Almost the End of My Everything

For weeks now I’ve been avoiding the world of conspiracies, avoiding this site, other sites, and even my own thoughts and memories. I’ve been forced instead to think about the mess I almost made of my life, the mess I may be making of my life. I’m still struggling to sort it all out.

My wife, my two sons, and I had all gone out to brunch with some of my wife’s relatives. We’d taken two cars since I had some work I needed to do, and my wife and our sons were going to head over to her brother’s house where the boys were going to ride their cousins’ four ATVs. When I got back to the house I let myself in and noticed the alarm was off. I didn’t think anything of it at first, because this has happened before when we all leave separately as we did this morning. She thinks I’m still inside, I think she’s still inside, and so nobody sets it. I put in an hour of work before going to the kitchen to get some tea. As I’m filling the kettle from the tap I notice that the kitchen door is unlocked, both the deadbolt (which requires a key) and the lock built into the knob. We never use that door, it’s been impassable for years, one of those security door braces is against the door knob, and in front of the door is a low shelving unit my wife keeps the laundry supplies in. The key has been lost for at least two years, and only weeks before this incident the wife and I once again searched everywhere for the key because without it we had to disassemble some of my son’s college apartment furniture in order to bring it in the other entrance. And yet now both the deadbolt and the knob were unlocked. I felt the sudden grip of panic.

I’m not sure who or what exactly I was initially afraid of. The government was not my first thought, but it would become my primary one. The big gun safe was in the closet in the guest bedroom, just a few feet away from the kitchen. I quickly moved there, unlocked the safe and grabbed the only gun I kept loaded, my dad’s Korea sidearm, an old M1911. I went back to the front door, set the alarm to “night stay” so I’d know if anyone came or went, and then searched the house room by room, checking under each bed and in each closet. I even peered into the attic when every other location was checked. If anyone had been there, I saw no trace of them. Nothing appeared disturbed, and no one remained. As the adrenaline waned I began to get a little disturbed by what I’d just done. I was like a man possessed. I am ordinarily relatively meek by nature, avoiding confrontations whenever possible, sometimes to my detriment. God knows what I would have done if I’d found someone. My calm did not remain restored for long.

I tried to reach my wife to see if perhaps she had found the key or gotten a locksmith, but got instant voice mail, which wasn’t unexpected, her brother’s house has spotty cell phone reception. I went back to my office, and started to get back to work. My mind was still too energized to get back to the mentally intensive task I really needed to work on, so I tried to ease back into work by tackling some simple debugging, looking at why a SQL query was pulling the wrong data from a database. I clicked the shortcut I’d set up to automatically build the SSH tunnel I’d need for my DB front end. The login dialog popped up. It shouldn’t have. The login should have happened completely automatically using my configured SSH keys. The key agent was no longer running. That was odd. It quickly dawned on me that my computer must have been restarted, and I simply hadn’t been paying attention when I’d logged on earlier. A quick check of the event log confirmed that the system had probably stopped within 20 minutes of us leaving the house that morning, and whatever happened wasn’t graceful, the event log just stopped suddenly. This was not related to any scheduled update, there was no tell-tale sign of a blue screen, and nothing but a power failure could explain the long down time. And the fancy UPS that my computer is connected to would have kept the computer alive for at least an hour before gracefully shutting it down.

I went back into panic mode. Without particular intent I pulled my gun back out of the desk drawer where I’d temporarily placed it and left it out within easy reach. I began a search to try to narrow down the exact time my computer went down. The last event log entry could have been made a while before the computer was hard reset. While that search was running I examined my computer to see if looked as though it had been disturbed. It had clearly been moved. The speaker out cable I had connected to the desktop barely reached, so much so that I’d accidentally pulled it out a few times myself when I’d nudged the computer mere inches. The speaker cable was now disconnected. Just minutes before leaving the house this morning I’d been listening to a streaming radio program on that computer over those speakers. I now examined the computer in minute detail, looking at every screw head, every USB port, at the CD ROM tray, looking for any sign that someone could have gotten data out of my computer. And I’d swear I saw it, the USB ports usually end up plugged with dust or cat hair between uses, and I keep a can of compressed air handy for that reason. One of the USB ports looked different from the rest. I even used a coated paperclip to probe that one to see if there had been hair which had been just compressed out of the way when something was inserted. There was.

