Do you remember when I was in middle school and so obsessed with John that I created an imaginary friend named Jay who looked just like him? He was like my mind’s replacement. I think I said he was twenty-three (much older than I was at the time but still tame, although inwardly I wished he were older) and had blond hair and green eyes, but I could never keep track of the eye color, so sometimes they were blue instead. I imagined he walked with me when I went out, and he slept beside me with one arm draped around me. I never thought I was starving for romantic affection, but I was, and desperate for a man to accept my obsession. I don’t know why. I don’t know when it started. Back when I was eight years old, I fell in love with a forty-year-old singer from American Idol, and I don’t think that was the first time. I loved the Doctor because he was nine hundred years old. I loved Motorcycle Man, the 33-year-old from my church. I was absolutely dumbstruck by every single male pastor and teacher and counselor I ever had, so I kept up with ten-page journal entries about every single one of them and I gazed at them, chest aching, from across the campfires of youth group retreats. I ought to burn all the journals I kept before ninth grade. At least after ninth grade I began to learn to hide my obsession.
At high school graduation, I proceeded down the line of teachers with outstretched hands to shake, and instead, I hugged all the ones I loved the most, and the one I’m too scared to name said “thank you for everything, Emily” and when I sat down I realized they could not see me the same way after this. In adulthood, everyone is the same. But the way I love men is divisive.
It is not eerie to be in a room, but it is somehow eerie to imagine a room in your mind with no inhabitants. On what plane does the room in your mind exist? How can you picture the way it lies suspended in memory? Why is the real lighting normal, but the lighting in your mind perturbing? In death, is that realm the one you explore forever? The realm in the mind, which closes in upon you from all sides like static, like darkness? There is no sunlight in your mind. There is no fresh air, no tactile sensation, every unsettling detail expanding infinitely in magnitude. It’s as if you have always existed — only stored in a corner of that memory space, preceding your birth, preceding the birth of time. You found physical form outside of it, and when you lose your physical form, that space is where you will return.
there is a version of me trapped in each memory like a snowglobe. me, thirteen, long hair in a ponytail, running across the beach where the water is just an inch deep because I love the way it splashes. me, eight, staring out the car window and thinking how strange it is I’ve only been on the earth for eight years and yet I feel like I have always been here. me, eleven, in New Mexico, on Christmas, staring at the luminarias lining the sidewalks. me, sixteen, listening to my writing instructor’s voice break. memory isn’t a continuous and chronological line, not even a line at all, and I don’t know if that’s what time is, either. my life is a room with no walls that holds a hundred thousand memories suspended in water. I jump from moment to moment out of order and everything else is just the space between.