After the bombs rained down, the world entire was an open wound; it was in those bleeding years that I became a man. I was twelve on November 8, 2016, the day America lost its collective mind, a day which now lives in infamy for those of us who remain, the few that survived The Fall.
I recall that my father never believed the country would elect The Donald; we used to laugh at the news shows as a family, shaking our heads in disbelief at the words spewing out of the man’s mouth, and marveling at the way so many decent people were willing to overlook the threats he made. It was all there, nothing concealed. The racism, the misogyny,the blatant lack of human decency was on full display on television and on the internet twenty-four hours a day during the months leading up to the last election. The other candidate had some issues with emails. No one remembers what those were anymore.
That was back when we had email and televisions and cell phones. Kids go blank now when we try to explain those devices, because that technology is so far outside the realm of reality, children don’t believe it ever existed. The old-timers who were there are viewed with great skepticism and a certain disdain, as though we are woefully ignorant of U.S. history.
Back when there was a United States, we used to learn history. Most of our history now comes from legend and lore, and history is no longer written, but spoken and sung.
But I remember.
The dollar collapsed. (This was when currency existed, before the time of barter). After that, the entire global economy imploded. Civil unrest spread like wildfire throug the city streets across the United States and western Europe. Nationalism surged, and interment camps sprouted up on both contingents, where refugees and dissidents were rounded up and never heard from again.
Russia invaded the Balkans, and the west cowered in fear. NATO no longer existed, weakened by the U.S. pullout, and the EU itself was ripping itself apart. There was no way to stop the horde of armor rumbling across eastern Europe. The United States stood idly by, vowing to act on behalf of England and Germany, but staying out of the fray. “There will be peace in our time,” the President promised. Another lie in a long line of them.
I don’t know who launched first. Maybe it was the U.S. Maybe it was Russia, or Iran or Israel. It escalated too quickly from several tactical launches to full-scale global nuclear war to be sure. ICBMs streaked past one another through space and pounded major population centers. Submarines stationed off coastlines unleashed payloads onto military installations and vaporized navies.
We were on our way to the family farm in Tennessee when the Emergency Broadcast System blared in the middle of the night. I asked my father what the glow in the sky was, far off to the south, where the horizon looked like the sun was about to rise, the darkness cut with orange streaks.
“That’s the world dying,” my father said.
Later, when skeletal families showed up at the farm dying from radiation sickness, dysentery, starvation, or plague, I remembered what Dad said. He was right. The world was dying, and I watched the death throes every day for years. After the initial die off, there were more years of anarchy, when we were attacked by roving bands of people that didn’t seem like people anymore. They were animals, bent on death and destruction, murdering for fun and food, raping for pleasure, enslaving others because they could. The law of the jungle was the law of the land.
I’m lucky to be alive, I know. I lost my family during the years following the Fall. Now, when my kids ask me about it, they wonder why America didn’t do something to stop it. I tell them that most people are kind and decent, but that the really bad ones have a way of convincing everyone else to overlook the truth. I tell my children that because there’s nothing else I can think of that makes sense, and the words leave me with a hollow feeling.
Maybe there is hope, though. Maybe my kids will get it right, and the next generations will be better than the ones that came before.