The note was forwarded to my Gmail account, from a name I'd never heard before. It didn't look like spam. It was from a man named Tim, and he sounded pretty mad. He said he knew who I really was. He wasn't angry or anything, but he didn't want to talk to me anymore. He said I was sick and needed help, and he was concerned for my safety. Confused, I sent an email back, not knowing what had led up to this. This was how I met Emma.
I knew I was dissociating. I'd been dissociating since February. I can't speak for others who've dealt with it, but dissociation is one of the most misrepresented psychiatric phenomena in popular culture. Forget the stories of hypnosis and crime. And forget the popular image that people somehow enjoy it. I remember that morning, as I learned that Emma (one of my alters) had been carrying on a quite bizarre sexual relationship with the man named Tim (who was only a few years younger than me) over the internet. It didn't take me long to find evidence of Emma's handiwork: AIM logs, a Gmail account in her name, fetish forums and Flickr searches in my browser history, and a cache of unusual porn. I was reminded then not of the movie K-PAX or old Law & Order episodes, but of the movie Fight Club, right when Edward Norton realizes that he and Tyler Durden are one in the same.
I should explain. At the height of my madness, there were four of them: Jennifer, Emma, AK, and Haley. Jennifer was their unofficial leader and spokesperson, and my self-proclaimed protector. Jennifer also thought she was a robot, though she also possessed enough self-awareness to know that she wasn't real, and therefore was good at keeping herself hidden. Talking to Jennifer was like giving my ability to be rational and reason a name and conversing with it. An imaginary friend who occasionally took control of my body when I didn't want to. It could be an awfully convenient arrangement at times.
Emma, however, was a little bit different. Emma was my emotion and insecurity, who one day woke up and decided she was an eighteen-year-old girl. There was simply no stopping her. I certainly couldn't control her. Emma did not share Jennifer's self-awareness, either. As I pieced together what had happened with Tim, I discovered she'd created an entire virtual life for herself. Tim was not the only relationship of hers, either. There was Steve, and George. The former was an auto mechanic in Calgary, Alberta; the latter a musician in Scotland. A few checks of various places and I determined that Tim was the only one who'd figured out she wasn't real. However, Emma was having internet sex with all three.
I didn't really have a system of calling them. Jennifer spoke for the other three, but she had trouble controlling Emma, too. As it turned out, however, calling her wouldn't be necessary. In my panic, Emma came to me. She thought she had died. I charged my Droid and prepared for a very, very long walk. I wasn't in control of myself, and it was going to take a lot of concentrated effort to get myself back under control. Looking like a stark-raving lunatic, I walked down to the waterfront. This was more or less going to be the most difficult thing I'd ever had to do in my entire life, at least thus far.
That was April. By August I'd more or less stopped dissociating, but Emma was never gone. She may no longer have been independent, but she was still an integral part of me. Controlling my emotions has always been one of the hardest things for me to do, from childhood right up until now. People who know me know what kind of outbursts and mood swings I'm capable of. They make me feel deeply embarrassed and ashamed. That was in its own way the driving force behind my dissociations. I was being forced to feel things that I was either unwilling or unable to admit and acknowledge, and so I outsourced them to imaginary friends who could feel them for me. Until I could admit my insecurity for myself, she'd always be there, and I'd always feel her.
In my experience, you can only really see things for what they are after you've let go of them. It's taken me a year, but I think I've finally let go of her. It wasn't some epic psychotic battle that they make movies out of; I didn't go catatonic. I spent most of my life desperately trying to convince myself that I didn't care what other people thought of me. I had a real shell I could put up around myself, a tough, angry-looking shield that could keep people from getting in and letting me feel the shame and embarrassment. I pretended. In the end I probably wasn't very convincing, either. But I do care. Maybe that makes me shallow or petty, but I care very deeply about my image. It was only by admitting to it that Emma ever really went away. It was, in the end, a very bittersweet experience. When I realized she was gone, it was like I'd lost a very close friend. And there is a mourning process for friends like that, imaginary as they are. Letting go of her is letting go of a part of myself I'd clutched to with white knuckles for most of my life. I'm tired now. Whether the reader understands it the way I do or not, this is a huge step for me. I'm in uncharted territory. But it still feels good, like I've freed myself of something heavy.
That's not quite the end of the story, though. Emma was simply too rich a character in her own right to simply abandon. So, being a writer, I did what I knew best. I'm proud to announce that Emma has been reborn, as the protagonist of my new novel, which is currently about two thirds of the way done. I'm excited about it, because this novel is unlike anything else I've ever written. There aren't any robots or lasers or death-defying combat scenes (though there are aliens). It's just an honest look at the art of letting go, heartbreak, and a nice clean take on the apocalypse. I'm not ready to share too many details just yet, but I think now you'll be able to know how personal it is for me to write this story, and hopefully that'll really show through in the character and narrator.
So that's me, Saturday May 21st, 2011. I'm at the end of one phase and starting another. Now if you'll excuse me, I believe the rapture is scheduled for a few hours from now, and I'd like to go loot me an iPad.