Infrared lies just beyond visible red, the wavelengths hundreds of times longer than that of visible red, extending from the visible spectrum’s edge at seven-hundred nanometers and sometimes stretching to lengths of one millimeter. Infrared travels through fog and smoke, cutting through blinding darkness. My best friends collect weeks of dirty laundry off my bedroom floor while I stare at the blank television screen. Hollow brown eyes, greasy hair tangled into a ponytail, a blurred version of myself reflects back.
Humans recognize infrared in the form of heat: light bulbs, toasters, hair dryers, flames. Wrapped in his bedsheet on an autumn night, our bodies both emit and receive infrared waves. Chemical heat gifts us the illusion of a temporary bond. I feel a tangible absence a few mornings later when I wake up alone, my body radiating infrared with no response. Cold.
Even stars emanate infrared waves. Invisible tethers to the universe. I find it comforting, the idea that I am somehow in touch with the cosmic universe, that I am, like Ecclesiastes and Neil Degrasse Tyson say, made of stardust, that I’m not actually alone on my couch in my apartment, watching Saturday Night Live because it’s the only show that doesn’t make me cry.
Astronomers have discovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way with the help of infrared, which cuts through the gas and dust surrounding them. Loneliness paralyzes me, but connections to the stars, other galaxies, make me wonder if other versions of myself exist, versions who have survived the darkness, versions thriving. I hope those hypothetical selves are inside of me, too.
Pit snakes are the only creatures that have the receptors to process infrared visibly. They use this ability to register prey in the darkest parts of their habitats, to attack what the prey assume are safe places. I used to think that he was the snake, his venom infecting my explosive laugh, Monday movie nights with my roommate, until I disintegrated. Looking back, I see myself as the serpent, lashing out when he directed his attention elsewhere, forcing him into arguments about his ex-girlfriend, all so I could prove my distorted truth: that I was unworthy of love.
Infrared is used in night vision goggles because it detects that which is invisible to us, recognizing interstellar dust clouds, which float through space unnoticed. When I feel I’m searching inside myself for something but come up empty, when I think I’m supposed to have the answer, the cure for the depression that plagues me, in that moment, my friend perches on the edge of my bed, and I pull the quilt over my face, hoping to hide the cascading tears. His presence. What he doesn’t say: I see you, please stay alive, you are enough.