with her child and looked at me curiously as I waited for Erik at the Connecticut Muffin. Her calm acceptance of my crisis further reassured me. This woman, unlike the last one, wasn’t afraid of my tears and public display of emotion.
By the time Erik arrived, I had finished my coffee and my tears were almost dry. The thought of God instant-messaging the world to save Jesus had lifted my spirits, and I filled the pages of my digital log with my thumb, typing about what was happening to me.
As I started to explain to Erik what was going on with the New York Times getting hacked, he quickly helped guide me back to the apartment, where we could talk in confidence. I told him part of the
story. I even told him about the comic book on the health-promotion website. I told him that the comic book told the story of my birthgasm with the physician, then showed me getting sick, Dr. Richard
making deals in dark rooms, and me falling in love with a man. I didn’t tell him that in the comic book I was wearing a collar and being led around on a leash, looking down over a swirling cauldron,
before my lover was taken to jail. Or that the physician would turn angry for a while.
Mostly I told Erik that I was afraid of Jack. I was afraid that he would be so angry at my rejection of our marriage that he would hurt Jamie and me, and that I needed to get Jack out of the house. He
was not a violent person, but he was so angry with me and our life, I needed out from him. I was so afraid to try to make it on my own, I couldn’t escape my fear. Yet at the same time I felt coerced into action.
I believed that Jamie’s and my ability to continue living depended on getting away from Jack, but I couldn’t figure out a way to explain to my family the way I perceived the threat with the lamp as the tipping
point. I’d told them about the lamp, but I was too afraid to tell them what it meant to me. I mean, what if the threat were real? And, I didn’t want them to doubt my motivation, because emotionally
things were over with Jack.
I told Erik I was sick again but that the lawyer had said Jack couldn’t call my mental health into question as grounds for child custody. I was afraid I’d lose Jamie, because Jack always told me that was how it would happen. But the attorney had assured me I would not lose my daughter.
When I went to search for the website of the lawyer I had originally consulted, the Park Slope Parents’ website listed only one lawyer: Green Resolutions. What had happened to the name of the other lawyer? With the New York Times speaking to me in new ways, I felt even more paranoid.
In my state of fear after Jack’s mom had called to say he was hurting Jamie, I’d e-mailed my family to share what was going on. I’d explained my fear of Jack and my experiences since Jamie was born,
journal entries and all. In sharing my story, I finally felt heard. It was a beautiful feeling to connect with my family over my story, to be embraced by their love and warmth, and to narrate my experience the way I wanted to explain it, including the birthgasm and my psychosis. In some ways, writing about what happened let me reconcile my identity after I’d been sick. All that helped me to finally feel whole again.
Everyone e-mailed back about the story with notes of love and support, and commended me for having completed a first draft of my story. Most read the first draft within a day or two of getting the e-mail, although my dad had my stepmother read it first when he saw the chapter title “Birthgasm” in the table of contents. My stepmom, Jill, edited out the portions that would make him uncomfortable and summed it up for him after reading it. “Some things a dad just shouldn’t read, but I love you and think it’s great that you’re writing about it,” he told me afterward.
My sister called me up when she got the e-mail. “Wow, this must have taken some time,” she joked about the length of the attachment, which was hundreds of pages. “I went to print it and ran out of ink,” she said.
When I talked to my mom, she said that I needed to hire an editor to carefully copyedit the work. But she’d also never known what I’d gone through before, so she cried a little when we talked. “I didn’t know that’s what happened,” she said.
Erik hadn’t read it. “You told me the story, and I’m here with you,” he said when I asked him what he thought. “I’ll read it after it’s published.” He said all this to me while we were sitting in my psychiatrist’s
office, waiting for him to show us in. During that appointment, the doctor told me to continue taking a full dose of Abilify. Erik told Jack he needed to move into a hotel, because he was no longer welcome in the apartment.
When I got home, I broke out in hives and started vomiting from the stress of having asked Erik to kick Jack out. Ava was there to watch Jamie after school. I kept throwing up, and Erik went to get a change of clothes and his Dopp kit to stay over.
I was so confused about whether or not things were really happening. There were so many things going on at once, but I knew one thing wouldn’t change: I needed Jack out of my life, and after I’d met with the attorney, I knew there was a way forward. I didn’t have to keep living with his cruel emotional treatment of me; this wasn’t the dark ages. When I’d looked at the research on the outcomes for women who left abusive relationships, I’d read that they were often no better off than they would be if they stayed in the relationship without emotional support. But I knew hope was real. Treatments that were relatively safe and effective were available to me, and I was able to work.