The file search completed to reveal that the computer had shut down about 35 minutes after we left. I looked for any other signs that there was a power outage, and there had been no power outage. All the clocks which usually reset with any outage longer than half a second were all showing perfect time. My son had left his non UPS protected X-Box paused on some game in his room, and it was still paused. I still had my gun with me as I walked the house checking for signs of a power outage.

The only conclusion I was left with seemed to be that someone had come in and perhaps cloned my hard drive, just as people had done at JPL. I just kept pacing the house, alternately moving my finger into and out of the trigger guard. I must have done that for hours, pausing occasionally to sit on my bed, look out the window for suspicious cars, check my cell phone, examine the various doors and windows for signs they were used. I didn’t think the person(s) had made their way in through the kitchen door, I supposed that was just the door they first picked, and finding it still wouldn’t open they moved to another door, and then subsequently forgot to go back and cover their tracks by re-locking that door as they had done another. Perhaps we had forgotten to set the alarm, or more likely they’d disabled it; I’d read years before about how easy it was to eavesdrop on and then clone the little key fobs for auto alarms, and suppose it is just as easy for houses. The more I tried to force an answer from a paucity of data the more and more disturbed I got, and the more time passed.

My family found me this way. No, they found me far worse. The alarm was still on “night stay”. When they got home that evening my wife opened the front door and the alarm went off. The house was that dark that comes at dusk when your eyes seem least able to make sense of what they see, made worse by my turning on no lights. The alarm horn was blaring from inside the bedroom closet, less than ten feet from where I had been sitting. My gun was still in my hand. I ran down the hall towards the front door, leading with my pistol, and when I came around the corner to the living room, in view of the door, and saw it open I began screaming at the figures in the door something they told me later approximated, “Who are you? Who the fuck are you?” They said I repeated it almost 10 times. My wife was apparently repeatedly screaming back, “It’s us! Don’t shoot! It’s us!” I didn’t hear her. I don’t know that I heard anything. I don’t know where I was, and in that state I don’t know why I didn’t fire. Someone turned on the lights.

The recognition finally came, and I lost it, utterly and completely. I broke down immediately, stumbled backwards the foot or so to the wall by the doorway to the hall, slid down to the floor, pushed the gun out of my own reach, under the edge of the couch. I sobbed uncontrollably, gradually drawing myself into a fetal position, lying on my side there on the floor.

My wife has always handled our crises; I’ve always been in awe of her ability to make the right choices in situations where I would freeze and make no choice; she spent some time in college as an EMT and told me about a few awful calls she went on that would have ruined me forever. My wife took command and told our younger son to go down the street and see if our neighbor, “Dr. John” was home and could he rush over; he was a close friend, and a psychiatrist. She had our older sun retrieve the pistol and lock it up. I found out a week or two later something that sent me on a brief crying jag; she’d sent him back to the safe less than twenty minutes later to quickly inventory the guns and to change the combination to one I wouldn’t know; how horrible it is to think of your own family very reasonably afraid of you.

I was just lying there, sobbing desperately, gasping for air, as she wrapped her arms around me, and just told me all the nice things I couldn’t imagine I deserved in that moment. I had very nearly killed them, perhaps even should have killed them, had I not retained some slim sense or cowardice or something. And all she did was tell me that she loved me, that they all loved me, and that everything would be ok, that I was safe, that we were all safe, that everything was fine. I am so grateful for her love, many is the time I’ve felt unworthy of it, and never have I felt less worthy than this lingering now.

