My last secret revealed how the town in Imaginary Girls is based on a real town, sort of. So you should know that the reservoir is a real place, too, even if I made up some stories surrounding it. This is the Ashokan Reservoir in the Hudson Valley of upstate New York, which used to be a fifteen-minute walk or so across the highway from my house. It really is illegal to go swimming there, but just like the characters in the story, my friends and I ignored the No Trespassing signs and snuck in to cool off on hot summer nights with full knowledge that we may have to flee, and fast, if anyone saw or heard us. I admitted in an interview recently that I did swim illegally in the reservoir as a teen, and I was asked if I was ever caught or arrested. No, I never was. But my friends and I, on a couple occasions, did have to quickly grab our clothes off the rocks on shore and run.
The last time I went swimming in the reservoir was the night before I left town to go to college. A friend of mine suggested we walk there, just the two of us, a friend who is no longer with us. I saw her only once after that, months later in town, and never again. When I think of the reservoir, I think of her, and how I was so preoccupied with my own life I never did anything to help save her. That night kept coming back to me, and I wonder if it’s one of the reasons why a night swim at the reservoir became such a pivotal moment in Imaginary Girls.
When I was writing I began to think that I should go back upstate to see the reservoir again—to breathe the air, catch the reflection of the moon on the water, dip my toes in… I thought it would help me describe the place better, since I live in the city now, and have for years. But I kept postponing the trip. Finally I decided I shouldn’t go back, not until the book was done. It was memories of the place that brought the story to life, and I didn’t want to shatter them. So I stayed away, on purpose. And, actually, I haven’t been back to the reservoir since.