I tend to submit to the boring but practical idea that coincidences are just due to the pile of possibilities lining up just right for something seemingly meaningful to appear. Statistically, they’re probably insignificant little blips. Still, we look for them. We prize them. And we hope they mean God or whoever is taking the time to talk to us. It was fall 2014 when I witnessed a laptop mouse move on its own, cluing at a pattern underneath it all, at a ghost in the machine.
When I first met my significant other, my partner, as I like to call him (boyfriend is just too weak, too young-sounding), I sincerely thought he was one of the most unique human beings on earth. He journaled in a fashion I couldn’t imagine with my college-ruled, date-by-date, linear narrative structure. He’d write a theme to consider (the latest is JOY, on a purple one-subject notebook) and proceed to meditate on that and other themes, or just his life, throughout the journal. This wasn’t so odd, but what made it amazing to me was that he didn’t go in any order—he’d begin on any page and he’d revisit certain pages as related ideas and memories intersected and arose in the present. I kept an immensely private journal and would spaz out if I caught anyone sneaking a look, carefully shielding it with my arm from strangers in coffee shops and on public transport. David, on the other hand, would sometimes freely share his with me, pointing out certain pages where I’d made him happy, like when we played a great game of Scrabble one night.
What began to worry me about my new boyfriend was his penchant for seeking and seeing signs. Some signs were sweet, like LG on the back of a phone for my first name with his last name. Any time he pointed out an LG, I cheered. But he wanted signs for everything, even big decisions, decisions I’d make using lists and pros and cons charts in my journal. Where I would Craigslist apartments, Google cost of living, and Indeed.com the shit out of a potential city, only moving if a job was waiting, David looked for reasons to move somewhere on strangers’ t-shirts, billboards, and marquee signs. His top three destinations were Nashville, Asheville, and New York City. I lived in Knoxville, Tennessee and he was rooted in Bristol, two hours away, just on the Virginia border. While I hoped for Nashville because it was close to Knoxville and seemed less entrenched in drug culture than Asheville, David found numerous signs pointing him all over. When he saw a coffee mug that said “I Believe in Nashville” in a Boston coffee shop, of all places, even I began to believe somehow the universe was more in tune with this guy, or that I hadn’t been paying attention well enough to my own signs.
The signs became overwhelming to both of us—license plates, cryptic messages from friends, newspaper articles, television shows—they were so overwhelming that David needed to step back Walden-style. He borrowed a friend’s cabin high in the mountains, a cabin in the woods with no electricity or running water. He brought cans of soup, a bundle of apples, beer, weed, and a large pack of water bottles. His portable battery fizzled out due to the cold. It snowed up there. It was the coldest night of November on record yet. He spent all hours perched by the small fire, keeping it going, shivering violently without it. In front of him were four poster boards: Nashville, Asheville, New York City, and Wild Card. The Wild Card could have been anywhere—Portland, Austin, or even San Francisco. In my style, ignoring the signs, he made pros and cons lists. He went to sleep with the sun, which meant he went to sleep as early as 6 pm.
Few people called or contacted David while he was up there, but I was concerned. Whenever someone in my life went off on their own, I thought of the worst—suicide. When David didn’t answer me one night, because he was already asleep, I could hardly stand being away. I couldn’t sleep all night. When he did finally answer, I said, “I’m really worried about you. It’s not normal to go to sleep so early.”
“Maybe I should be I worried, too,” he admitted.
“Please be good to yourself.”
“I’m coming soon. Hang in there.”
This was the last sign David needed, a sign that pushed through the wilderness and static—I loved him. I showed him with the phone call, with the insistence that he care for himself, with the promise I was coming.
We kept each other warm the coldest night of our lives yet, our bodies wrapped in all the clothes we’d brought, hiding heads underneath blankets by the fire.
David’s list expanded to include Knoxville, the Wild Card. In Knoxville, there was a billboard on the way to my house that said “Come home.” It advertised something like mattresses, but I had to shyly point it out to him regardless. There was David’s Bridal by the mall, and a David Yurman billboard leaving my house. There was a David Lane in Farragut, my hometown. More practically, his best friend and his new wife lived there. And they liked me. And then he was moving, packing up, and at last living there, thirty minutes down the highway in a suburb on the opposite side of town, but just close enough. Much closer than Bristol had been.
