One morning the world ended. It wasn’t a long, staggering affair, the way you’d imagine it. It didn’t wheeze hours before it died, with moments left to look back fondly on the good times and the bad times. In instances of honest torpor, those polarities don’t exist. No last great show. The unanswered questions remain so, and everything that was ever bright and beautiful shines equally as radiant against everything that was ever vile and unmentionable. And that was life. If anyone cared to ask.
So the cars were on fire. The wind was always blowing, but the clouds never moved. The funny thing about catastrophe is that everything stops and is irrevocably still. There is no word of mouth. There are no voices coming out of the radio, all the televisions are blank and tongue tied, nothing will speak. There’s no music. There’s a great silence like you’re in the eye of a storm that never passes, and so you sit and you wait for something. Anything. You could wander for days and never see another person and when you did, they’d run from you.
Everyone’s an enemy when there is no proof of otherwise. So we were scattered, migrating slowly from one broken down house to another. Every window was black or broken, curtains drawn against an uncontrollable nothing. There were no more flags. In fact, each shredded banner hung black at the peak of its pole like the broken neck of a burnt flower. We were all curled up inside the stomach of an awful God, and that God was bleeding to death.
There were five of us then. Two teenage boys. Two girls. One kid. Gathered from one apartment or another in the projects of Cropsey Avenue, and we never did get our answer. Nuclear catastrophe? Natural catastrophe? Did something erupt? Discharge? Shiver? Were we all radioactive? Our cells shuddering and melting in our bodies, our breath ticking like hopeful little time bombs? I heard nothing but panic that last night. It went like this: First architecture of Brooklyn folded into fragments, disappearing into themselves. Women gripping their dead or dying little ones scavenged through the debris, coming up for air with only clumps of their own hair pulled free.
The Brooklyn Bridge was even more beautiful on fire, with body and tendons washed in hot oranges and reds. Shards of the things we lived for jagged and pointing to the sky in a some kind of accusatory reverie. There were so many fires the air felt hot everywhere you went. The sound of glass breaking made its own music in the night. It went on like this for days until most of them died or were exhausted and ran. Eventually we quit hiding and saw all the bodies littering the streets. I didn’t feel bad for them or for myself. I felt nothing. Something that was real in me had taken over. I was one solid and throbbing muscle full of Fuck You.
We didn’t know what to do. We walked a long while, sometimes for weeks at a time. But we gave up quickly, lulled into a grey mood the unchanging color of the sky, and settled in a house decorated with cracked family photos, a gutted pantry with its innards spilled out and rummaged. Cabinet doors hung lifeless on their hinges like broken arms. The refrigerator smelled and was dark. We sat on its couches, made ourselves at home. We all were quietly mesmerized by a gash across the living room wall, long and deep, and said nothing about it. We played the piano and made bawdy jokes about the women in the cracked family photos. We mainlined smack, mostly.
Harkening back to childish pop quizzes in the school yard: What would you do if you had one more day to live before the world was over? Some people say they want to fuck. Others say they’d sing songs or drink too much whiskey. Maybe finally fuck their sisters or eat a human leg. But the real answer to that question is: You’d shoot heroin. There is no caste system left. No one residual person to say what you are and what you aren’t depending on whichever holy book they’d read. You will no longer grow up to be anything, and neither will anyone else. If there were magical books with infinite words whispered by divinity, or palaces plated with gold that promised one miraculous thing or another we were no longer in need of it. So it faded from memory the way the earth does if you closed your eyes forever.
And morphine…well. Morphine is that time you were seven, playing tag out in the yard with all the neighborhood kids. The grass sliding easily against your sneakers as you dodge one outstretched hand, then another in a marvelous game of manhunt. The trees forgiving when you slammed into base, held it, then kept running. The voice of your mother descending like a light rain onto the giggles and raucous shouting of children’s voices. Children who don’t know who they are or what the world is for; young enough to not be troubled that there could be no answers. Five more minutes til dinner. Only five. And those last five minutes are the most fun you’ve ever had in your small little life. Because it’s going to be over soon. Those last five minutes are what smack feels like. A lot of people say it’s like being back in the womb. It’s not. It needs an innocence to deny, to make it bittersweet. To make it worth it.
After shooting up we wanted to run out in the streets but we could barely lift our heads. Such is the price of joy or numbness or both. Every time the needle unloaded into my vein, my last thoughts were of a vague nobility. Maybe I had no actual knowledge of what it meant to consent to your own happiness, but to this high I was saying yes. That’s the most noble of causes. I thought I ought to have it because I wanted it the most. Something left to say yes to. It was at a house in Red Hook that we all lay sprawled and stuffed to the gills with dope. I lay staring out a window, thinking hard on Brooklyn. I’d left here once. Once. I headed up north but the trees were so green they hurt my eyes. The air smelled like life and wasn’t as tormented by the smell of exhaustion. I didn’t know where I was.
The funny thing, the most mutable and mysterious of all the mysteries that could possibly exist in this moment in the history of life is what’s left of the human embrace. I’m not joking. Ask yourself what you ever knew about the human endeavor when the world is over and you press your mouth against someone else’s. We lay face down and full of dope, limbs knotted and falling off the beds. There was someone’s handmade quilt coiled on the floor. The grandma kind, with all its colorful patches clasped together at the edges. An old friend lay close to me, and said, “This is sincerely the end of our time kiss me, you are lovely.”
She snatched at my shirt and we softened into it in a trance like a hallucination. Her eyes were blank and I knew she could understand me because I understood nothing. In the blank holes of her eyes I saw a faint glittering of stars. The same ones I saw hanging overhead on a summer trip to Maine. I was terrified of those stars, the way they freckled the sky, so impossibly vast. It made me feel as if I were floating, weightless, on some stupid planet careening through all that beauty. So unknown to of itself. The most beautiful things are universally the most devastating. By its own nature you can’t hold on to it. I didn’t care for her much then before the world died. She had been simple, the way people commonly are when they aren’t affecting anything. I had cared for things very little. But now, laying dirty and full of dope in the house of dead strangers finally we were beautiful. And everything we did was graceful because we were the last of our kind. Children of a god smaller than any of us wanted to believe. Or a God that had forgotten us. I thought this way until I pushed the needle in and everything went blank.
We were roused one morning by nothing at all, then sank just as dull, slipping a bit further into the comfort of it. Forgetting where we were, what everything was about, she asked me to go out into the world and get her a pack of smokes. Deeper into the fantasy of forgetting our lives in the valley of death, I moved to do what she asked but my pockets were full of dried blood instead of a wallet, and I couldn’t summon the memory of a bodega. Raking my hands through my hair unshorn, gone haywire the way life outside was wild now I looked through the window at Red Hook. We were too far from the pier to see it, but close enough to smell, and a weird light broke through the glass and struck my eye like a message.
The rays exploded into circles of color as I took it in, seemed almost holy. What did Schopenhauer have to say about real happiness? That men spend their whole life in striving after something which he thinks will please him; he seldom attains his goal, and when he does, it is only to be disappointed; he is mostly shipwrecked in the end, and comes into harbor with mast and rigging gone. And then, it is all whether he has been happy or miserable; for his life was never anything more than a present moment always vanishing; and now it is over.
Maybe even these moments are paradise, then. I stared at that glimmer in the window until the sun had moved and seemed to be running through the streets, advancing on all that nothing. I held the sight of it for as long as anyone could ever hold onto anything. Like an angel tapping on the glass, the light bloomed and overtook my face as I looked on full of some childish wonder until we were all engulfed.