2012 and the Fall of Rome

“Everyone aimed at security: no one accepted responsibility. What was plainly lacking, long before the barbarian invasions had done their work, long before economic dislocations became serious, was an inner go. Rome’s life was now an imitation of life: a mere holding on. Security was the watchword — as if life knew any other stability than through constant change, or any form of security except through a constant willingness to take risks.”


–Lewis Mumford, “The Condition of Man.”


It was the end of 2012, the year Hugh Hefner was assassinated and creationism became required teaching in public schools.  Daniel and I poured over a sprawling atlas of the world, trying to decide which country we should move to. Where we would be able to live out our pagan and atheist lives in peace. There was no place in America for a young girl who married her stepbrother.  When people heard about us, they were creeped out. Even some almost-friends, people we met at bars in downtown Albany during those First Fridays and art nights, left in a hurry when they learned that the newlyweds had spent their childhood knocking Morse code on the adjoining wall between their bedrooms.

Hugh Hefner’s death marked the end of Rome. America was once a symbol of liberty for the libertines, a place to be free in your religion and free in your sex. There was a harmony between the two, a separation between church and Playboy. An understanding that the reason no mail came on Sundays was so men wouldn’t be tempted to retrieve that glossy cover from inside their plastic mailboxes and hide in the bathroom during Sunday dinner, just to catch a glimpse of the new centerfold.

Daniel and I were leaning towards Australia or New Zealand. Somewhere they spoke English. I was a fan of Sweden because of all the statistics I had read calling Sweden the happiest place on earth with the lowest death rate of newborns, the most educated children and equal pay for women. I hadn’t told Daniel yet what I suspected, about the little demon gurgling deep in my abdomen. I had a dream that he and I went to the gynecologist and she told us that the baby was a boy.  It was one of those wacky dreams that sort of made sense and at the same time would never happen in real life. The gynecologist danced around the room chanting, “Better name him Richard! Better name him Richard!” As if I’d ever name a baby Richard. Ugh.

I was afraid to tell Daniel or anyone else about the baby. First, I was afraid other people bred on ignorance would start chanting, “Ewww, inbred!” Though they were all inbred themselves.

I knew that in any normal circumstance Daniel would be thrilled to have a little boy to educate. He wanted to start an American Revolution bred from his own flesh, a new generation raised with the knowledge that the world was quickly spiraling off its original course around the sun, and that people were too complacent, too afraid of change, to realize that they were ruining the world. It was easier to believe God created us instead of having evolved from monkeys, because believing that made us feel special. That is all religion did, make people feel special in a gigantic world full of aliens and Playmates and other things that only children seemed to understand.

I knew the kid in my belly, whether he was a boy or if she was a girl would be born with a perfect understanding of how to cause world peace and that understanding would be destroyed the moment it sat down in front of a television and an adult opened their month. Society would turn my child into an animal. Our own desperate fear to remove ourselves from the animal kingdom had in turned destroyed any capacity for humans to transcend above our worldly, animal needs. The more we’re told how bad sex and masturbation were, the more we’re going to fuck and jack off. The more we’re told of how War was for God, the more we’re going to find excuses to destroy each other. We kept making ourselves animals. If we embraced who we were, we would become Gods.

Daniel would have loved to infuse his child with those circling thoughts. Humans were given the ability to ask questions, but not to answer them.

However, the baby couldn’t have come at a worse time. Here we were planning to flee the country with a limited amount of money, and suddenly I was towing my small body riddled with morning sickness and in desperate need of folic acid around the world. Soon there would be an extra appendage sucking on my breast and needing a place to sleep and clothes to wear. Daniel had the atlas spread out on one table and a print out of his bank account on the other. He was pacing between the two, his chin buried in his hand. I placed my hands gently and lovingly on my stomach.

“Plane tickets to either New Zealand or Australia are very expensive,” he said.

Our parents came to dinner that night, my mom and stepdad were there, as well as my father, who looked awkward and quiet around his ex-wife and his daughter’s unique choice of husband.  They grumbled as I told them to sit down on our couch. I handed them plates of baked chicken and boxed rice. There was no room for a dining room table in mine and Daniel’s apartment. He and I sat on the floor and crossed our legs. Through mouths full of chicken and rice, we announced our decision to move to New Zealand.

“Why would you do such a thing?” My mother asked.

“Well, its summer there,” I replied.

Daniel eloquently explained our refusal to live in a country that no longer had the ideals and values of the country of our birth. We did not agree with the American way. We were not Christians. We were not conservatives. We liked abortion and gay marriage and masturbation (though Daniel didn’t mention that last part). Daniel then concluded his speech with a comment of the apocalypse surely taking place here in America, and that he wasn’t going to be around to witness it.

“If I ever return,” he said, “It will be with a gun and an army, and I’ll bring down the government.”

