fixations of childhood, obsessions of adulthood

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.

the latitude of memory

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.

There is nothing to do but wait.

I think of my grandparents as still alive. How could I think of them as anything else? How could they not be somewhere parallel to me? Where are they, that could be unreachable? Is this God’s plan for us? Live side by side until one timeline breaks and falls away to he-knows-where-but-I-do-not? Is Papa safe? Is Grandpa George safe? Does suicide take you to the seventh layer of hell? Does hell exist? I think there’s something very wrong about all of this. There is nobody to ask. There is nobody who has gone and come back. The only ones to ask are the unbroken. The dead know now what my body squirms daily to discover. I could have asked them in life but they did not know, not then. Only now. This is unfixable. Unknowable. Putrid, obscene ignorance that sticks in my flesh like shame. It feels like a sin, gathers together suddenly in waves of pure, destitute panic. It’s strange, the way the vulnerability in desperation can sometimes feel akin to an orgasm. My mind lurches to fill its empty spaces and finds no information with which to do so. Nature is infallible because she doesn’t pretend to be kind. God, however. God allows my suffering and still proclaims he is kind.


Spreading your fingers out flat against the table. Friction stopping your soul from falling backwards out of your body and into the maw of hell.

Reality twisting. But what is reality? It’s shifting. This isn’t the truth. God is withholding the truth. This is a simulation test. Soon, the world will turn into focus and you will face judgment.

You love drinking because alcohol is glue and it slaps your halves together.


Is it your instincts that lie to you? Or your insecurity? Or reality itself? Stop thinking about reality. It doesn’t matter what’s real.

When you imagine having conversations, your words flow freely alongside the current of your thoughts. But when you really speak, time freezes like a Tomb Raider quicktime action, only you aren’t allowed to think because everyone is yelling at you to be clever and by everyone I mean you. You hold reality in your hand. That’s a lot of responsibility. And you can’t even keep up with a conversation.

Your instincts are your compass and your compass is broken and there’s no way, there’s absolutely no way, that everyone else feels this incredible sense of urgency.

Aching self hatred.

Stop fucking obsessing. You pathetic fucking worm.

You know if you could stalk people and get away with it, you would. You tell yourself you’re just fascinated by people. I’m sure that’s true. I’m sure it’s normal to fantasize about someone you’ve known for one week. I’m sure that’s normal.

You can’t even fucking kill yourself. Because you’re so afraid of death.

Who did this to you?

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

I thought you knew that God couldn’t be pinned down. You’ve said so many times that his nature is incomprehensible. Why do you tell me we can’t know the concrete truth, but then, with the same tongue and absolute certainty, tell me I’m wrong? There is no absolute truth. I know you think that’s a logical fallacy. But you ignore every logical fallacy I bring to your attention, and you know why, don’t you? You know it’s because there is no absolute reality. You know that, because even the color red changes from human to human. Even eyesight, depth perception, hearing. I’m deaf in my left ear. I can’t hear the birds chirping in the morning. My best friend is schizophrenic. She texted me the other night about the way the voices seemed different than they usually do — they were alarming when usually they’re calm. How come you hate vanilla ice cream when I love it? How come I care so much about hell when you don’t? How come I’m wrong when I say that truth is relative?

Vanilla ice cream is delicious. There is no absolute truth.

Everything about life is subjective. That is the nature of reality and the beauty of it, too. God will not damn me to hell because he did not reveal the same truth to me that he did to you. God is Abba, Father, Mother, Protector of his/her children in life and in death. He knows where our differences lie. He knows that fear will never be solid ground for my faith, even if it is for you. We aren’t the same.

You know that God is the God of second chances. You know the parable of the Farmer and his workers. He hired men to tend his vineyard, and they worked all day starting in the morning. When afternoon came, he found more men waiting for work, and when he asked them why they were waiting, they said nobody had hired them. So he hired them, and they worked until the end of the day. When the Farmer paid all of the workers the same, the ones who had worked from morning complained. “‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you.'”
(Matthew 20)

God is in control. He will save some of us now and some of us at the mouth of Death. We will never be penalized for waiting.