The minute Erik called my mom to explain what was going on with my illness and with Jack, she booked a ticket to New York. Erik stayed on the couch and helped until she arrived on the next flight from Kansas City. The medication sedated me, and between that and my physical reaction to the separation, I was struggling. Jamie went to school every day, and I took the week off from work to adjust to being back on the medication. It was so confusing getting sick at the exact moment I extracted Jack from my life, because it affected me physically, emotionally, and spiritually. But I realized I’d be sick for the rest of my life if I stayed with Jack.
My thoughts about my crush on Dan made me feel desperate and pathetic. I knew it was impossible to feel this way again. It lasted for a few days, until music in iTunes broke my heart. The iTunes Genius feature made me think some secret agency was in control of the music I listened to. The songs iTunes suggested were amazing love songs. They fed my delusional love until “Father Figure” by George
Michael played. My feelings turned off when I heard him. I couldn’t feel things for Dan as I listened to that song, because the words made me think of my father and reminded me that Dan was too old for me—I was young enough to be his daughter.
The moment when my feelings shifted was when my computer launched iTunes and began playing a Weeds episode in which a drug kingpin, U-turn, is laid to rest in his hot tub. The actors explain that
U-turn wants to be buried with his boat, but they can’t fit it in the funeral home. When the video opened automatically on my laptop, it confirmed that I was not to love the researcher, because the character
was dead on the show. The clip of the funeral played three times before my computer let me return to my browser. When that happened, Dan’s spell over me was suddenly broken and I reverted to loving Dr. Richard.
I laughed and sobbed simultaneously as I watched the show and my heart broke free from Dan. Coming back to reality was a painful emotional journey, but the humor in my strange experience made it hard to take things too seriously. I didn’t like to change perspectives. It was always easier to stay in one reality than to visit another. The transition stung my soul. Knowing that I was broken and that neither Dan nor Dr. Richard welcomed the intense feelings I experienced created an invisible force of energy that sucked me in. It was impossible to feel desire for Dan or the physician while knowing it wasn’t wanted and that I was on my own to cope with these feelings. But that wasn’t the only problem with this condition; I also had to fight constantly to gain control of my mind.
But I couldn’t control the way I experienced reality when I was being played with like this. It was too much. The hacked online content I read was still triggering me to search for signs everywhere, and the bold text that kept appearing told me I was being taught lessons. The “first lesson” my browser taught me was a news story about a Southern mayor who was doing something foolish, imposing a shortterm solution to an extremely long-term problem with the utilities in his city. I didn’t understand why my browser took me there, but I retweeted the story. In fact, I documented my response to the entire hacking on Twitter when the browser would let me. Social media helped me cope with being hacked.
The second lesson my browser took me to was an audiobook on ethics. The main theme of the lesson was that all world religions are based on a simple concept: “do not use or accept force.” In other words, don’t make somebody do something, and don’t let somebody push you around. I thought it was ironic, considering how I felt coerced. It was wrong for them to lead me around, and wrong for me to follow.
The browsers began fighting with one another for control over my Dell. I sat on the sofa, watching the browser wars, and couldn’t figure it out. I rebooted, and while I waited for my computer to restart, I
searched my iPhone and found a video in which Steve Jobs spoke about Apple’s role in the international information age, and about China specifically. I figured the Chinese were in competition with whoever had hacked my system, but there was so much activity in my browser, I couldn’t determine a single force influencing me anymore.
Back on my phone’s mobile Twitter feed, I was directed to a link that allowed me to watch part of an anonymous group’s video claiming that the money for the US financial bailout was being diverted to
foreign investors. The group wanted to see the 1 percent suffer. The video disconnected just before the ending.
I also reflected on a book I was required to read for my master’s program, The Dance of Legislation by Eric Redman. The book is a tale of how policy happens in Washington—a mysterious story about how
power is used and laws are made, sort of like the Netflix series House of Cards. When I asked Google what happened to Eric Redman, I discovered he lived in Texas and was dealing with oil. I asked why
they would put him in a dirty business like that. They responded, “Trust,” in bold text. I concluded the oil industry was one where they needed to trust someone. I responded by googling people I’d known
in Boston’s financial district who mentored me while I cared for them as their health care provider. I searched for information about the men my instincts told me to trust.