Our parents looked speechless at us and then looked at each other. My mother and stepfather rolled their eyes at one another. They learned long ago to ignore our ramblings about things like magic and atheism. I recognized the same look from when Daniel and I were sixteen and told them we were in love with one another. Kids will be kids.

“Wouldn’t you want to move to a country where they speak English?”  My father said. He was staring at his baked chicken and chewing on rice. He looked so large and dark in our small, white apartment and I felt an impulse to go over and hug him.  Instead I shifted the plate of food on my lap.

“They do speak English in New Zealand dad,” I said. “It was an English colony just like the United States.”

“But you hate the United States,” my stepdad said.

“We hate what it has become,” Daniel replied. “We need to live in a place that doesn’t compromise our personal and moral beliefs.”

My mother shrugged. “It’s a nice thought, but unfortunately you two can’t afford it.”

Daniel sighed, “Mom, for once, stop assuming you know everything about Callie and mine’s finances. In fact, I purchased the plane tickets this afternoon. We have more than enough money to fly to Auckland and rent another apartment. Once we are there we’ll both get new jobs. There are many opportunities for budding anthropologists in New Zealand, so Callie will be able to find work.”

I looked up and smirked at his lie. In fact, we hadn’t done any research to see if there was work for either I or Daniel in Auckland. The only thing we had in mind was escape.

Daniel’s father, my step-father, looked up at him, “And you?”

“Are you kidding?” Daniel said, unconvincingly, “The music industry is booming in Auckland”

My mother stood up and carried her plate filled with chicken and rice to the kitchen galley and tossed it into the sink. I flinched as I heard the cheap Target plate clang loudly against the stainless steel. I knew the plate would crack.

“Mom, what are you doing?”

“We’re leaving! If you plan on going through with this and leaving your parents behind, than I guess there is nothing I can do about it. I guess you don’t need me in your life so I’m just going to go. It was nice knowing you, kid.”

My father and stepfather awkwardly stood up, not sure whether they should take my mother seriously and leave or if they should sit down and wait for the storm to pass.

Daniel shouted at her, the frustration and fear quivering in his voice. “Mom, stop being so over dramatic! As you know, this isn’t about you. You are all more than welcome to come to New Zealand with us, I just knew you three would never consider leaving your home, so we didn’t even ask.”

“Don’t call me ‘mom’! I’m not your mom. I never was and I never wanted to be.”

“Darlene!” My stepdad exclaimed. I could feel the dark cloud whirring above our head so I said the one thing that I knew would break the tension.

“I’m pregnant!” I announced.

That is how we ended up going to the airport with Daniel’s father and my mother, both had every intention of coming to New Zealand with us. My father stayed behind to “keep us informed” of the daily going-on in apocalyptic America. Though I knew he was just relieved to have the excuse to stay away.

My mom had cast some real estate magic and secured a house for us to stay in in Auckland until the four of us could find a more permanent home. She said that there was no way in hell her grandchild was going to be raised without a grandmother’s influence. I was struck with the realization that my child would grow up thinking that all mommies and daddies had the same parents.

I pictured a little girl with my hair and Daniel’s eyes, a weird picture mashed up version of us, swinging on the swing set  at recess and crying as little kids with thick British accents tried to convince her she was a freak because her parents had the same mom and dad.

I probably didn’t have to worry. According to my dream, I was having a boy. Named Richard.

“Daniel,” I said as I struggled to pull an overflowing suitcase up to the check-in counter at the airport, “What do you think of the name Richard?’

Daniel glared at me. He had barely spoken to me since I announced my pregnancy three weeks before, other than to tell me how disappointed he was with me. “We were planning one of the biggest moves of our lives Callie, and you forgot to tell me you were pregnant?”

“I didn’t forget. I was just afraid to tell you. You can see why.”

We had gone to the gynecologist to make sure I actually was pregnant (I was) and to make sure the baby was all right and it was safe to fly to New Zealand.

My gynecologist looked like the gynecologist from my dreams, a chubby middle-aged woman with long red hair and a shocking resemblance to Melissa McCarthy, but she didn’t dance around the examination room chanting “Better name him Richard!” Instead, she took a picture of our baby and handed it to Daniel, who stared at the image silently. It was too early to determine the sex, but I didn’t care that much. It wasn’t like there were hundreds of options, just two.

The baby was normal, but it was still a baby. Daniel hadn’t shown any excitement about becoming a father and I was hoping his fatherly instinct would kick in when the baby was born, if not before.

“You know, it’s not my fault I’m pregnant,” I said to him on the ride home from the doctor’s office. “It isn’t like I asked God for an immaculate conception or anything. I didn’t purposely plant a baby in my belly just to piss you off.”

He ignored me.

