Good thing I hadn't sent her the site I’d found that utilized Google maps to determine the spread of nuclear fallout, I thought, because then she’d really be mad. All you had to do was type in your zip code, select from a drop-down list of bomb types and sizes, and it would show you on the map how far the nuclear fallout from that particular bomb would reach. But my intern had just gotten in and I knew she'd at least appreciate it, so I ran inside to show her. Sometimes, on slow days at work, we’d go out to the parking lot to discuss and practice survival skills: recognizing different plants, starting a fire with natural resources, using different ways to try to tell direction. I was so glad I worked at a weekly paper; a daily wouldn't have allowed the time for such ridiculousness.
I've always been convinced the world will end in my lifetime, collecting canned goods during especially neurotic periods and often telling myself I should put together a proper, vegan-friendly disaster kit.
For a few weeks after September 11, I refused to leave my house for anything but school and wouldn't even see my friends. But they knew me very well; one night they were able to entice me out of the house with a bottle of Blackhaus. (As my friend The Legend once said of drunken Tiffany, "She sings; she dances; she takes a bottle of Blackhaus to the head.") They thought it might keep me from screaming, ducking, and covering every time I saw a plane.
I was so drunk by the time we got to Molly Bloom's — the guys' favorite bar because of the wings and Monday Night Football; mine because the bartenders often overlooked the fact that I was only 20 — that I wasn't allowed past the door. My friends took turns standing outside with me, as I continued to simply drink the booze we had brought with us, bouncers be damned.
Two storefronts down was a statue shop with three concrete steps in front, completely unattached to the building, leading to nothing. In a drunken stupor, I climbed the steps, wobbling the whole time, while my buddies James and Rich chain-smoked cigarettes and watched, curious to see what I would do next. I raised my hands up to the heavens above and began to preach the apocalypse. A group amassed around me; cars on Main Street slowed down to hear the crazy drunk girl. "Everyone will be safe if they're in western Massachusetts wearing their favorite t-shirts," I told the crowd. Naturally, I was wearing my favorite t-shirt from an ice cream parlor in the lesbian Mecca of Northampton.
I spoke about the coming end of the world, werewolves, aliens and other random things. Finally, I'm told, I yelled out, "The commodious fly is a very large cabbage!" Then, I insisted that my friends carry me down those three steps, which weren’t very high in the first place.
Rich and I later came up with a survival plan in case there were more terrorist attacks. First step: Get the hell out of the U.S. The obvious place to go: Canada.
The next step: Determine where in Canada we'd go. Rich felt that several Canadian provinces, such as Nova Scotia, would eventually become U.S. states, so those would be ineffective to escape to because then it would be like we'd never left the country in the first place. We couldn’t go to Toronto, because it's a pretty big city and likely the only place to be bombed if anybody were to ever bother to bomb Canada. We couldn't go to Montreal, or anywhere in Quebec, because they’re French-Canadians and hate Americans, and will also likely secede from Canada eventually, anyway.
We also had a theory that we shouldn't go to any city where there were a lot of sports teams. The more sports teams a city has, we reasoned, the more likely it is to get bombed. So our completely sensible, not at all bordering-on-conspiracy-theorizing rationale determined that the second anything happened we’d go to Winnipeg, whose only professional sports team that would have ever mattered in the U.S., thus mattering to terrorists, was the NHL's Jets, which folded in the mid-'90s anyway.
This remains my contingency plan to this day.
But my obsession with the apocalypse really ramped up when I met N.
Despite the 3,000 miles separating us — her in Portland; me in New York — things seemed to be going way too well, suspiciously well, from the very start. Where was the strife, the awkwardness, the panic induced by excessive insecurity, clinginess and neediness? Why was I, gasp, happy with someone? That never happens. Surely, then, the world must have been spinning madly on its axis towards certain and imminent disaster in an effort to thwart the only relationship I've ever actually wanted to be in.
Therefore, this meant I must spin madly towards my own inevitable and unavoidable crash and burn. Foreshadowing at its finest.
N and I met through a mutual best friend who moved to the West Coast after college and connected us when N visited New York City and I still lived on Long Island. And it all started with a drunken make-out after bonding over playing Sleater-Kinney on the jukebox at a gay dude bar on the Lower East Side, though it seemed more to do with annoying our mutual friend than actually being interested in one another.
But it somehow evolved — from a one-line Facebook message afterwards to a paragraph-long response to five paragraphs to ten, then on to hours-long phone calls to all-night phone calls. The next time we met up was in Nashville to go to Bonnaroo. We spent more time in the hotel watching the Country Music Channel than going out to see live music. Taylor Swift and the Nashville Parthenon — a carbon copy of a classic piece of architecture — became ironic symbols of our burgeoning relationship.
Even before we made it to Tennessee, she said to me, "Listen, I know your long-time best friend. I've heard it all from her before you and I even met — the women, the drinking, the partying. I can't consider a relationship with you drinking the way that you have."