My reading agenda during the time I lived in Boston was influenced by one man in particular, Robert. During the tech-bubble crash, he reassured me, “These things are not new. Markets have survived
these types of things before. There is a really well-done book about it. You and my wife are both gardeners, and she liked it, so I think you’ll enjoy it, too.” He told me to go to the public library’s
main branch and check out the book. He wrote the name down on a piece of paper for me. I checked out the copy of Tulipomania that was housed at the library. When I went a few years later to recommend
the book to someone else, the version sold by Amazon was not the edition I knew. I must have read an older, rarer edition. My version was a beautiful book with a three-inch-thick spine and colorful
plates of flower prints throughout. The book described the history of tulipomania, and the Dutch tulip-market crash. Robert was Dutch, too.
When I typed Robert’s name into the window and touched the search button, the browser took me directly to a report by an oil company where Robert sat on the board. The browser shared information
about the corporation’s activities near Cuba. I trusted and cared for Robert, but I had no idea what to make of that, and something about the browser launching, independent of my keystrokes, and directing
me to documents that seemed questionable, bothered me. After all, I had no idea who controlled my browser. The worst idea was that it was a group of trolls from one of the websites Jack liked to spend
My experience of getting hacked occurred around the time the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) legislation almost passed. SOPA gave media companies property rights over all the personal content on
individuals’ computers if they were found to possess any unlicensed content.
The last destination the hackers took me to was a website where I could download music. I had never illegally downloaded a song before that night, but the browser wouldn’t release me from the site
without my choosing a song. I finally selected one, called “All Too Much.” The bolded text that emerged in response said, “Nobody ever selects that.” I chose that title because I knew I loved all too much,
and I wanted to feel loved all too much in return, too. But SOPA laws would mean that the corporations would own all the content on my computer because I’d downloaded that song.
The hackers eventually dumped my browser at a survey center. I quit the session and listened to iTunes. I wished I hadn’t been so taken by feeling special because of my experience. I wished I’d trusted Jack,
an information security professional, but I didn’t. I chose the oddly behaving computer, with the memory stick inserted, and hope for my belief in love, over my broken relationship with my husband. I
wanted the information being presented in my browser to be real. Being led around the Internet fascinated me. Seeing the information about me on my C: drive made me feel loved.
I struggled to know the line between my reality, which people shared with me, and my perception. When I went online, there was no way to be sure I saw what others saw. I felt isolated artificially and
susceptible to manipulations. I decided it couldn’t be real—it didn’t pass the Occam’s razor test:
the principle of parsimony that states the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. This was not simple. I wished there was someone I trusted who could help me, someone with the privilege and power
of knowledge. I needed to be patient. Trust takes time. I felt foolish for thinking I was being cyber-stalked. People told me that I was just sick. It was the easiest explanation. The only choice I had was to think
it was my sickness and try to document and test it when I felt able.
I had read that Dr. Richard served as a member of a political group. There were lots of people who could benefit from harming him with a story of his back-and-forth technique during my orgasmic labor. I thought back to the phone calls that started me down the path to losing my mind in 2005–2006 and came up with several possibilities.
It was all random. This was the only option the people who loved me wanted to believe.
Someone was watching me and chose to harass me to the point that I would feel triggered and would break.
Republicans or Democrats were destroying young, promising politicians.
The physician loved me, and his method of revealing his emotions was flawed. I worried I created a web of confusion. I’d sent a message to a man I’d met online and shared a photo. I’d bcc’d the message with the image to Dr. Richard. The more I thought about who could be involved, the more confused I felt. I wished I hadn’t bcc’d that message and pornographic picture to Dr. Richard back in 2005.
Researchers were looking to undermine my group, like those in competition for the $100 million grant.
Time travelers? Delusional, right?
Someone was sabotaging me.
Organized health care? Health advocates might want to sabotage me personally for their political gain.
When I thought I was being led around by the Internet, I did what the bolded text required. I changed my Facebook page. I thought I was the first person allowed to post a music video on Facebook. Then
I got a spoofed e-mail, where the name when I read it backward told me to tell all, but when I opened the e-mail it came from someone with a different last name than in my inbox. The spoofed e-mail from
an e-book publisher spooked me.