Dr. John came over; he probably got there within five minutes. I was still uncommunicative, only making horrible, desperate noises. He sedated slightly me with some sort of injection. I guess my youngest must have given him a preview of my condition; I can’t say I’ve seen doctors carrying around those medical bags they once did. They led me back to our bedroom, got me in bed, and I was left for only a few minutes while she consulted with him, and made arrangements for the kids to drive back and stay with their uncle and aunt. I also found out later that they had apparently invented a cover story. They were kind enough to not tell anyone their dad had gone insane, instead they said the power had gone out, and that it wouldn’t be fixed until at least the morning. I’m not sure I deserve their kindness, either, to continue to look after my image in a moment like that.

I was calming down, or letting fatigue over take me. I was vaguely aware of my wife coming back in soon after, and of her lying next to me, and holding me. And I slept into the next day.

There is an awful moment that comes in mornings like that one, where you don’t remember what’s wrong with the world, where you naively think this morning is like every other recent pleasant morning. And then it suddenly isn’t. I remember many such mornings after people I loved left me, after my dad died, after my dogs have died. Perhaps the sedation I had received had helped reduce the intensity of my memory, or perhaps my altered mental state had done that job, because although I was roughly aware of the horror of the evening before, it felt a little like someone else’s horror. I just remained, sitting upright in bed. I was probing my memory, trying to understand it, and afraid that if I moved or got up my wife would suddenly awake and have so many questions to ask that I wouldn’t be prepared to answer. What could I tell her?

I could tell her something that approximated the whole truth, something that included the suspicions, stories, and experiences that had cost me a job and ultimately friends and colleagues. But that meant sounding certifiably insane if my truth was wrong, and perhaps putting her at risk if I my truth was right. Or I could just leave the episode largely unexplained, leave out my fears about my computer data being taken, and just present it as it started, a fear that a burglar was still or had been in the house. I’d already been lying to her for so long by keeping my truth from her, I wouldn’t really be making a new choice so much as just perpetuating the old one.

She was awake. Perhaps she had been. “How are you feeling?” she asked. “Like it was all a horrible, horrible nightmare.” I said. “Maybe that’s all it was.” she offered, and kissed me as she got out of bed. I stayed there a bit longer. After a couple minutes I heard her in the kitchen, making breakfast. And after a very quick shower I joined her. We ate mostly in silence, but not an unpleasant one. She wasn’t requiring anything of me, and I wasn’t quite ready to offer anything. The silence seemed natural. We finished, and she went about the next hour or so as normal. The kids would be back at noon, and I knew I had to talk to her with enough time before they got home, so I did eventually seek her out. For some reason it feels very difficult for me to share that conversation. I tried a few times to write it down, but I don’t get very far. Why it should feel harder than the rest of the story I’m not sure. Perhaps everything else could be framed by actions, and this was largely emotion.

At any rate, I did tell her something more than the nothing I had told her before. I didn’t give her specifics, but I did finally let her know that there was a reason I left to begin consulting, that it hadn’t been for the reasons I’d previously told her. But I presented everything slightly skewed, not that I thought there were secret forces working within the government developing technologies that were hidden from those of us with a right to know, but more like I believed the direction the program was going in was vaguely unethical, that lives were being put at risk, that money was being squandered, and… To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what I said. That’s the danger of lying, it’s so hard to remember. She heard it as I’d hoped, it didn’t make her feel I was crazy, and it sounded plausibly stressful, and perhaps it could have led to an eruption in some sort of panic attack when combined with a possible burglary.

