We the People—the Imaginary People you think about way too much—need to have a word with you. Look, we don’t want to make this weird. We are not here to shame you, but come on. Why are you so obsessed with us? We realize that everyone has a head full of Imaginary People—that it’s considered normal to think about people you have never met or don’t really know—especially the way social media have broken everyone’s brain. But let’s be honest. You’ve taken this “Imaginary People” thing a little too far.
We, your Imaginary People, have gathered here today in this echoing marble chamber of your mind to stage something of an intervention, or to prosecute a trial of sorts, if that’s how you choose to see it.
So we bang our silver gavels on this mahogany bench.
Our gavel-banging is loud and upsetting; it makes you shut your mouth. And with that, we call this meeting to order.
First to testify: the Imaginary President of the United States of America.
The floor is yours, Mr. President.
“Thank you, esteemed council of fellow Imaginary Americans. I stand before you today to discuss how much real estate I take up in your mind and how I do so, as they say on Twitter, ‘rent-free.’ First of all, why does your brain give me so much sway over your moods? Do you not realize how priceless equanimity is? Why do you allow me to ignite your panic and plunge you into the depths of despair? Why do you post more about me on Facebook than you do about your own loved ones, your own dreams and desires, your own visions for the future? Wouldn’t it be better to get off Facebook and Twitter altogether if this is all you can do? Why not turn off your iPhone and reach out to the real people in your life? Offer them your hand in kindness, your heart in joy, and your shoulder in compassion.
“Am I not a fire that needs the oxygen of your attention to even exist? Yet you complain that this fire burns and tortures you so. And as you can tell by these cogent and beautifully crafted sentences, I am just some figment. The real president of the United States of America would never speak to you this way. The real president of the United States of America could never compose words so poetic or mystically precise. This is your brain creating a silly illusion and, quite frankly, not a very convincing one. The real president could never spell ‘figment’ or ‘cogent’ correctly, nor even muster such words.
“Also ‘muster.’ Not a word I’d ever use. At least not properly.
“Oh, and now you want to argue with me and tell me that if you don’t obsess over me, then you won’t be participating in our democracy.
“Now that’s rich.
“Democracy needs your political posts to exist? Forgot about that part of the Constitution. Go right ahead then. Covfefe away! I can see I am not going to convince you. After all, I know you as well as I know myself because you and I, we are just projections of one another, ‘shadows on the wall of a cave,’ as Plato once said. So what you hate most about me and everyone on social media is what you hate most about yourself.”
Instead of dropping the mic like you thought your Imaginary POTUS would, he starts coughing uncontrollably. Your Imaginary President of the United States pops a butter rum Life Saver, and then he hands the mic to a very real-looking, but equally imaginary, Troy Aikman.
Imaginary Troy Aikman doesn’t speak. He doesn’t have to.
He just blinks and smiles because he knows that your memories of his consecutive Super Bowl wins are the very foundation of an impending existential crisis. You are actually terrified that the Cowboys of today will never be the Cowboys of the 1990s. But then again, who in Dallas isn’t terrified of this? And this, in turn, makes you tear up at red lights because it’s just another reminder that nothing lasts forever, not even those eye-blue skies over Irving when God was smiling down on Texas Stadium.
Turns out that Imaginary Troy Aikman is so silent not because he doesn’t want to speak, but because he’s at a loss for words. He, like you, is struck silent by the fact that perhaps our best days are behind us. So he passes the mic to a Greek chorus of your vacationing co-workers who will sing you ear worms and pop hooks from your least favorite songs. All your most annoying friends are here, too—the jerk faces who flood your Instagram with pictures of their ugly feet on beautiful beaches, the ones who use hashtag “blessed” and claim in their posts that they “may never come back lol.”
So crash your phone on the barrelhead, son. Shatter that mirror and return to a world before that iPhone emerged fully formed from Steve Jobs’ head, before we all sheltered in place, raging behind our keyboards. Go back before you stared only at your phone. Go back. Go back. Back to 1994. Back to the Barley House when the Old 97’s sang “St. Ignatius,” and Rhett and the boys couldn’t find the words to make it all right. Back to when everyone nursed bottles of light beer and we still had hope for the future.
Will Clarke holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of British Columbia and lives in East Dallas with his wife and family. He is the author of several works of fiction, including The Neon Palm of Madame Melançon, Lord Vishnu’s Love Handles, and The Worthy: A Ghost’s Story.