I tried out a new kind of seitan last week. Rosemary garlic. As I picked it out of the cooler, I wondered how much longer I would be able to do this. Go to the grocery store. Pick out food. New, interesting food. Food which has been designed to be new and interesting. Food which was grown in California or Kansas, which has traveled many miles to get to me, which has been processed and packaged and the packaging stamped with a design, itself the product of many years of school, and many weeks of emails going back and forth—re: bird - final version; we still think its eyes are too big / re: bird - FINAL final version; I have removed the eyes). The emails ripple across switches and relays, bouncing across a mesh of machines, each maintained by invisible people, all built with material drawn from distant mines, great gashes in the earth, carried by sea and on and on and on.
I go home and eat it. It's good, of course it's good, rosemary and garlic are great together. I eat a little too much. I feel very full. I wonder if there will be a day when I cannot remember what it is to feel very full, when I look back and remember wistfully what it was to be able to go buy seitan and chocolate and eat as much as I want.
I find myself saying goodbye to things over and over.
My parents are going to die. I didn't used to know this, and then I did, and it's impossible pin down the moment when all living things die and my parents are living things gave birth to their inevitable conclusion, but only recently have I begun to feel anything like the full weight of it. And still I know there is a mountain I cannot feel. My parents are breathing and well. Aging, but not sick. Mom practices yoga. Dad practices tennis. Yet every living thing lives so that it may die.
The past few years have seen a subtle reorientation in our family dynamics. For a while, there were rends and rumblings and tumult between my parents and sister, and the movement of those plates has released tension on my own relationship with them, in the social tectonics that underlie the bedrock of all families. Surely, also, we have all changed, and the consequence of this change is that I love them more easily now. With mom, who has since I came out to her spent hours in meditation, there is a new openness. With dad, I have finally come to accept that there are things inside him he cannot bear to look at, locked doors that must at this point stay shut. I was angry about this for years, frustrated at the mess he was leaving around, an enormous horde of emotional baggage left laying about for my mom and I to step around or surreptitiously tidy up. Now, I simply don't go into those rooms. We talk about math and space and watch science fiction together. I'm sure that when he passes, there will be an enormous amount of cleaning to do. But I can't make him do it. And even if I could, it feels almost cruel to make an aging man go through and clean out the carefully aggregated and ignored traumas of a lifetime. Besides, perhaps the house will burn down first.
I see myself in my parents, and I'm lucky in that this doesn't strike me as a bad thing. Dad is intellectually curious and capable; he delights in science fiction and electronic music, although our tastes in both, ah, differ. Mom is also brilliant, adventurous, and empathetic. She speaks five languages. She moved from India to Iran in her early twenties, moved back two days before the revolution, and then left again for the U.S. They're both really quite impressive people. We agree politically—mostly, enough, far more than most. They see racism and hate in the world and wish it wasn't there. When I came out, they didn't respond well at all; and, eventually, they got over it. They just want us to take care of each other, they want a government that embraces and helps everyone, and so we can connect in our despondency over everything that's happening in the world right now.
My sister is like our parents too, though she leans towards dad, mirroring his handiness and intransigence, blending in some of mom's anxiety to round out the palette. My sister has been watching The Handmaid's Tale, and I'm not sure it's good for her.
I've also been watching The Handmaid's Tale. I'm not certain it's good for me, either.
Both of us watch anyway, sucked into the portrait of our world unravelling in a way that plucks your insides with terrifying familiarity.
I didn't used to have much truck with apocalyptic fiction, being depressed in a more Sandman-prone way. These stories about the Fall or the time after the Fall when everyone is struggling to survive in the Wastes—they seemed to offer facades of gritty realism, but were, in their own ways, as impossible as Death walking up the street in a top hat.
I didn't use to think the world was going to end. Anyway, I certainly hoped it didn't. I didn't believe, and I didn't want to believe, a gyre of optimism and delusion spun in part by necessity. I suspected at the time that I would be useless in an apocalypse. I think I'm a bit better off now, and also, I am pretty sure it has already begun.
I remember reading histories of WWII in high school, and thinking why didn't they just leave? If it's 1938, and you're a Jew in Germany: get out get out get out. Of course, this is stupid and patronizing. Escape is not easy. You have to move to a new country, which takes resources not everyone has. You have family. Friends. Work. Your life is here. Do you end your life to save it? Is this the moment when you decide things will never get better?
And so here we are, as traumas rain down like punches from a bully we knew—we knew—was coming for us. He holds us as he hits us. He has many arms, like a Hindu god, but he is not one of them. His face is ten thousand faces all twisted up with hate. It is an old god. It was more powerful once; it was beaten back; it was not killed. It has been growing again; is strong, again. Is this the moment it lets itself go?
My sister and I plan our family escape. Routes and meeting points. Guns and motorcycles. I am not authorized to discuss specifics.