She provided the solution to that mystery. I had gotten everything wrong, there had been no government agents in our home, there had been no cloning of my computer hard drive. She had called a locksmith, specifically because we’d had such a horrible time dealing with my son’s furniture, and because we’d have the same horrible time when he went back to college at the end of summer. He had come out the afternoon I was out of town, just a couple days before, and he had picked the locks and when he went to re-key the locks realized he had left some tool or part he needed at his shop, and because my wife’s schedule was crazy and she didn’t know mine, she’d asked him to come back on Monday, and she told him it was fine to leave unlocked, but secured with the bar and blocked as it was. And my computer had been moved, and it had been disconnected, but not by unknown persons. My wife had borrowed her sister’s digital camera a few weeks before, ours had recently broken and my wife was planning on trying to get it repaired while I was trying to use this as an excuse to get a new one. My wife had told her sister she could pick it up. Her sister did so on her way to meet us for brunch, she turned off the alarm, came in, retrieved the camera from where it was by my desk, unplugged the camera power cable which would have been in the same strip as my PC, and my sister-in-law must have moved the power strip just enough to barely unseat the computer power cable not at the outlet, but where the cable goes into the PC’s power supply. This tugging also moved the computer just enough to disconnect the speaker cable. As for how my computer came to turn back on, I suspect it might have been the cat. She often lies on top of the computer, and I suspect in getting on or off she brushed against the power cable just enough for it to make contact again and turn the computer back on. As for the USB port seeming like it had been used, I could not sanely ask for any of this information, so I can only guess that my wife may have plugged in my memory stick reader to copy the photos off the camera in advance of her sister collecting it. I nearly killed one or more of the people I loved because of a fiction I had invented. Just how much am I capable of inventing?

Dr. John had referred me to a psychologist he knew in the weeks following, just to see how I am doing, try to help me cope. And it is helpful, but I suppose since I am not being entirely truthful with anyone about exactly what I fear it can only be so helpful. You can’t expect a doctor to cure a disease when you lie to him about the symptoms.

I’m still trying to make sense of all this. I have been staying away from everything that drove me to this point, that invited all that fear, all that anxiety. I clearly didn’t and don’t have a healthy relationship to it. I’m not sure how I find that, or how I’ll know it when I find it. I felt like talking about these things was helpful for me, should be helpful for me, but it feels like I’m doing it wrong, at least in part.

I am continuing the therapy and journaling has been an exercise my therapist has suggested, so perhaps I can come to understand better how and what to more healthily share.

I may need to continue my silence here for some time, and perhaps for a while keep to topics which feel less personal and more abstract, topics where perhaps I can provide professional insight, but without directly knowing the persons or projects involved.


16 Responses to Almost the End of My Everything

  1. woody says:

    Hi John,

    Sorry to hear of your upsetting incident, I had noticed you had not updated in a while and was becoming a little worried. Glad to hear your OK and look forward to reading the continuation of your blog once you are feeling up to it again. I completely understand your situation as I too am very careful about what I say and to whom for the very same reasons, I worry that people will think I am crazy. Perhaps sharing information anonymously over the internet is the only way to really talk about these things without being judged by others.

  2. JC says:


    I wish I had some encouraging words or sage advice to give about this scenario. I think that while journaling your thoughts and feelings about the situation you now find yourself in could be immensely helpful, doing so publicly may not be healthy as it obviously only increases the anxiety you feel. However, simply ignoring the topic will not make it go away. You’ll have to find a way to work through your feelings or this thing will continue to eat at your mind and fuel the paranoia that brought you to the point just described.

    One thing I can offer, however, is some information that may help alleviate your concerns about the USB port.

    Whenever a flash drive is connected to a PC, Windows writes various attributes to the registry including the name, description, and serial number of the device along with the time it was last plugged in. The technical details are unnecessary, as several freeware utilities have been created to view this information without searching the relevant keys. Download USBDeview from and look at the created times for the keys. Of course, this assumes that the drive was cloned after Windows loaded. If the machine was booted from the USB drive, this technique would not apply, however the perp would be left to deal with the encryption you have configured.

    Anyway John, I hope things get less stressful for you. Thanks for the update, and good luck.

  3. A Reader says:

    Have been following your posts for some time and have enjoyed your point of view on the many possibilities of “what could be happening all around us,” even though I haven’t been able to follow all the tech-talk…LOL.

    This post while incredibly revealing about the personal level of stress and anxiety you’ve been under may be helpful to others going through their own anxieties and may provide learning points as you find a way to balance all the forces you are experiencing as you move on.

    Whether you continue to post or take an extended break, I wish you some peace with what you are dealing with.

    Thanks for all the work you did to create this blog.

