As a child raised in a Christian household, I learned at a young age that our souls are eternal and go to heaven after we die. We go on forever, no one you love is ever really gone, etc. I think this was supposed to comfort me, but instead, I was horrified. “How long is that?” I asked my mom. “Like, when do I stop existing?” I’d ask. “You never do! It’s forever!” came the cheerful reply. And then panic would ensue.
I think every weird kid—maybe that just means every kid—has (at least) one thing that trips them up that doesn’t seem to affect anyone else. For some people it’s noticing your heartbeat for the first time. For others it’s the very idea of death. A friend of mine was scarred forever when she noticed how glitter enters and sticks to every nook and cranny it can find. For me, it was the idea of forever. Infinity was far too big a concept to wrap my young brain around. It terrified me.
While my sister had nightmares about the old McDonald’s-commercial villan Hamburglar (and that guy was creepy), my bad dreams were just objects spinning in mid-air forever, or conversations that were happening so slowly that they would never stop. One day in science class our teacher told us about how if you’re ever in space and you’re pushed slightly, you’ll just keep moving in that direction…forever. I was unable to sleep for weeks. I just kept picturing myself endlessly flying through the cold, harsh loneliness of space. The rollerskating rink I frequented had a highly reflective, icy-looking floor that was probably some cheap version of marble, and I developed an intense fear that if I fell, I would just break through that floor and keep falling. What was under that floor? Was there another floor? If not, would I fall forever? I couldn’t bring myself to skate there until they replaced the fake-marble floor to a non-reflective (and, frankly, safer) wooden one.
I thought about forever constantly. I thought about what it might mean, and what heaven and hell might be, and what it meant for something to never, ever end. With grownup eyes, I can see now that my fear was a combination of not being able to process such a lofty concept, plus the sheer unknowability of infinity (the unknown is always very scary). If something starts and doesn’t stop, what would it look like on day 14? Day 992? Day 2,924,728? The same every time? Different? When things are so open-ended, there is no sense of closure and no way of controlling outcomes—and I think that’s ultimately what was so scary to me. Without any control over my own circumstance and fate, I felt like a little insect on a countertop, subject to any and all outside manipulations, unable to do anything but react to what was happening to me. Which is essentially what childhood is like.
I grew into an adult who is a bit of a control freak—I prefer “control fan.” I don’t mind being the leader in social and professional settings, and in a group, I tend to be the one to rally everyone. I like to act rather than sit around and consider the possibilities, and if there’s a carpool situation, I’m going to want to be the driver. But I do my best to not be so doggedly into “my way” that I can’t let others lead if they want to
I continue to be a little freaked out at the idea of infinity. After my grandmother passed away, as we were going through her things, I found a day planner of hers from the early 1980s. Most of it was mundane stuff, but on the last few pages, she’d written a bit of a poem to herself about how the patterns in life keep repeating, and how she hoped she’d be able to “make sense of them yet.” This comforted me in a way nothing else has. It turns out that Grandma and I are cut from the same cloth, and that cloth really hates repeating patterns. I recently saw Gravity, the Sandra Bullock movie that starts (STARTS!) with her astronaut character set adrift in space after a botched mission. I loved the movie, but during the course of it, I bit all of my nails until there was nothing left to bite, and when it was over, I had to put my head between my knees and take some deep breaths.
But I have learned about a lot of good versions of infinity. I have a photo of my husband Kumail and me on an up escalator; we are dressed up and kissing. The picture was taken on our wedding day, my best friend, after our ceremony at City Hall, and when I look at us, riding a metal staircase to our future, I am happy that it gets to live forever. That we get to be together forever. The same goes for the very strong memory I have of my father finding a cassette tape in the refrigerator, and my entire family laughing so hard at how it could have gotten in there that we all collapsed onto the floor. My memory of being seven or eight, in a pile of giggling family, will be with me forever. And I know this is cheesy, but the infinite nature of the love I feel for my family, for my close friends, for RuPaul, and for Kumail brings me nothing but joy. Those bonds are uncountable, immeasurable—they are without beginning or end. But they don’t scare me—quite the opposite. They make me feel safe, cared for, and important. I try to picture that love out in space, maybe wearing a space suit?, endlessly traveling into the unknown. I feel lucky to have it in my life, and I wish it well as it hurtles to its next adventure. I wish it times infinity. ♦