You find yourself moving forward in Google Street View on an avenue that cuts east to west across downtown Chicago. Your presence is silent and swift. The application requires you to move through traffic incrementally, an apparition in this faux reality of your choosing.
You’re here because you just read an article in Rolling Stone about exposure therapy, in which military veterans used virtual reality to safely experience and process PTSD triggers from combat zones. Under the supervision of a therapist, they talk through the feelings that come up—in order to create new neural pathways and ease future distress caused by their traumatic memories.
But you are not a soldier and this is not Afghanistan. You are a thirty-five-year-old woman sitting in front of a computer monitor. Because you can see your city’s skyline through a few leafless trees outside your window, you feel safe enough to run your eyes along a two-dimensional map of the city you used to live in. On a whim, you enter Street View, and your pulse quickens. Your body doesn’t seem to know that over a decade has passed.
Instinct tells you the apartment you’re looking for is between Damen and Western, so you try that stretch of Grand Avenue first, losing yourself in the repetitive scenery as you go. Your eyes scan a three-flat red-brick apartment building with a glass block window on the ground floor. Next to it sits a single-story warehouse with a garage door. This architectural arrangement, which you pass at least three times in ten blocks, makes you feel as if an invisible hand has reached out and grabbed you by the guts. What do you hope to gain by revisiting this place? You know that no answers will be found via Google Maps. But you don’t have anywhere else to look.