No problem, I said without thinking. I'll quit drinking, I swore, with the caveat that I would drink on my birthday three weeks later. And I didn't drink again until my birthday. But after that, I was back to hitting up the bars every day. I adored this girl, so I couldn’t tell her and risk losing her. When I talked to her, Happy Hour became Starbucks; drinking at home by myself became watching movies; barhopping in Brooklyn became working on writing projects with my best friend.
I visited her in Portland, and never touched a drop of alcohol, never even felt like I wanted to pick up a drink. After she kissed me goodbye before I got on the bus to the airport, ever stoic, she turned away from me immediately — she didn’t want me to see that she was so upset that I was leaving. She texted me later drunk from a bar to say she hated I had left; she didn't want to sleep alone.
The first thing I did at the airport was down two beers — strong local brews — and felt that familiar warm feeling in the pit of my stomach immediately. I had started missing her the second she turned away and I climbed onto the bus.
On the late-night flight home, I stayed up the entire time, drinking beer with the girl sitting next to me. She was from Rochester and worked as a shot girl at a seedy strip club in Niagara and popped pills as I drank. I told her about my trip to Portland and how I was in love. She told me about the nervous breakdown that drove her west for a month. When the plane landed at 7 a.m., my eyes were wild and red, but not because of the lateness of the flight.
Even before that trip, N and I spoke often of my moving to Portland. But I was broke and could barely make ends meet each month, let alone save up money for such a large-scale move. The date of my West Coast arrival got pushed back every few weeks; neither of us said it, but we both knew it was unlikely I'd be able to get to Portland before the year was over. As the distance got to us, the tension between us grew. And as the distance and tension grew, the more I became conscious of the tiny lies I told her every day to hide the truth that I was certain would drive her away. I started having panic attacks that I never told her about.
I began stockpiling canned goods. At first just a row, they grew into a medium-sized pyramid in my living room closet. Whenever there was a sale at the grocery store, I'd grab a few more cans of veggies, figuring it would be the best way to remain vegan in a nuclear winter scenario. (There were a few especially cash-strapped weeks where I broke down and had to eat some; but I always replenished the stock.)
I told her about the collection and could feel her roll her eyes at me over the phone. When I eventually was able to move — to Florida, not Oregon, because by then N and I were irreparable — I donated the cans to a local food pantry.
During a night out at my favorite dive bar, Jerry and the Mermaid, for white trash karaoke in a setting that seemed straight out of a David Lynch film, my friend sat me down in a corner to make me confront the truth I had been hiding. "Do you plan on going to Portland and suddenly never drinking again?"
"That was kind of the plan."
My friend shook her head at me. "You've been dealing with the drinking for years; you know if doesn't work like that. You need to tell her."
The next day, I broke down and told N. I'd been drinking the entire time, non-stop really, probably even worse than I had been before I met her, partially because I missed her so much. But I couldn't lie to her anymore.
I received the reaction I expected. We were done. She wouldn't even speak to me; she couldn't speak to me. I’d broken her heart and her trust. We emotionally tortured each other for the next year or so via technology, texting non-stop during various periods of time, but she would never talk to me on the phone — it made me seem like too much of a real person, she said. By text and e-mail I was just a faceless, voiceless entity.
Without her in my life, my downward spiral continued and before I knew it, I was drinking a bottle of vodka a day. It was only a matter of time before something had to give, so I threw myself into it full force, hoping it would happen sooner than later. Over a weekend I refer to as "pre-tox," I downed several bottles of vodka and found myself being turned away from an archery range because my hands shook so much and hysterically crying at a strip club in the middle of the afternoon because a bad country song about having a broken heart came on while the girls danced. I checked into a detox program at a local hospital the next day.
When I got out a few days later, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I couldn't go to Portland, but I couldn't stay where I was. So I made one of my infamous impulsive decisions, giving two weeks notice to my job, putting most of my belongings in storage and moving to Florida.
September marks two years since I've moved to the Tampa Bay area. I've made some amazing friends. I've found a good job. I moved out of my father's house and into my own apartment in St. Petersburg. The always-quirky, always-welcoming, downtown St. Pete has become the background for a series of misadventures that occasionally spill over the bridge into Ybor City. I certainly can't say I’m unhappy, but there’s always been something missing. I unsuccessfully look for her in everyone I meet, everywhere I go. Dating is next to impossible.
My 29th birthday just passed. Even before I realized it was the day before the supposed May 21 Rapture, I decided to host an apocalypse-themed birthday party. I'd get a fog machine or dry ice to set that warm, cozy post-apocalyptic mood. I made an apocalypse mix on YouTube and found copies of Dr. Strangelove and Tank Girl. I planned to explode an erupting volcano and decorate a cake with dinosaur and zombie figures. We'd party until the apocalypse to see if those crazy Christians were right.
In reality, I passed out before 1 a.m. — too much neon green Toxic Sludge Punch.
When I woke up the next morning, I looked out the window; there were no rolling series of earthquakes, no pairs of empty shoes strewn about, no apocalypse.
I thought about Portland and N while watching the dog I was pet sitting for play in the yard. Maybe it was time to fully move on, to let my head and heart finally catch up with the physical distance; maybe it was time for a personal apocalypse.