A Personal Apocalypse
I usually turn away from apocalyptic movies and literature. They make me uncomfortable in a strange way. I cannot imagine living in a world on fire, but it is so close to reality for me it feels impossible to bear. But there has to be something there. Like people are deeply and acutely aware the world is dying and we are contributing to that. Even the global warming-scientific-fact-deniers acknowledge this somewhere in their psyches because they attend the box office too. But when I think about the end of the world, I realize that it is never the Earth exploding. The Apocalypse is simply the end of the world as we know it. So I mostly think about the end of my world. The uprooting that happens in those things that are part of my life.
Maybe that’s selfish.
I think about death. Like, how you hear someone’s voice on the other side of the phone saying “I love you” and four hours later, in the middle of the night, you get a phone call that they have suddenly, unfathomably died.
They are gone.
To process that means the world has shifted and it can never be what it was before, or what the future was supposed to be. It is the end. And so begins the cultivation of everything you already know and everything you can know in order to survive in this new place. Because that’s what post-apocalyptic characters tell us: you’ve made it through the demolition, now figure out a way to rebuild life in the desolation.
I picture flames. Maybe because I live in California and there is less and less water every day, and as far as we know, we cannot manufacture water. All the water that is on Earth is all the water we have. And it’s just leaving the state and flooding others. So I think in terms of flames and cracked earth. I also have a strange fascination with fire that is twisted around a deep-rooted fear of it.
In the book Fugitive Pieces, by Anne Michaels, the main character, Jakob, hides in the wall inside of a cabinet when the Nazis come to his house and murder his family. He escapes and runs, crossing the river, then turns and stands watching his house burn down, with his parents and sister’s bodies inside. He stands, watching their souls rise up above the flames, like a family of phoenixes. How to join them, his world. Jakob’s own personal apocalypse. Then, “the soul leaves the body instantly, as if it can hardly wait to be free.”i It’s comforting to think when you hear about a death in which the body suffered, the soul was already gone. Returning to its loved ones, its soul mates. To think, his soul could have been there in the room with us when we got the phone call. But what happens to the soul inside a body that continues to live through these enigmatic changes? Jakob was found by a Greek geologist who smuggled back to Greece where he began his post apocalyptic life.
May 4, 2015 journal entry: “I am so full of everything. There is so much hope for change, a revolution of my despair…my motivation is paralyzed by such a deep sadness.” When a nuclear bomb is detonated, the first effect is the shock wave, a force of pressure pushing everything out. Then a wind force sent out from the detonation. Then the fallout: the sending of debris through the mushroom cloud that will then fall over the Earth’s surface over the course of months. Not the mention the immediate and lasting effects of the radiation released. This is what death is like. The death pushes everything out, shattering the structure of people’s lives, then a second wave, a reminder of the gap of the missing person, and shoots it upward. A mushroom cloud of fragmented memory settling over everything for months, years after. Nothing is ever the same.
The word apocalypse comes from the Greek word apokalupsis, meaning to uncover or reveal. When the nuclear force pushes everything out, uncovers everything, what is underneath? I am somewhere in the middle of looking forward and looking back. Hoping, somehow, he can return. That he can reincarnate. That he was a phoenix. That his death uncovered calloused relationships and the taking for granted the connectedness of humanity. Knowing and learning all at once the necessity of each other to survive.
i Michaels, Anne. Fugitive Pieces. New York: Vintage International, 1996. eBook.
Rebecca Woolston has appeared in From Sac, The Black Rabbit, Red Light Lit, and The California Journal of Women Writers.