A week after my delusions led me back to loving Dr. Richard, Erik hosted a party on his roof deck in Greenpoint. He had separated from Cara, and he was enjoying his bachelor lifestyle. I arrived early, and
we sat together for a while and talked until I started to nod off. He needed to start getting ready and left me alone to prepare for guests. Every time I opened my browser, I felt like I was communicating with
someone. I felt isolated amid this new experience that I was navigating my way through, and by this point I’d tapped out my closest friends and relatives, but I still needed to feel supported. The browser
took me to a live chat room where two people were logged in. I heard a chipper female’s tone and a thoughtful, masculine character. They were discussing what a person needs to be resilient. But by the time Erik had finished his chores and had come out to check on me, the conversation had vanished; there were no messages bolded in the browser, and no chat room to show Erik when I tried to explain what I was experiencing. I didn’t know what to do, and Erik didn’t understand what I was talking about. When he checked the browser history, it was blank. I worried him. So I stopped trying to make him understand.
Once friends started to arrive and I was able to connect with people, I felt a second wave of energy. Many of the members of the party were former Kansans. They listened to me when I told stories.
“I was talking with my dad earlier this week, and he told me some interesting stories about the founding fathers of Cair Paravel being mistaken for a division of the Posse Comatatius.”
“Uh, what is the Posse Comatatius?” someone asked.
“An underground militia located in the continental United States whose movement Dad said was documented in the local papers back in the eighties. He said one of the dads was a Green Beret who wore
his field gear on a field trip to my dad’s land with the kids. The dad went to use a pay phone in a small-town grocery store. It must have spooked people, because National Guard helicopters arrived while
the dads cooked dinner. Everyone was surprised by the commotion. They had to explain who they were to the National Guard, and why they were training kindergarteners to survive in the wild.”
Our friends laughed at the thought of my sister, Chloe, on that trip as the founding fathers tried to teach her to survive in the wild at age five.
“What were they thinking?” someone else asked.
“Probably Armageddon,” Erik said.
“They learned what not to do based on the reactions from the oldest children, like Chloe,” I said. “She still freaks out about having to pair up with a partner to prepare the chickens for dinner on that trip.”
“I’m glad I’m the youngest,” Erik said.
When everyone kept asking me if I’d tried someone’s grandma’s cookies, I felt paranoid. I worried about those cookies. Were they laced with something? The last thing I needed was drugs to screw with my chemistry. I’d shared more than I knew I should about my story, but it was nice to bond with friends. My mom was watching Jamie at my apartment, so I decided to leave around ten. When I got home, Jamie was fast asleep.
It was tough going back to work after my week off. When I got to my office, I started to cry. I wished I wasn’t at work. Had what I thought happened actually happened? I stared down at the handwritten
“Winter Storm” story sitting on the top of the pile of notebooks in my drawer. My back was to Tina; I didn’t want her to see me in my emotional turmoil. When I had first gotten in, I had told her that Jack and I had separated, and I’d explained that I’d broken out in hives and had the stomach flu or something the week before. She gave me space and didn’t ask too many questions.
After I cried, I hid in the bathroom for a while. I imagined I was in nature, out in a canoe with the dragonflies. I sat for so long on the toilet seat that my legs went numb. I could feel the imprints from the
toilet seat on my thighs when I finally got up. I wondered why the seat was so high off the ground. I was not a small woman, but the seat made me feel like a child. Then I remembered it had been the men’s
room before they’d renovated. Before I left work, I filled my blue bag with the journals I’d brought to my office for safekeeping. When I got home, I unpacked the contents and noticed immediately that things
were not as I’d left them. My red notebook should have been on top, but it was missing. Instead, the journals from my hospitalization were there, bookmarked on specific pages.
Why had the red notebook disappeared? When had the work notebooks disappeared? Would they be returned? Who had taken them? I was afraid to say anything about it—I did not dare bring attention to
my potential paranoia—but I did mention my problem to my brother. He worried about me when I told him these things. He assumed I’d lost touch with reality, and was mistaken, but I looked everywhere
for the entry recording my first impression of Dan. I wanted to read it again; plus, there was some useful work information in my notes. I also talked to an old friend from high school, who said she thought
the cleaning crew at work was messing with me. She told me stories she’d heard from friends who worked on cleaning crews, but Francis and Joey, at NYU, were good custodians.