Eventually, the sign-seeking that had once so attracted me to David began to worry me and push me away. Was he capable of making a decision without a sign? Did practical reasons for making a decision come into the picture at all? How many hours could he spend decoding all of them in his notebook, alone at Starbucks?
I called the signs an obsession. I told him to stop talking to me about them all the time, even if he did have them. He understood, so he stopped, even though that meant repressing a large part of himself every day.
Moving came up again a few months later when graduate school called me to Wilmington, North Carolina. The sign-seeking recommenced full-force. Maybe Wild Card had meant Wilmington.
David’s mom had been bugging him to move to Wilmington for years because they had a large film presence and he could get a good job. Unfortunately, he also hated being bossed around by her. We started seeing W’s everywhere. The largest sign, though, came from a defective laptop mouse.
One night, while I was asleep, David’s mouse started moving on its own. No matter how hard he tried to direct it where he wanted it to go, it continued slowly moving wherever it wanted to. He’d known he needed to get his laptop checked and fixed, but it had never acted out this much. The mouse opened an old tab, one of many, where David had left open an application to work for Inspire, a creative productions company in Wilmington. It then moved down the job description, hovering over “video” (David has a Bachelors in Film Production from NYU and a Masters in New Media from ETSU). It defined video and then moved on to “other,” also defining it, as if these were the two types of jobs David should apply for. Then it opened another tab, Google Maps, with his location marked. At this point, David wasn’t thinking of God or signs anymore. He thought a hacker was threatening him, saying, “I know where you live…” He grabbed the only weapon nearby, a rusty screwdriver, and slept with it beside the bed, not wanting to wake me up over something so crazy.
When I did wake up that morning, he told me the story after prefacing that he knew it was crazy, but it had happened. I didn’t believe him. I thought maybe he’d dreamed it or he’d been so tired he’d imagined it. He frequently had vivid dreams and stayed up much later than me. I didn’t tell him this, though, because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. He opened his laptop to show me.
I took the laptop and began moving the mouse around indiscriminately. Then, once again, it began moving on its own, despite my attempts at moving it away from its slow-moving path to something else. I looked at David. “Maybe it is a hacker.”
I fought with the mouse and finally got onto Google. I typed as quickly as I could, “mouse moving on its own,” but as soon as I pressed enter, the Internet connection was lost. It came back and the mouse began moving again. I fought to type “who are you?” into the search bar, and it searched for “who are you?” on Google. When I tried to search for “why are you doing this?” it searched Google, too. When I tried to search for “mouse moving on its own” again, the Internet connection was lost. Like clockwork, it would allow me to search certain unanswerable questions but wouldn’t let me figure out why the mouse wasn’t working.
Finally, David took the laptop from me. “Well, I believe you now,” I said. “Don’t you want to keep trying to get it to tell us stuff?”
“No,” he said. “I’m really worried it could be a hacker, and we shouldn’t mess with that. Or it could just be broken. I’ll bring it into the Apple Store today.”
The geniuses at Apple said this was something that could happen from time to time. His laptop was getting old and the battery was bulging. This could cause the mouse to work defectively, like moving and clicking on its own.
Just before this, David had asked for an extension from one of his freelance bosses. She had agreed to give him more time, saying she believed in “divine inspiration.” He had been touched by this, but the cynical side of him was unsure. It was a large thing to say.
As much as I tried to logically explain why the mouse had done what it did, I couldn’t. Neither could David. Too many things had happened that made it seem sentient. It had led David to a job application for a company called Inspire in Wilmington. It had refused to answer any of our questions and had shut us down every time we tried to figure out why it was acting defectively.
David moved to Wilmington with me.
It doesn’t matter to me if it was a bulging battery or God or both. It felt like David’s boss had a point, like maybe there was a bit of divine inspiration in our lives, in that broken laptop. It’s hard for me to believe God would have plummeted down to animate a laptop for a couple days. But the coincidences added together seemed to reveal a pattern, a message, regardless. We chose to take these signs and run with them. A little part of me is waiting for the day that my laptop is old enough that it starts losing it, that the mouse starts to hover and move on its own.