Meet Little Miss End of the World

Tomorrow I will go to work.

Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. Tomorrow I will. I’ll do my best to avoid the TVs playing CNN throughout the office, though it’s possible there will be so much other, newer, awful news to show over and over that anniversary coverage will barely make air. (The producer in me calls bullshit: anniversary packages have been cut and dammit they will be run!)

This year might be different. Not tomorrow specifically, which will likely be hard and harrowing especially because this whole year has been hard and harrowing.

But this year I tried something different. Yes, there is a story there. No, I’m not ready to write about it, not yet. It’s not some miracle. It’s no cure, not a clean slate. A new intent, maybe. A new map.

Really it’s about trying a whole series of things that are different. Soaking silently for hours in a teak boxes of mineral water. Lying on the floor in the near-dark and meditating in long-held slow stretches. I didn’t know before I was capable of such stillness. I wasn’t, I guess. I couldn’t hold that quiet calm through the fear and worry and unknown places my mind might wander. Now I find myself reaching out to those edges.

I have been searching and searching through my memories and my old hard drives to find a tiny scrawl I made in late 2001. I have probably made that search before but if so I left terrible breadcrumbs for myself.

Finally: I found her.

Meet Little Miss End of the World:

October 2, 2001.

I was at my parents’ house in Reno, in limbo between New York and San Francisco. I was drowning every day, every night. Barely keeping my head above water in the middle of that hot dry autumn desert. Drenched in guilt that even though I’d planned to move west on September 15 now somehow I was abandoning the survival we needed to do together as a city. Far too traumatized to do anything and yet carrying on every day.

I wrote this:

living alone means you get to decide what kind of person you are, i said when i first moved [to new york]. it means, do you go to the movies today or read a book? cook a meal or walk down to a restaurant? fuck around or make something useful of yourself? no one’s there in that crowded house to tell you where to go or what to do, not even when the sky is falling.
so i was alone. i stood alone on the edge of the apocalypse and spun in circles and choked on ash and remembered no one was there to lead me home if i didn’t find it myself. good thing i’ve been trusting no one but myself this whole time, i thought, because that’s who i’m left with. and i found my way, followed, asked, soldiered on.
and maybe i spent too much of those days after alone, too, because when i close my eyes i see her, my little stick figure on an empty half planet. no buildings, even. no people. no smoke. no flat white light. this is what the end of the world looks like, except i know now that it will be worse than what we’ve been able to imagine. i’m officially making her my friend, little miss end of the world, this self of myself that i see when i try to sleep. maybe if i know she’s just a little digital picture i can manipulate and resize and put where i want i’ll remember where i am, why i’m leaving this time.

I survived. I’ve survived. I was 24 and it changed everything except that the world continued on, good and bad and better and worse.

This year has been worse. Today, so far, is okay. Tonight I’ll go curl up on a hardwood floor in some semi-fetal position and reach out for those calm wisps at the edges of my consciousness. I won’t be alone. I’m not alone.

I wasn’t alone then, either, but now I know at least that much so deep in my bones it doesn’t ever let go. I’ve learned better language, precise and clinical but also elusive and intuitive, for understanding and accepting what trauma does to your brain and body and what will or won’t or might not or just might ever heal the way you’re expecting and in many ways you hadn’t.

I am not alone at the end of the world. And neither are you. Maybe I still needed that little scrawled drawing to remind me. Or maybe you do.


Originally published on September 10, 2017, at tinyletter.com.