By Cara Weaver
I tell myself to focus on me
and realize that I am speaking to a stranger
I am 19 years old, sitting in my bed, crying,
when I first realize the extent of the damage
For the first time in years,
I am responsible for me
m e a l o n e
And although this should excite me,
beads of sweat coat my skin
Moments feel like hours
I am not sure if I am breathing at all
I tell myself if I can just finish a breath,
it would prove that I can do this alone
If I can just summon strength
from the secluded part of my soul,
just lift the saturated lung,
letting it d
drain of anything except air,
begin to breathe
will I be certain that I am here.
I am alive.
I will find me-
Whether it takes days
If I breathe, I am alive
If I am alive, I still have time
I feel my ribs poking my skin and,
I don’t look away
Place my fingers in their d i v o t s and
feel pressure push,
reach its peak
and feel a comfort I have missed
I am breathing.
And that is the first step to being okay.
Lana hadn’t quite reached her twenties, but there was a heaviness drawing her eyes down toward her cheekbones that suggested otherwise. Each day brought battles that wrinkled the flesh of her face in a way that she was told would only come with age. Those who gave her guidance no longer felt a generation or two away, but centuries. They liked to remind her about their lack of access to the internet and the way they had to use phones attached to the wall, but recently she had been blocking it all out.
Her own phone sat face up on the bed in front of her, but far enough away that she was saved from seeing her own reflection in the black screen. It was playing music, looping “That Funny Feeling” by Bo Burnham, as it had been all day. She started putting the device on do not disturb once she accepted that none of the news that she ever got was good. It was her form of self-care.
“Full agoraphobic, losing focus, cover blown
A book on getting better hand-delivered by a drone”
There was only one window in her room. It faced East, directly across from her current spot. She spent a lot of time looking out and wondering how much longer there would be any view at all. The air had been thickening for a while now, but each news source had different predictions for the collapse of humanity. Some said it was far enough away to be able to make a difference, preaching recycling and asking for donations; they swore they would save everyone. Some said it was hopeless, ranting about previous generations and how they treated the planet like their trash can and robbed younger people of their future. Picking sides didn’t help much, it just provided new enemies and gave you an opinion to grip to, white-knuckled and red-faced, whenever the topic was brought up. They all knew they were right and refused to think otherwise. Lana couldn’t remember the days when she could have conversations with people without setting limits on banned topics beforehand.
Thick clouds conglomerated over the houses in the distance, moving slowly, but closing the distance to her location nonetheless. Soon it would be her family’s turn to be engulfed. Or at least, that’s what user78392454043 said in their TikTok about the future. Directly above had been a video of a baby learning to walk. Directly below had been unedited footage of a mass shooting. Lana had scrolled through all three in less than a minute, her expression not changing in the slightest. What was the point?
“Total disassociation, fully out your mind
Googling derealization, hating what you find”
Despite knowing her family’s end was approaching, she stayed where she was, passing her eyes between the wisps of smoke and thinking about how they curled around each other, part of something greater. She found herself overcome with admiration for their teamwork, even if it was a means to her destruction. At least they were doing something. She hadn’t moved since getting up this morning to open her blinds.
All around her, voices battled for attention: newscasters from the living room television, neighbors screaming as they caught sight of the sky, her own parents downstairs developing an escape route as if they could outrun whatever was coming. They obviously had never read a Stephen King novel.
Everyone was at a different stage of comprehending their own endings, the endings of those they loved, and of all they’d ever known. Some were luckier in that they had lived a full life. Some were luckier in that they didn’t even have the capacity to know that the end was coming.
Lana tried to remember what it was like when she realized there was no more life left to live, at least on Earth. It was too long ago to recall in detail, but she was certain she had been quiet about it. She hadn’t screamed or ran for help, not that there was much of a place to go if she had wanted to. Other people used humor to cope, but she couldn’t find a laugh in herself no matter how hard she tried. She knew she would be criticized regardless of how she survived, either deemed insensitive or too sensitive or naive or pessimistic. It all just felt harsh. Cruel. This wasn’t the world she was told about when she was younger. So, she just took the news as it was. There was no trying to change the facts, because she knew it was too late anyway.
“That unapparent summer air in early fall
The quiet comprehending of the ending of it all”
She had never admitted it out loud, but she hoped that Earth was all there was. Everyone seemed to be praying for another planet, but she was tired. She knew that Earth probably wasn’t the end, a theory where humans are the only ones in such a large galaxy is narcissistic to put it kindly. But she hoped, just for once, that the assholes were right. Starting again on another planet would be too much, she was sure of it. This was meant to be her end.
The air reeked of sulfur and laundry that had been left damp for too many days. It was a unique combination, one she had spent too much time trying to pinpoint. She wasn’t sure how she knew it was sulfur, but she had no doubt that it was.
It had been growing thicker the last few weeks, making breathing a conscious act rather than one of second nature. The media had its theories as it always did. She didn’t really care what was causing the world’s demise anymore, only that it was happening. What did it matter who was to blame if there wouldn’t be anyone around to point the finger?
“There it is again, that funny feeling
That funny feeling”
The door to her bedroom was cracked open and when she looked over the dark hallway stared back. Her family was downstairs, not only did they believe the theories that the media spewed, they came up with their own. She was sure of one thing: if there was more to life than this, she would choose other people to spend it with. All her guilt over those thoughts vanished years ago, along with her ability to fake kindness and patience. She wasn’t very well-liked these days, by anyone really, but she was okay with it. After all, they’d all be gone soon anyway.
She took a step toward the door, bare feet sinking into the plush carpet ever so slightly. It felt softer than it had when she walked on it that morning. Her vision started to blur, and the frame around the door seemed to curve as she walked. It was like a funhouse mirror, if funhouse mirrors had your demise waiting on the other side, that is. Her name was called from somewhere downstairs, but it sounded like it was coming from a much greater distance. The sound was muffled. Everything was heavy. She couldn’t stand up straight any longer. Her body started to droop.
She didn’t have much energy left. She had planned for this. There was no way to stop it now. She reached for the paper resting on her desk, upside down with a piece of scotch tape already attached. Her hands shook as she moved, although she felt content for the first time in years. Despite falling to her knees, she creaked open the door and pressed the sticky part of her note to the outside. The weight of her collapse was enough to shut her inside after it stuck. She realized her mother was calling her for dinner, that the fog wasn’t as near to her house as she thought. But she couldn’t summon the strength to do anything about it. She sat with her back against the wood. She closed her eyes and her ears rang for a moment, then stopped.
Her hands were smudged with red sharpie when they found her. There was an empty bottle of pills. She didn’t have a pulse. The window was open. The music was still playing. The paper she hung had fallen to the floor, face-up as if to display her final thoughts. The same words she had written came out of her phone’s speaker.
“Hey, what can you say? We were overdue
But it'll be over soon, you wait”