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I started awake, watching the ghost of my breath drift away, rapidly dissipating. My forehead felt like a block of ice, which could only make what lay within my skull a blizzard. I drew a quick comparison between my face and the rest of my body, and deemed myself warm, but for the exposed top half of my head. This was the problem with being off the power grid, or the anything grid, for that matter. You freeze at night and operate like a medieval peasant by day, and you bathe as often as a Hun. I was afraid to move the protective eggshell of my blankets, as my feet were finally warm and I was convinced even the slightest movement would throw off this balance. As the blizzard died down and my head cleared, I deduced that the fact that I could see my breath indicated that it was nearing dawn. Throwing my melting eyes toward the window, I observed fading blackness outside. For lack of a clock, I decided it was somewhere in the vicinity of 5 A.M.
I twitched, my groggy thoughts interrupted. I realized it wasn’t the cold that had awoken me, although that was usually a pressing influence. I sighed. Time for heroics, albeit as dim, as uninfluential, as the light that trembled through the window.
Down the uneven stairs, feet the equivalent of cinderblocks, eyes involuntarily drooping closed. Beautiful would be the antilogy of my current appearance. I had managed to pull on a lanate sweater, adding to my slightly helpful flannel pants. I mourned the loss of my warm egg, my bed, as I tried to thaw myself. Literally thawing, of course, was impossible, given the circumstance. However, mentally, I had to prepare myself, drag myself out of sleep.
I followed the sobs, heart flinching with each. All was dark, and the crying was not assisting me in lighting the way. I crashed into a chair of some kind, but was not deterred, despite my now smarting elbow. At least I could feel something. I knew whose voice the sobs belonged to now, and used this opportunity to make myself known.
“Maria.” I said. I didn’t call, or question, or yell, or inquire, or sympathize. I stated her name like the fact it was. I heard a rapid intake of breath, like a sped up sigh. Using this as a locator, I wove through the den of shadows that was actually a living room, and into the kitchen. The fire still had embers going, and this thrust a small burst of light, as well as a welcoming warmth, toward me. I rotated toward the left and saw Maria, sitting at the kitchen table with her head in her hands, sobs still raking her body. The orange light cast by the fire threw her quivering frame into profile. This reminded me of those black, wooden silhouettes that old people used to pin against their houses, those things that are supposed to look like people but are merely façades. Those profiles always frightened me, much like this one, because they represented something false. The falsehood that Maria had just proven to me was that light, warmth and flames, all fundamentals to my definition of bliss, could not quell the inner darkness and sadness that haunts us.
She turned toward me, which sparked my realization that I was paused rather awkwardly in the kitchen doorway. I advanced quickly, placing my hand on her shoulder. She started, and then sobbed louder. Understanding her need for a kindred human touch at this moment, I wrapped my arms around her like some sort of bedraggled octopus, feeling not only awkward, but now unsure of what further action to take. We remained this way for a while. I had decided not to stare into her frizzed mop of unwashed hair, all cast in shadow, but rather at the devilish glow of the embers.
“I hate this.” She said abruptly, voice ringing out challengingly into the smothering quietness. She sounded strong, sure of herself. This was surprising to me, as I had imagined her voice to be choked, weak, and timid. “I want my life back. I want this to end. This Apocalypse.” she murmured, stating more facts, with more firmness. Everything was bare-bones right now, not just the facts, but our existence.
“We can’t.” I said, rasping with the numbing effects of sleep still in control. My lips were chapped from the cold, and they stung. I could feel the vertical lines ingrained into my flesh, like a barcode set in Braille. We can’t change the past, and we can’t change the future, and we can’t have our old lives back, and we can’t stop this, and we can’t prevent the destruction of the human race, and we can’t end this. That’s what I meant to say.
“I woke you up. I’m sorry.” she sniffled. I listened to an owl outside and a mournful response from one of the cows in the barn. She did too. I was gathering words in my head like a chicken, methodically scavenging the seeds of thought.
“Look. Things could have been worse.” I began, pulling out a chair with one of my cinderblock feet and removing myself from the smell and aura of Maria’s dirty hair. I sat down stiffly, like an old woman. By now, sleep had almost released its hold on me, and the steady heat produced by the fire was bringing a minimal amount of relief to my cold frame. Already, the sun was helpfully casting light on the outside world, as if it wanted to help me illuminate my thoughts as well. “Maria. Look at me.” She obliged, removing her hands from her blotchy face, eyes still streaming little rills of tears, the imprints of her palms still resting, ghostly, on her cheeks. The shadows made her look otherworldly. Actually, everything seemed otherworldly these days, because this was, literally, a completely other world from the world we had known.
“Everything could be worse. We can’t go back to a time which no longer exists. Nobody can. All the people that once were--teachers, the homeless, pro wrestlers, park rangers, doctors, journalists—they are no longer what they were. Nothing is the way it was, and it never will be. But this change doesn’t have to be bad. That guy, some guy, sometime, somewhere…he said ‘If nothing ever changed, there’d be no butterflies.’ This change may seem bad, but just think, just think of the possibilities it unlocks. The new way of life for humanity. Because we’re no longer polluting, because we no longer have control…maybe in this Apocalypse, this monster of our own design, we are saving ourselves…saving the world. Species can come back. S*** stops being pumped into our atmosphere… Our population slows its rampant, exorbitant growth. Plastic houses stop being carelessly built in once-beautiful forests! Food becomes food again, not some sort of commodity mass-produced in a factory… Just think! All of the self-created problems we’ve busied ourselves with…disease, drugs, pollution, politics…there are more…But just think about it! All of them, everything, everyone…nobody cares! They are irrelevant, meaningless, nonexistent! Humans are no longer the parasites, the grubs, that feast off the earth as if it can perpetually support us. This world, our world, is simple. And yes, you can argue that it is dark, unenlightened, but isn’t it…isn’t it beautiful? In its simplicity? In its rhythm? Isn’t this new world that we’ve been pushed into…” I paused, shaking my head; my words not assembled correctly, all of my stupid Hippie arguments blending into one. I had gotten ahead of myself.
“Isn’t it what?” inquired Maria, and she wasn’t crying anymore, she was more intrigued than upset.
“Isn’t it like we’ve been pushed out of our chrysalis, out of our golden cocoon of enlightenment and civilization…and aren’t we butterflies now, all of us, in our change?”
We stared at each other, digesting my outburst of bottled-up ideals. The sun shone meekly through the window, and the embers, glowing serenely, stared at us too.
This metamorphosis has not been into darkness, but into light.” I whispered, as the young beams of disorganized sunshine strengthened and took flight around us.