[Editor's Note: The following is Part V of an unfinished short story that the author and BlockRadius have chosen to publish in serial form, until its expected completion in Fall 2019].
PART I - Click here
PART II - Click here
PART III - Click here
PART IV - Click here
I had just finished my first week at my new job as a so-called “consultant” when Hurricane Florence hit, my first job out of grad school, and it consisted of a variety of activities I would forever struggle to describe singularly, or ascribe to a single discipline, probably because I refused to call it what it actually was, which was simply: consulting. That first Friday, I came home exhausted and flicked on the news. I saw all my favorite cable news studio anchors, out of the studio and inside the hurricane at the edge of the Carolinas. You heard it all. Record wind and rain. Utter destruction looming. Billions of dollars in flood money. Days and days on end.
Finishing off my Styrofoam, coffin-shaped platter of by-now-cold Halal-truck chicken and rice, propping myself up off the couch by the elbow for the final bite, collapsing back onto said couch from whence I had propped up… In a food coma I had brought upon myself, already glassy-eyed from staring at a computer screen all week, I let hours of Hurricane Florence coverage wash over me. I absorbed very little -- only that I was not there, and that others were. Others were, or would be, suffering, helping, drowning, rescuing, doing, being… And what was I doing? Who was I becoming?
When I was ten, I remember sitting in my den during Hurricane Floyd, playing solitaire on the floor because the power had gone out and that meant that the TV had gone out, too. School had been canceled. The rain resounded like an endless barrage of pebbles against the windows. It was dark in the middle of the day. I was not allowed to go outside. Nor down to the basement.
In high school, the summer after Hurricane Katrina, I spent four weeks sleeping on the floor of a suburban Mississippi middle school classroom and doing various “hurricane relief” tasks in the local community, which meant that whatever the community needed, we would do and call it “hurricane relief.” Which I liked. And which perhaps helps explain how I had ended up a “consultant.”
When I was 23 and living in Brooklyn, and Hurricane Sandy had knocked out the power in Lower Manhattan, I had my first brush with post-apocalyptic society. Without traffic lights, the traffic had slowed, more obedient than ever to the right-of-way of pedestrians. Without refrigeration, restaurants staged mass cook-outs and gave away free meat. Without radio, bar patrons sang songs, a cappella or accompanied by a ukulele unplugged.
But where was I now?
Weeks passed, and work continued. I liked my job, was good at it, was challenged, and was learning. I began seeing a girl who was very talented, very cultured, and very good to me. So things were clicking. On a personal level, life was good. But only, it seemed, on a personal level. One weekend, I went back to New York City and went on a beautiful bike ride with a friend up the East River Bikeway that led us to the United Nations Secretariat Building. We docked our bikes and walked over. It looked like a giant computer chip, the UN Building did, one of us said. It looked like where the Architect in The Matrix works, said the other of us. It’s amazing that it’s both transparent all over, and as imposing as it is. All clear glass, and yet, impenetrable. A week later, the UN’s IPCC Report Global Warming of 1.5°C came out and I thought of the world ending, and the world’s most urgent warning a product of that building. And rumbling on a bus across the Bolivian Plateau, past Lake Poopó, which is big and blue on the map but in reality has been completely dried up for three years, having just kissed the girl with whom I envisioned spending the apocalypse Goodbye, for the final time perhaps. And became very sad, very concerned. Even on a personal level.
Another couple of weeks passed. Work was still good. Hurricane Michael struck Florida as by certain measures the most powerful storm in 50 years. My new relationship was budding nicely; I was beginning to contrast this new girl favorably with the girl with whom I once envisioned spending the apocalypse, since the life I was now able to envision was, I dreamed, how life might be should there be no apocalypse. A month passed. Wildfires in California raged, the country’s worst in a hundred years. The name of the wildfire, since all natural disasters had names these days, was Camp Fire. It was the kind of name that made one do a double-take in the direction of reality. Camp Fire, really? But even stranger was the name of the town in which the Camp Fire originated: Paradise, CA.
Another month passed. I turned 30 years old. I was changing. Like a photograph left out in the sun, the way photographs used to exist in physical space and be left out in the sun, the girl with whom I had once envisioned spending the rest of my life, but not the apocalypse, had begun to fade in detail, until inevitably it occurred to me, with singularity-like clarity, that perhaps I knew even less about her now than I had when we first met. And then like a dream she was gone and reality set in.
PART VI - Click here