I’m waiting for God. All of the faithless are waiting. We cannot be cast into hell for the knowledge that is withheld from us.

The road to truth is dim and slippery and every human being is given a separate route.


She has coffee with him a few times, just to talk, because he’s friendly and he has good advice and she feels a very particular sense of comfort when she’s around him. She’s only 18 right now. She meets him every couple of months. It’s always nice to catch up. That’s what she tells herself, anyway, and what she tells her family when they ask questions, and what she tells her friends when they wonder why she keeps seeing him. She can admit to herself that it might be a little more than just catching up. It might be really nice when he touches her shoulder or smiles at her, or even when he makes fun of her or says something a little hurtful because he’s in a bad mood. But nothing more than that, of course not, not when she’s 18 going on 19 and he’s some age she isn’t sure about, probably almost 60. Give or take. They first met when she was 13, so of course he doesn’t think about her that way. She’s almost certain.
They stick with coffee for 3 years until she’s 21 and they’re in line at Peet’s and she asks in a low voice whether he’d mind getting something else, something with a bit of a kick. He laughs exuberantly, planting a lighthearted palm on her arm. She wonders, not for the first time and not for the last, whether he thinks about that — the arm pat thing — before he does it. Does he do it just to comfort her? Or out of habit? Or out of the need to be in contact with her?
They resume the usual conversation at a bar. He holds his liquor, but she gets hit hard. She keeps trying to fix her eyes on a stain on the floor, but her vision won’t stop shifting. Everything is very warm, and warmest of all is his presence. She gets quiet when she’s drunk, but he gets talkative. Her leg brushes against his while he’s talking to someone else. She’s not sure if he notices, so she just keeps it there. Suddenly his hand is barely touching her knee. Barely. She’s still unsure whether he’s paying attention. She always thinks she’s reading too far into things.
He tries to talk to her, but she can’t follow his words. He seems to pick up on that, because she can hear him saying “It’s already 10:15. Can I drive you home?” and she nods but being apart from him is somehow the worst thing she can imagine. She’s sleepy, but she doesn’t want to go home. Just wants to fall asleep in his lap, because he’s solid and warm and capable and she keeps remembering that one time, three years ago, they made eye contact and it felt like an anchor being thrown to hold her down in the physical realm. Something possesses her to ask him about it. “Do you remember…” she starts, her lips numb, and her hand reaches out to grab hold of his forearm and softly knead his skin between her fingers. She can’t figure out how to end the question. “…nevermind.” His hand is on her hand, now, and she knows he’s smiling but she doesn’t look up at him. “I’m sure I do. Let’s take you home.” He’s standing up, holding her arm, leading her out of the restaurant while she leans a little too heavily against him. She’s hyperfocused on the thin little hairs sprouting between the joints of his fingers.
When they’re outside and about to get into his car, she stops him by putting her hands on each of his arms and leaning her forehead on his shoulder. She falls a little closer against him than she’d intended. “Don’t take me to my house.”
“I shouldn’t take you anywhere else. Especially not when you’re drunk. Come on.” But he doesn’t push her away.
For a second, she doesn’t say anything. Then she puts her arms around his neck. “Isn’t it tempting, though?”
His hand is on the small of her back, now. “Of course it’s tempting,” he says, in something tantalizingly close to a whisper, but she can tell he’s not going to give in. Not even when she presses closer against him and rakes her fingers through the hair at the base of his neck. She’s just a little 21 year old. But she’s with him right now and he hasn’t driven her home yet, so she’s not giving up whatever closeness he’s willing to offer.
She puts her hands on his neck, and he gently removes them. He runs the back of his index finger down the side of her face. “Not right now.”
She hardly remembers the ride home. Only the aching, receding energy of leaving his car and stumbling to her door, of looking back and finding he hasn’t left yet. He doesn’t leave until she’s inside, and even then, he sits and stares after her until he can’t feel the residual electricity of her desire. Then he drives away.