“I’d die right away in an apocalypse.” I tell Dave, pulling the pillows off the couch. “I’d see an animal acting strangely, and I’d wander off to help and explore. I don’t believe in violence. I can’t run. I’m the character in the movie that dies in the first four seconds.”
“Nah,” he says, thinking out loud as he stacks pillows into walls. “You’re the character that survives despite everything that says you shouldn’t. In the end, the film pans to a decimated world. The sun is rising, and the soldier-farmer-hero is rinsing the blood out of his shirt in the New World village established by eight characters who are all dead now. The scientist-soldier-hero is holding a precious surviving copy of The Light in the Attic, in her one remaining arm. You walk out of the tent, clean-faced with a ribbon in your hair. You have a tray full of Hostess snacks decorated with dried flowers. ‘Come on in’, you say, ‘It’s tea time.’ They look at each other, wipe the apocalypse from their faces, and follow you. Annnnd, credits.”
I’m laughing as we shake a blanket open over our pillow fort. Dave crawls inside and sets up a few flameless candles.
“Where did I get the ribbon?” I ask, crawling in after him with throw pillows and a patterned sheet.
“Oh that. Well, we’ve been watching you collect pieces for it throughout the entire movie. Every time someone you care for dies, you’ve been pulling a piece of fabric from their clothes.”
I’m intrigued. “That’s so morbid!”
“Yes it is, my little magpie.” He laughs at his own analysis, but then reaches over and tucks me under his arm. “But no one gets forgotten.”
“No one gets forgotten.” I repeat– a mantra, a promise. Then, distracted again, “What kind of tea was it? Did we scavenge for tea or did I make it myself?”
Dave is a picky eater, and makes a gagging sound. “God only knows. Remember the time you drank hot dandelion juice? If I were them, I wouldn’t ask.”
I sit up suddenly, catching an important missing piece of the story for the first time. “Wait. Where are you in this scenario? Oh no. Are you a part of my ribbon?”
His head is lying back on his arms, against the pillows. The light is dark in our house, outside the fort, and darker still outside our house. Our little candle flickers like it was programmed to, and the colors from our textiles dance merrily with the light all over the walls. Dave’s eyes are closed, and his face is at peace. His face is always at peace.
“You’re a storyteller, too. You know what happens to my character.”
I scoot closer, laying my head down on his stomach. He runs his fingers through my hair and I say, “Tell me.”
“In the middle of the movie, I realize Something Important has to be done, and has to be done by me. I remind you that you’re supposed to survive, and then I go do the thing. For a second, the audience thinks I might actually make it back, but then in a flash, it’s over.”
I’m tracing the Green Lantern pattern in his t-shirt and can hear his gentle and steady heartbeat and breath.
“The audience doesn’t know exactly. The scene cuts to your face, far away, back at base camp, and they know it’s the end for me.”
“That’s awful.” I hide my face against his body, shaking the idea away.
“I mean, the whole world is destroyed and you’re wearing a ribbon made from dead-people-clothes so…”
“No.” I stop him. “It’s awful.”
“It’s not so bad,” he argues, stroking my arm soothingly. “I did a good job while I was alive. I took care of you. And besides, no one gets forgotten.”
“No one gets forgotten.” I repeat– a mantra, a promise. I can hear the resignation in my words when I ask, “Is anyone with you when it happens, at least?”
“Of course not.” He smiles and kisses my forehead. “A character like me dies alone.”
In March, I started seriously thinking about writing a memoir, and this memory is what I thought would start it, because I wanted to capture the busy softness of my life before. I wanted to start it in a way that said it was more of a love story than a horror story, but horrible things definitely happen.
I fell down a flight of stairs, re-fractured my hip, tore some things, and have been recovering. I can’t sit or stand long enough to write consistently on a computer, and my hospital bills are apocalyptic, and I won’t be able to buy the time I need for the story for a long while.
But, I thought I maybe could write this part. And even though it’s more sliced twinkies on a makeshift tray than it is a charcuterie board with fancy cheeses, it’s an offering of love. An invite in.
The world is burning but I made some hot dandelion juice, and I like to think our blanket fort didn’t fall apart. It just grew so big that we’re all inside it now.