I had morning sickness the morning we went to the airport, but despite that Daniel walked quickly and left me tripping behind him with a suitcase that was too big for me. My mother came trotting up and placed her hand on my back.

“Here sweetie, let me carry that for you.” She glared at the back of Daniel’s head. He walked briskly through the short line at the check-in counter to one of the check in computers. He took out a printout of our airplane tickets and swiped them through the red scanner. Then he swiped them again. I could tell from the contorted expression on his face that something was wrong. I could see the computer screen flashing a red message. Daniel backed up slowly and went to stand at the back of the line.

“What’s wrong?” I asked him.

“It says I need to speak to an attendant at the counter.”

The short line seemed to take forever, and when we finally got up to the counter, Daniel’s face had turned red with frustration. He showed the smiling lady our tickets. She stopped smiling.

“I’m sorry sir,” she said. “All flights out of the country have been cancelled.”

“Our flights been cancelled?” Daniel sounded dumbfounded.

“Yes, sir.”

“And they couldn’t bother to let us know before we dragged our asses all the way to the airport?”

The attendant smiled again nervously. “I wish I could help you, but it’s a visa issue. There has been an odd increase in the amount of citizens leaving the country and the government needs to investigate to make sure that none of these individuals are terrorists. In the meantime, all flights out of the country have been cancelled. You are requested  to visit the airline’s website and apply for a pass to leave the country.”

“And how long,” David asked through clenched teeth, “Does it take to get a “pass”?”

“About six months,” The woman’s smile faltered. “Sir.”

We had tried to fly to New Zealand in late October, and the idea of waiting six more months for our application to be approved ate away at Daniel until I couldn’t recognize him anymore. He stopped eating and his face grew pale and jagged. I could see bones in his cheeks that I never noticed before, new muscles jumping in his neck.

The holidays came with our five and a half person Thanksgiving. Daniel and I went to our mother and father’s for dinner. My dad showed up just in time for the turkey. He had no where else to go for Thanksgiving, and it was becoming natural for us to have him around during family events. I liked to think that my belly was beginning to show, but no one saw it.

We talked about various unimportant things over the dinner table, like nursery colors and whether Martha Stewart had deserved to go back to jail. Daniel smiled and listened along but he didn’t say anything. I didn’t talk about our nights sleeping as far away on the bed from each other as possible and the death of our late night talks. We used to talk about everything before we fell asleep–eternity, resurrection, anarchism, revolution and freedom. We planned our own world, our own country. Before I found out about the baby we would discuss the proper ways to raise a child. Now that we were having a child, Daniel never once mentioned it. He followed me around silently to the doctor’s office and pretended to be interested when strangers spoke excitedly about our new arrival, but his mind was elsewhere. It was in the sky. It was in New Zealand. It was anywhere but in America.  In our home. With me.

I was an anthropologist. I had studied the Maya in college. I had never believed that the world would end on December 21st, 2012. I knew that the Maya believed in the circle of life, in new beginnings. That December 21st wasn’t the end of the world, but that it was the end of an era, and that on December 22nd–we’d all have a new beginning. I tried to tell Daniel this.

The police tell me that on the morning of December 21st Daniel walked into the airport wearing a black leather trench coat. Under the trench coat he was carrying a semi automatic rifle that he had bought from a Tea Party member in Tennessee. The man had smuggled the gun up to New York and exchanged it for the money that Daniel had put aside for our move to New Zealand.

Airports are only concerned with what happens once you get through security, on the plane.

He killed a long line of people at the check-in counter, three attendants and two security guards before they took him down with a single shot to the head. Inside his trench coat they found a neatly folded American flag, splattered with Daniel’s blood.

I named our son Richard. I still am not sure why. I have begun to believe in dreams and prophecies. It was the way the United States fell like Rome. It was the way that on December 21st, 2012–my world ended.

One month after Daniel died, my visa arrived in the mail. It was still safe for me to fly so I went to Auckland with my mother and stepfather.

A few weeks before Richard’s birth, my father was killed when the store that he worked at was raided by a gang of rebels storming and burning New York City. The gang became an army, the army became a plague of locusts descending from below onto the high ivory towers of the once colossal metropolis. They held the city under siege for a month before it burned to the ground. Richard was born into a delivery room filled with the noise of the television blaring news of the Empire State building’s collapse. Another plane crashed into The Pentagon. This time the terrorists were American, and they didn’t work for The Taliban.

Someday I will tell Richard about the once glorious nation known as the United States. I will sit with him on our apartment roof in Auckland and look out over the deep blue ocean and the mountains and talk to him about his father. I will somehow tell him that his father and I loved each other since we were children, raised in the same house by the same parents like two young children in a fairy tale. Learning to find love in one another. I will tell him that his father died for what he believed in, died because he refused to live in a world that wanted to change him.

Someday I will tell my son the myth of the American dream.










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