To this day I have a co-dependent relationship with nightmares, thoughts of death, and the big and beautiful end of all things. I think this love has moments when I makes me a more courageous and thoughtful person; it also makes me terrible inside.
In 2003 there was a blackout on the northeast. It was summertime and I was at camp. I was about 12 and I remember it being scary to lots of kids at the time. This was two years after 9/11, so the terrorism paranoia was spread on real thick and chunky. Any day the terrorist would come and kill us.
So this blackout comes and the children were scared. And for a little bit I was too. But, I believe that it was that moment that something snapped in my brain. I saw a marker and a pile of construction paper and a kind of rapturous delirium took over. On several sheets of paper I wrote a series of deranged phrases like:
“THE END IS NIGH”
“THE END IS HERE”
“THEY COME FOR YOU”
“THE END!!! THE END!!!”
I’m pretty sure I actually only did the first two, but you get the idea. Less people found it funny than I thought. It scared most of the kids and even a few of the camp counselors. I walked around with my eyes all bugged out with the signs in front of me. I made a lot of people uncomfortable, because to a few kids, it really felt like we were caught in the death throes of civilization. No light. No parents. Only each other, the remains of the snacks, and scared ill-equipped teens as our guardians.
Kids believed it was the end, and my weird faux-prophetic signs added to the collective horror. Based on the reactions of the people, the end began to feel more real for me, and I started to believe myself. Christ, one of the guidance counselors violently ripped one of the signs away from me, only to see another one right behind it — they were THAT freaked out. If this is the end, I will maintain a firm grasp of the minds of my immediate community. Because as I see it now, knowing the fears of your audiences and dipping your finger into the psychic wound is how you rise to power. I was 12, skinny, awkward, insecure, quiet, wildly out of touch with my peers, and pretty much an easy target on a normal day.
But was different. Something unpredictable happened, and for a sliver of time, nothing made any sense. The center could not hold. Without streetlights, stoplights, and instant message — our immediate universe began to unravel so quickly that someone like me — a pre-pubescent homeschool student — could pull on the string. I desperately wanted attention, and with night just around the corner, a flashlight, markers, pastel construction paper, and a dumb joke I could hijack these people by the gut. I thought I wanted to tell a joke, but I really wanted power for a fraction of a moment — and in a moment where people gave into their fears and their worst selves, people gave it to me. Even if they HATED the joke and what I was doing. They gave me power over their minds because this is what people do. They give in to their worst fears. They become their worst selves.
And maybe…JUST MAYBE, being the focal point of my peers anxiety, masked my own fear and weakness.
At the time, it was so terribly funny to me. So many people drinking the piss. I was doing the same thing, only smiling. There was something cool and radical about leaning into the end times. This was the beginning of my fascination with apocalypse. The end of all things. Just as we live, we die. We’re all careening towards the same black hole.
So, if the world must end, why should I be scared? That’s so fucking boring. Why be the butt of the joke, when you can be in on it? When you can shape it, and the reaction people have to it.
At the time, I was staying over my Aunt Sharon’s, and I had been relying on my cousin Alex to touch base with her since he had a cell phone, and my sister, he, and I all travelled together. I forget what we ate for dinner that night. I remember that we went walking a lot. I think we went to visit my great aunt. I remember looking up and being able to see the stars for a bit.
I went to bed at a reasonable time; I was still a child.
I’m not watching the inauguration right now.
I’m not certain what the point of this story was on this day. I don’t really think there is a moral to take away. I’m even uncertain of the growth I experienced in this story or since this story. I was an emotionally challenged child who would have rare sociopathic tantrums. I am now an emotionally challenged man, and am generally too tired or busy to manipulate people.
As I stated we are all dying, and when I am false or manipulative, I physically feel myself die quicker. If you ever see me drop dead without any medical or external cause of death, it’s because I lied a lot that day.
There is no point to this story. It is barely cathartic. It is not a confession. There will be no uplifting epilogue. I have wasted your time.
Maybe, I’m telling this story because I want to understand the atmosphere of apocalypse that we are collectively smothered by. It is not enough to say that if you are reading this, you are still alive. Why?
If you know me, you’ve likely heard me say “the world has already ended.” So what does that even mean? Am I saying we are fucked? Is it a meaningless platitude I mutter to sound cool?
I’ll admit, I have a collection of phrases that I think make me sound cool, and I think a few of them have landed with people. But I truly believe that the apocalypse is not one event, but a death of worlds over and over and over. It’s a smattering of events that mean something in the long run. Every post-apocalypse is the birth of some new world. This is not a new idea, but perhaps one that needs restatement.
So the question is not, “when will the world end?” but “when did the world end?”
Will there be a final cataclysm to shatter EVERYTHING? Yes, but that’s like a science conversation that I am not really equipped to lead. Everything ends, but what does that even mean? Again, I’m not going to go there.
We are the ashen roaches in the aftermath, scuttling along the ruins of the wasteland. In fact, human beings are lightyears worse than any vermin – we build bombs and kill children to honor man-made concepts of power.
But whatever, we’re gross nightmare creatures who probably don’t deserve a shot in the universe, but we have one. And from the moment we are shat into the world to the moment we are shat into the next, we have a billion-billion chances to do something good. And we can fuck up that many chances and still have that many opportunities to point ourselves in the right direction and try again. It doesn’t matter who we choose to follow, or who we deem “in charge” — we have that chance to do something. Live. Die. Right. Wrong. Create. Destroy.
So what have we learned from this? Probably not a lot, but whatever, I hope this was a welcome distraction from whatever negative feelings you have. I probably need something like whatever this was more than you.
I am writing this. You are reading this. The world ended a long time ago, and though I don’t know when that was, you and I are still here.
We have that chance.