When in 2011 I walked into my gym and saw the meltdown at Fukushima on a television angled above the treadmills, I had not seen earlier news coverage of the preceding earthquake and tsunami.
I was ill-equipped, accelerating the unmoving track, to understand the national task of reconciling the immediate ruin of environmental disaster and the social conditions it—I would have been unable to decide—either exposed or reproduced, and the slow violence of nuclear fallout, in which few lives are immediately lost or endangered but, over time, Japan’s water and food supplies faced contamination.
I read online that a billion seconds ago it was 1982, and the Challenger disaster was four years away. I cannot find the source that estimates the April 2011 tornado which ran from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham exacted $2.4 billion in damage, but I think about my high school friend, who two days later would text me hunkered in a bathtub under a mattress, and wonder if his great-grandparents, 2.4 billion seconds ago, intuited the ruins of the future are part of our present structures.
My mother told me our neighborhood regained power at the end of the week, but in the case of the bathtub, can an understanding of space as a relationship, and one of space as an occasion, be reconciled?
When my friend’s mother drove across town to take me to the hospital, she surely passed a now abandoned subdivision. The heavy cream pastes electrodes over my forehead and scalp which will determine how much of this was built into a past, nanoseconds away, and if, by the final day, deep waves from the temporal lobe rise and crawl across the forebrain.
Liberate the trauma from the past and recognize it as coming from the future as well. In the uncited measurement of damage—and given the current American life expectancy—in the future from my sweaty warm-up under footage of an evacuated Ōkuma I will be dead 24 years, inconsolable by any insight this will produce.
Born and raised in central Alabama, Engram Wilkinson now lives in California where he studies law. His work has most recently appeared in The Offing, LIT, and Lunch Ticket.