We open these conversations with clear statements of our belief that what we’re talking about is very unlikely. But how it is, nevertheless, a good idea to have a plan to get the family out of the country if it becomes excessively fascist. Better to have one and not need it than the reverse, as they say. We say these words as a ritual of protection. We wear them as gloves to handle possibilities that would burn us if touched directly.
There is something pleasurable about the process. This is a pleasure rooted not in joy but perversion, in the incredible satisfaction of picking at a scab. Each pluck hurts, just a little, and this tiny pop of endorphins spurs your fingers on. Reading about the apocalypse strikes me as onanistic in this way as well, power fantasy combined with torture porn. Getting your thrills at the end of the world. The Handmaid's Tale show gets its share of critique for this, the powerful visuality of TV making clear the voyeurism of experiencing suffering in this way. But it's not clear to me books are better—rather, simply, that the horrors we summon for our pleasure are locked away in our minds, rather than illuminated in billions of glowing pixels.
I think often of our family escaping. We would make good TV in our own right. Our parents are in California, and we both think it's unlikely that California will fall, at least not at first. Even in the Handmaid's Tale, the whole west coast is still free, fighting Gilead. My sister and I and her family are all on the east coast, near the levers of power, and if the world goes pear shaped, this will likely necessitate an escape to Canada. In the show, my sister gets the first kill, blowing someone in half with a shotgun to protect her kids. I end up carrying whispers and hope between resistance cells, learning and then teaching fighters how to drop IEDs from drones. We do not make it to Canada, at least, not in season 1, which ends with all of us separated, in different peril. Pence is sworn in, Trump having finally died from injuries sustained in an assassination attempt earlier in the season. There is a vigil by the mall. A silent protest. Soldiers approach. Open fire. We don't hear the gunshots. Instead, Punching in a Dream (Stripped) plays.
There are many possible futures, and this is just one. In seeing it, recognizing it, and putting energy towards it, we inevitably summon it. We choose the gods we give energy to, and when you pay tithe to the God of the End, you rest your palm on the minute hand, nudging it just slightly closer to midnight. Of course, when the great wolf is outside braying for blood, it would be stupid to block your ears singing la-la-la and hope it goes away. Maybe it's braying for someone else's blood? No. We have no choice but to prepare for the end—and all of us together, preparing for the end, serving the god's many faces, this is what shall bring it about. Facing the end, we must be ready to protect each other; we must be ready to run, and to fight. This fire in our blood is the God of the End's favored form of worship, and it gobbles up the prayers hungrily.
The God of the End promises many things—amongst them, liberation. We will be free, without all this. Hunted, yes. Traumatized? Bleeding? Possibly dead? Yes, yes, all yes. But maybe we can build something better, after all this has gone. Maybe to save the world, we have to just burn it all down.
I used to think about killing myself a lot. You could get away from all this. Little demons, minor souls of Ω, whispering as dad yells at me. It could all be over they tell me as my whole family fights, their vaporous, heavy souls curling around my stomach, their pungent tongues whispering an offer of power, the greatest power in the whole world: the power to end it.
They don't come back much these days, but once you've cracked the door to those whispers, you're never really rid of them. These days, I treat mine as tiny messengers, telling me when the world is becoming unbearable, and other things too.
The apocalypse choir sings with many voices. Some say kill yourself. Some cry warnings:
They're trying to bomb politicians.
They're murdering Jews in Synagogues.
They are growing a new kind of army.
They are teaching it the taste of blood.
It can get much, much worse.
Look: The kettle is barely hot.
The world has only just begun to warm.
You know where this is going
All of this is going away.
All the lights go down as I crawl into the spaces
Fight, flight, or the screams, life tearing at the seams
On the worst days, I think they will shoot me as we try to cross into Canada. Perhaps we drown crossing in a boat—I have always suspected I will die by drowning.
If it falls apart I will surely wake it
Bright lights turn me green, this is worse than it seems
There are moments when I think perhaps there will be an election, and it will turn the boat of state that, for better or worse, we're all on together, and we will make it through this storm. These moments are vaporous, and I do not really believe them. The injuries seem too massive, the wounds too deep. Uncle Sam's dead, kids. The cancer finally got him.
Wait… I don't ever want to be here
Like punching in a dream, breathing life into my nightmare
There are moments when I walk through the city and think: I am going to have to leave here someday. And this makes me love it with a ferocity I did not know was there. Someday we will not have grocery stores or trains; my parents are going to die; I am going to die. Will we die together? Or will we be separated when it happens, by time or distance? Will I be in New York when I get the call? Will I have to fly out and disassemble a life, all of us mourning as we excavate long-sealed rooms? Or will the flights be grounded? Will I be far away? In another country, unable to return. Or returned, and jailed. Returned, and fighting in secret. Huddled beneath the floorboards, we whisper old stories to one another, of all the times they have tried to kill us before, and how they have failed, and they will keep failing, because we are the heroes at the end of the world, and we too are the cells of something ancient and powerful, we will fight, and we will live, and we will live, and we will live until we can no longer