The You Who are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies is a permanent exhibit
in the Phoenix Art Museum, also known as The Firefly Room. Thousands of LED lights hang
from the ceiling, with mirrors on all four of its surfaces. Though it is a small room, it is made to
feel like the vast expanse of an infinite galaxy. I call it The Infinity Room.

I ask Meghan, my girlfriend, “Can I try holding your hand? Maybe that will ground me enough
to be able to do it this time?”

The first time I walked into it, years earlier, I made it a few feet before stumbling back out the
entrance. I tend to panic when I lose awareness of where I am at in a space, and the room is
designed to obliterate this awareness. But maybe the first time was a fluke. Maybe holding
Meghan’s hand would keep me from feeling completely lost and disoriented.

“Okay, but please promise me you won’t let go,” I say, looking her directly in the eyes to
emphasize how imperative this request is.

“I promise.”

I make it halfway into the room with her fingers laced between mine. All good. The unexpected
sense of confidence and comfort makes me think I might be able to make it on my own, so I let
her wander off.

My confidence fades in seconds, and I can feel my heart begin to flicker in my chest like an
attacker just cornered me with a knife. I reach my hand out to find a wall and re-orient myself,
but what I see as a wall is nothing more than a reflection, and my hand whips through the open
air. I have no idea where one thing begins or ends. I see the exit sign out of the corner of my left eye. My feet immediately start moving in that direction; I am not making conscious decisions; my body is simply reacting to fear. I am trying to steady my breath and walk slowly. A few steps in, my feet take off towards the exit sign, in almost a full run. And then I smash forehead first into a mirrored wall. My lungs can’t get enough air, and I know I will suffocate or stroke out in less than a minute. My heart is crashing against my chest. It feels like it will explode out of my body.

I bounce off the mirrored wall and stumble to my left, back out through the entrance: my
salvation. Emerging back into the lobby of the museum covered in daylight from the large
windows of the building, half running and half stumbling, I hear a man say to his wife, “Well,
someone must not have liked the Firefly Room.”

“I’m having a panic attack, you asshole!” I yell, stammering to get the words out while trying to steady my breathing. The man immediately looks ashamed and apologetic, but I don’t have the mind to stop and work it out with him. It’s imperative I get outside and breathe fresh air.

At the age of twelve, I walked into the garage of our home in Arizona and forgot to turn on the
lights before the automatic hinges on the door pulled it shut it behind me. I was familiar with the space, so the darkness didn’t immediately scare me, but when I swiped for the light switch and missed, I had to put extra effort into negotiating my way through the darkness. A few moments into this unending darkness were enough to make me think about eternity.
After I finally managed to flick the lights on, I stood there in a daze, obsessing over the idea of
time without an end.

It wasn’t the first time. And I didn’t really understand why it happened. The only sense it made
to me is that the devil must have been tricking me into thinking that eternity is an awful thing.
I had been raised as a fundamentalist evangelical Christian. Psychological explanations didn’t
really exist. All matters of life — to my adolescent brain — were matters of the spiritual world:
angels and demons.

I would often obsess over how incomprehensible it was to think of a time with no end. It left me
petrified, every time. I couldn’t move or speak. My heart would race as I stared off into the
distance, immobilized by swirling thoughts and questions. Everything is supposed to have an
end.

Even if I am with God in heaven, how could it possibly be tolerable to go on forever? Wouldn’t I
eventually be tortured by boredom and want to have the option of ending it at some point?

Eternity is not freedom from death; it is the ultimate trap. We are imprisoned by unending life.
But eternity was unavoidable. Everyone slips into eternity.

The obsessing, worrying, and heart racing left me feeling like I doubted God. I hadn’t yet been
taught about mental health, or anxiety, or panic attacks. This was a spiritual thing. Handling the idea of time with no end was hard enough, and the risk of it occurring in hell was enough to
make my twelve-year-old heart feel like it would explode from my body.

 

~ Jeremiah Blue