When my mom and I returned from shopping one night that week, we saw a harvest sunset over the Gowanus Canal as we looked down Ninth Street toward Red Hook. I’d never seen the sun look so large
along the New York City horizon. My mom gave me a worried glance when I pulled out my camera to take a photo; then she turned to face a small, vibrant green van parked in front of the fire hydrant. It was
painted with a giant bird of paradise advertising spiritual healing. My Twitter account feed had buzzed all day with doomsday prophecies about the end of the world being near. I felt safe in the knowledge that
a van with spiritual healers was near, should something go wrong for me. Mom looked curiously at the van, shaking slightly, but I was calm. I trusted things would be okay. But I didn’t take another picture,
because I didn’t want to seem paranoid.
When my mom and I got home, we sat at the kitchen table, talking about how I would manage life after Jack. The radio was playing in the background. I usually listened to 103.5 FM, I Heart Radio, in New
Suddenly, a sexy man’s voice interrupted the music to say, “Sunny.”
I looked at my mom and knew she’d heard it too. “You heard it, right, Mom?” I asked.
She nodded, slightly shaken. “It’s just the radio, though. It sounded like it was part of the song,” she said.
Late in the night I slept on the sofa, with my computer by my side. I watched the hard-drive light flashing against the darkness. In time I saw the flashes like codes blinking to me, and I listened to the music
that played on iTunes when “100% Pure Love” played. I heard the word “blade” in the song.
I lay back and felt myself enter a game.
In response to the call to arms of the word “blade,” I quoted Shakespeare. “The pen is mightier than the sword.”
Then I found myself wondering if I was passing though a maze game in the ancient Mayan tradition. As the Mayans predicted the end of modern time to occur that year, 2012, I found myself up late that night. I considered who could be leading my browser. Jack had the most access to my computer, so I would have suspected him of hacking me, but he offered to check my computer out when I complained
early on about it. I even fended him away from the computer when he became suspicious, saying I’d reboot to deal with the glitch in behavior on my own. I didn’t let him help me, because the strange
files on the mysterious drive captivated my attention. I wanted to know more. My curiosity led me to trust the mysterious drive over Jack. It didn’t make sense that it would be Jack, he didn’t want to
separate, didn’t want change, and was reluctant to move out. Erik had to have a talk with him to get him to move out. Plus, he had rules about personal privacy. I couldn’t imagine Jack violating me that way.
It would have been against his ethics to hack me. Even if he wasn’t loving me, he knew right from wrong in a digital environment. My instincts told me Jack wasn’t to blame, because he’d never appreciated
me or my work that way.
I knew I was sick, but things still happened that I couldn’t explain.
Things went missing. I saw signs. I hated seeing them. It made me feel sick. Sometimes I pretended that I didn’t notice, like a photo that I’d posted on Facebook after an ancient Native American symbol alerted
me to a sign. When I took the photo, a sword appeared in the image. I posted it on Facebook, and one of my friends saw the grim reaper in the photo as well. I had not touched the photo to edit a thing. The
picture of the sword and the grim reaper were in the Con Edison building window on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. It was just a defect in the glass’s antiglare material, I told myself—except I saw a prehistoric
symbol of the sun cross, a circle with a cross in the center.
When I thought too hard about all the signs and messages, I worried.
I tried not to think about how the lamp cord got under the bed, sparking and blowing smoke and fire when Jamie jumped on the bed. But it concerned me enough that I decided to write a letter to my city councilman, as a way to document the incident in case something serious was going on. I got paranoid and deleted the original letter. In the re: section of the letter, I said I was a fire-safety activist.
I shared the story about the lamp catching on fire, interrupting our sex. Even though we lived a block away from the firehouse and I felt safe because of that, I made sure that the city councilman knew I
was probably not the only person in Park Slope at risk of this type of event. Death by fire and sex would be a shameful way to go. The cord must have slipped under the bed, creating a potentially deadly
I wondered if anyone read my letter. If they did, I never heard about it. And at work, I decided to keep quiet. If my notebooks landed in the wrong hands, I would be screwed. But why would anyone be
in my desk?
I continued to have theories about all these connections for the next four to six weeks as I wrestled with ideas about everything that had occurred in the short span in which I had seen my computer act
up, separated from Jack, and become ill.