You shouldn’t go, I said. It’s not safe out there, I said. We’ll make do, and when we can’t, we’ll build a fire and drink the wine we’ve been saving and lay in the bed spooning, you curled around me like a puzzle piece, and we’ll take the pills, I said. Don’t leave me, I said.
Through the window, I could hear their melodic chanting on the street below as I begged him to stay.
They were everywhere by then, an ever-growing mass of Bedouins lost in religious ecstasy, flagellates attempting to beat an absent God into their already bloody flesh, like the motley crews that wandered Europe during the Black Death.
“Rejoice!” all the graffiti says. “Rejoice! The End is Near!”
We need the food, he said. I’ll be right back with anything I can find. I promise. I promise, he said.
Back then, back in the beginning, we didn’t understand what we had done to deserve this Purgatory, a schizophrenic state of neither living nor dying, Schrodinger’s cats in a thought experiment designed by Mother Nature; designed by God.
I could hear them through the window, and I was afraid; afraid of their manic blood-letting, their ecstatic states of rapture, their single-mindedness and obsession with the bliss of agony. I was afraid for him to go.
Before the televisions stopped playing, before the internet fell, when there were still newspapers and blogs and lead stories on the six o’clock news, we saw what was starting to happen. It wasn’t something isolated only to the United States, or the North American continent, or even Western society in general.
Just as God punishes His children indiscriminately, so, too, do the laws of science.
We didn’t run out of water because we used the wrong lightbulbs; it wasn’t that we didn’t recycle enough aluminum cans or buy enough energy efficient appliances or invest enough money for alternative sources of fuel. It dates further back than our enlightenment a la Al Gore, further back than our collective awakening to the inconvenient truth of our adverse effects upon our environment, the Principle of Unintended Consequences made incarnate.
We ran out of water because we overpopulated our very finite living space; because, over the course of a few short centuries, we burned through all the natural resources intended to sustain life for the next several millennia. It is not wholly our fault, we who were once sadly addicted to electricity and plastic bags and the various trappings of the technological revolution. It is also the fault of the previous generation, and the one before that, and the one before that, dating all the way back to the onslaught of consciousness in the human condition.
Simply put, human beings have overtaxed the planet since the first piece of coal was burned in the Industrial Revolution, since the first river was diverted for the purpose of irrigation, since the first vaccine interrupted the natural evolutionary order and survival became an entitlement rather than a fight amongst the fittest. Biological life existed on this planet for millions of years, but it was only since humans started manipulating nature for personal gain that biological life became a threat. And, just like anything else, the planet will protect herself when threatened.
After society fell, those with a friend in Jesus called it Armageddon. Those with a belief in science called it inevitable. Those who warned us about the deteriorating state of the environment called it our just reward. The rest of us just called it Hell.
Let me go with you, I said. I can’t stay here by myself. Let me come, and maybe I can help, and even if I can’t, I won’t let you die out there alone, I said. Let’s go together, I said.
But he left.
I’ll see you soon, he said.
They came to the door one day, after he was gone, after I was alone.
You just need to put your faith in Christ, they said. You just need to believe that we will be saved, that we can compensate for the sin that brought on this apocalypse, they said. It hardly hurts at all, they said.
They were backlit by the sun, and they looked angelic and beatific, and they were smiling, and it had been so long since someone had smiled at me.
And I found myself smiling back.
Welcome, they said. Welcome to salvation. We alone know the true path, they said. We will find God in this desolate wasteland and we will find water when we do, if we are pious, if we are unerringly devout, and here’s your whip, they said. Purge yourself of sin, they said.
And that’s what happened.
That’s how I joined a wandering group of religious gypsies, trudging through mud and undergrowth and existential dread, beating away the threat of death and damnation, expunging our greed and lust and gluttony through the cat o’nine tails and the birch rod, raising ourselves to the level of the venerated and esteemed. Raising ourselves up to God.
We wander this New World, soaked in entropy, soaked in self-interest. Soaked in blood. We attract wild animals, running amok without the confines of cages. We avoid the gangs, hellbent on saving the few remaining resources for their leaders. We have mastered dowsing rods, rain dances, meteorological superstitions; anything for rain. Anything for water.
It is a purpose; it is a reason to move forward. It feels productive; it feels like doing something. Life no longer feels like a vacuum, sitting alone, simply waiting to die.
I really only think about him at night.