Live Through This

Infinite Fear

Forever is scary, man.

Collage by Beth.

Collage by Beth.

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. ♦

15 Comments

  • Abby December 18th, 2013 11:41 PM

    This reminds me of how I felt when I still believed in God. Frankly, the idea of it all scared the shit out of me. There’s a big guy up there that’s watching everything I do and if I fuck up he’s going to send me to a place of eternal torture for FOREVER?? After I realized I didn’t believe in God, I also realized that the idea of just dying and being totally GONE was way less scary than the idea of living forever… even in heaven. I mean really… what the heck am I going to DO up there for FOREVER???

  • zephyr December 19th, 2013 7:55 AM

    The fear is infinite and the bravery is everlasting.

  • pizzaface December 19th, 2013 9:07 AM

    Beautiful article!

  • Etima December 19th, 2013 9:37 AM

    I believe in God and heaven and hell and yes, this still scares the shit out of me because ETERNITY is such a weird concept. It freaks me out. Like, FOREVER JOY vs. FOREVER TORTURE.

    But at the same time there’s something pretty…cool about it. I’m not sure. I don’t like thinking about it because it, like I said before, scares me. So I guess I haven’t come to a conclusion on that topic.

    • anoziram December 31st, 2013 3:36 PM

      i agree with you completely.
      it’s frightening, but almost in a good way. but we don’t know because we’re not there yet, and we feel like we’ll never really know how it’s all gonna end.

  • umi December 19th, 2013 1:11 PM

    man,i love this.my grandpa’s a jehovah’s witness and basically he believes that god will save all the people who did good and they’ll live forever and there will be no sadness.LIKE? that is so terrifying to me,to live forever and and experience no sadness.dont get me wrong,sadness and pain sucks but it’s just a part of life.i think growth happens a lot from the bad things that happen to you(i do not wish bad stuff upon anybody but the thought of eternal happiness freaks me out)

  • elliecp December 19th, 2013 2:24 PM

    this is beautiful. I’ve been feeling like this recently as I’ve felt like time is passing to quickly – like each moment must be perfect as I don’t have any time to lose. It’s a bit panicky at times, but it’s quite nice actually, as I’ve felt like I’ve really been ‘living’ these past few months…which is so amazing in comparison to previous years. <3

    http://roseandvintage.blogspot.com/

  • honorarygilmoregal December 19th, 2013 5:19 PM

    The concept of forever has wigged me out at times, and still continues to. But at the same time it’s really fascinating.

    Also, love love he movie Gravity.

    hhtp://perkstobeinginfinite.tumblr.com

  • Flossy Mae December 19th, 2013 5:40 PM

    This is beautifully well written. Is it just me thought – can some others enlighten this?!?!- but I am not in the least bit terrified of dying, although the concept of eternity bloody freaks the shit out of me!

  • nicoledoesnothing December 19th, 2013 5:55 PM

    This article is incredibly relevant because lately I’ve been developing the idea that if heaven is real I would ask based god to allow me me to stop existing, or at least sleep forever.

  • flocha December 20th, 2013 6:00 AM

    Oh my god this is so amazing! I get what you mean about everyone having something that freaks them out which doesn’t seem to bother anyone else. For me, it’s the idea of forever but also an on/off fear of sleep which I have tried and failed to explain to others on numerous occasions.

    http://whimsicalprocrastination.blogspot.co.uk

  • mangointhesky December 20th, 2013 2:32 PM

    I LOVE the article, but to be honest, my favorite part of all is the picture. Can’t get over looking at it!

    http://thebluepapaya.blogspot.com

  • maddzfashion December 21st, 2013 4:09 PM

    Lovely article. I can definitely relate. As a future thinker myself, I always worry about the unknown; 2 months, 4 years, or even an eternity to come. It’s great to know that this feeling isn’t completely foreign and that other people share the same uncertainty. Thank you!

    http://www.maddzfashion.blogspot.com/

  • ellamay December 22nd, 2013 11:48 AM

    And I thought I was the only one who somewhat has this fear. I’m glad now that I know there is actually someone who share what I feel about this idea of INFINITY or Forever. Sometimes at night, I would go to bed and think, “when will this world end? Will it go on forever? What about after a million years? If the world becomes non-existent, what will happen and what will be left?”, not out of depression or hopelessness but extreme curiosity. I do believe in God but sometimes I just wonder about the existence of this world…how long will everything go on? I admit, it scares me.

    http://ellamayho.blogspot.com

  • andyprime February 4th, 2014 8:39 AM

    I’ve had this fear since I was eight. I know I’ve always had apeirophobia (fear of eternity), but I’ve quite gotten over it already when I was about ten. But it comes back from time to time. I hate how the anxiety comes back every time I encounter something that is infinity-related. This is one of the reasons why I decided to dismiss my faith. I couldn’t stand the thought of living forever with my mind composed of void spaces. It’s torture.

    A lot of people fear oblivion; but oblivion is my only hope.