  4. JB says:

    Hello John,
    I’ve read everything of yours since your posting at ATS. Thank you for sharing a truly remarkable array of thought provoking material. If consulting becomes tiresome, surely you can take up writing and make a living.
    Through all of the tumultuous activity surrounding your life don’t forget to do one very important thing; spend quality time with your wife and your children. Relationships with spouses need nurturing and our children are with us for a very short time. They crave parental interaction. Before you know it they will be grown and you can’t go back and redo your life. Besides, it will make you feel better too. Escaping within yourself by being immersed in you work and hobbies may help you, but there needs to be a balance. Right? After all, when it comes right down to it, they (your children) are the most important thing.
    Best wishes and thanks again for the plethora of wonderful reading material.

  5. Dan H. says:


    I’m pretty sure you’re doing the right thing by distancing yourself from all of this, even if it’s just temporary. I find that spending too much time in the rabbit hole can be harmful to our “normal” emotional connections. Who knows, this might turn out to be a very positive metamorphosis for you. Recently, I gave myself a 4-day holiday from technology and spent my time in a very quiet rural area. I got some sun, sky watched at night, played with the dog, and generally had a stress free time. Oh, and did I mention that I drank a lot of whiskey? It was very restorative. Though, I don’t recommend my exact methods to everyone.

    Hang in there-


  6. Kalai says:

    Hey John,
    What an experience! Such a nail-biting narration. Hope you’re doing much better now. Rest and get better.
    Will be waiting patiently for your next post.

    God Bless.

  7. Alexander says:

    Hello John!

    I am sorry to hear of this incident. It is so difficult to bear alone the truth and perhaps even more so if you have to constantly lie to people that you love more than anything else. I can’t possibly know the consequences of bearing this truth that you have shared with us here, but perhaps you would like to re-examine if sharing it with your wife would be detrimental for her in any way. She is your companion and co-creator of your life on this planet so perhaps she might deserve to know. It is obvious that you are not telling her because you want to protect her, but what I am saying is that too much unselfishness and protection might not be so harmless in the end either for you personally, your wife or your family. Pause to think: if you were your wife, what would you rightfully expect from your husband? You know, when I find myself in a difficult position, I like to think that I live, that we all live in a friendly and just universe. I believe it is true. Perhaps it might help you think that way, too…

    In any case, I wish you all the best for you and your family. I hope that security and peace of mind will once again exist in your life.


  8. Grant says:

    Well, it’s reasonable you know. If I were you John, I too would be paranoid. But it obviously doesn’t serve any useful purpose.
    You’ve been out long enough, their not after you. It was reasonable to suspect that they might have been, but if they were, they would have done something before now.
    If you think about it logically, it’s obvious your in the clear.
    I think it’s good you’re taking a break from here. My advice is forget about all of this stuff for a good long while. You can always come back to it when time has given its perspective.
    If you don’t mind me saying, your wife sounds wonderful. Your a lucky fella. If you do decide to let her in on what’s really got you behaving erratically, letting her read this very blog might save you some difficult explaining… just a thought.

    Thank you for all the information you have shared, it really is enough for now. If you have more to tell, perhaps you could just let it go for good long while. This blog and its readers can wait.
    Good luck. I’m hoping the best for you.

  9. Anda says:

    John, you inspire us all.

    Hope you will be back soon.

  10. beebs says:

    What an experience. You have handled it well. I can tell you I would have done something similar.

    Instincts take quite a bit to overcome, and the mind can create its own fantasy mighty quick.

    After something like that happened to me, I would need either a strong drink, or a nice smoke. Or both.

    Great writing, by the way. Don’t rush the vacation. 🙂


  11. Joker says:

    haha what a joke. Your cat plugged the computer back in? Come on pal get real. The stories were mildly plausible before when veiled beneath cryptic layers of techtalk that a common layman would never understand and thus question, but now that your little laughable sob-story is branching out into the world of normal drama genre fiction, there are red flags popping up all over the place that indicate how much of a farce this whole thing is. Decent writing, for a college student, but the story has major holes and improbabilities. Time to get back to the drawing board “John”


  12. Will says:

    John, as an academic, reading your posts, I can easily recognise your intelligence, how methodical you are, your expertise and that you are eloquent. You’ve obviously had a pretty nasty scare. I have actually experienced, once, that feeling of being unsure where I was after a pretty horrible scare (no sense me posting details on this public forum). I don’t know if you have access to my email address from this post, but feel free to use it if you’d just like a (frankly pretty random from your perspective) academic to discuss things with. I’m very sorry to hear about the upsetting episode with your family and I wish you the best in emotionally processing all that. I definitely think you did the right thing by letting your wife know at least some of the general facts that led to this happening.

    Finally, @Joker: yeah it is obvious John’s cat didn’t “plug his computer back in”. What you are obviously not getting is that John is accepting that there were perfectly mundane explanations for most, if not all of the events which led to this episode. In other words, he’s not insane, because he is able to identify after the fact that despite his fears, nothing untoward actually happened after all. He’s a rational human being and he’s not trying to perpetuate some delusional episode. So please, grow up and don’t be so cynical.

  13. JC says:

    Hi John,

    Just wanted to check in with you. I hope things have calmed down a bit. Hopefully the therapy and journaling are doing you some good. You’ve got a lot of supporters here, wishing you well, so do give us an update on how you’re doing soon.

    – JC

  14. Just some chick says:

    Hi there. I’m a new poster to your blog, but have been reading since your stint at ATS. A can not help but be touched at the mental anguish you have written of, despite my usual skepticism. I am also a psych professional (nurse, not MD), and a wife, so my comments are of course colored from that perspective.

    That said, JOHN! Bearing this burden alone is eating you alive! You must trust those around you, both your wife and therapist. Please consider after you have established a good working relationship with this person, providing all of this back story. Here’s the deal, you can not be dragged off to the psych hospital against your will unless you are an imminent danger to your self or others (ie, contemplating murder or harm), or you are “gravely disabled”, which usually means that you can’t keep a roof over your head, are liable to burn the house down, etc. Otherwise, everything you say is totally confidential and will remain so. Do a background check if needed to assure yourself that your therapist is not connected to the government in any way, and then spill it. You are quite right when you say that they can not help you if they don’t understand what is really going on with you. They could give you a bit of a reality check, help re frame your experiences, etc. But what happened to you sounds very much like PTSD response which can best be dealt with through extinction therapy (basically controlled exposure with a guide). Also look into finding someone with EMDR training, it can really help unhook the panio response that lies just under the surface and will be triggered again until you process it through.

    But more importantly, you MUST tell your wife. You married her and had children with her for a reason. My heart literally aches to think of my husband trying to deal with these types of feelings alone, forgetting completely whether it is “real” or not. The way she responded to you tells me that she will listen and she will love you through this. And if you tell her, she can better understand why you are so paranoid and can remember to tell you these types of things so an event like this does not reoccur. She can be an extra set of eyes to ensure there isn’t anyone tampering with your lives. And I suspect, this episode will be even more understandable and forgivable to her. If nothing else, please consider what you would feel like if it were she that were going through this and she chose not to come to you. How would that make you feel? (sneaky psych trick, I know 😉 ). I would print out the most relevant posts, explain a bit of what has been happening, and let her read it as you experienced it. If she loves you (and it sounds like she does), she will do everything she can to support you. For better or worse… (I never do this, but I am going to use my real email address here, and invite you to email me if needed.)

    Best regards.

  15. Joker says:

    “Will” you are clearly even more naive than the rest of these clowns. Sort of disappointing for a full fledged self avowed ‘academic’.
    “Will” you claim it’s “obvious” that the cat didn’t plug the comp. in yet Astroengineer himself makes it pretty clear that such is his belief, I quote,
    “As for how my computer came to turn back on, I suspect it might have been the cat. She often lies on top of the computer, and I suspect in getting on or off she brushed against the power cable just enough for it to make contact again and turn the computer back on.”
    Must be running out of plausible material because his posts are getting few and far in between, come on “John” you can do it, give us another plot twist we can laugh at. Heh Heh.

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