The time is now.
The setting is here.
I am one of the lucky ones, I know.
I know this or (perhaps more accurately) have been told this so many times that it has become a mantra:
I am lucky. I am fortunate. I am blessed.
Every single one of my childhood friends is dead.
My sister with hair like the sunset is dead. My brother whose feet drummed like hoof beats as he chased me around the yard is dead. My mother’s green thumbs will grow no more flowers and my father will never again sing.
I am lucky. I am fortunate. I am blessed.
They tell me that life is sacred, that my survival is miraculous, that I must have been born under a star consecrated by God. I have become a talisman myself. People on the street ask me to bless them, too, and I do not have the heart to tell them my survival was a dumb accident so I let them touch my fingers and my feet and pray to a god I can no longer believe in that they will find solace in my grief.
I was beautiful, once upon a time.
My hair, unlike my sister’s, was blacker than the evening. It came to my waist and I never cut it. My hair was the envy of all my friends. If I had any friends left, they would no longer be envious; my hair is all gone now. It fell out in clumps, faster than my tears. It is a funny feeling, losing your hair. It unbalances you, dizzies you, lightens you. I feel so light that I fear I will blow away one day; my bones feel as hollow as my heart.
Hello there, are you listening? Or have I finally collapsed, have I finally gone crazy, have I finally succumb to radiating helplessness? I cling to sanity with broken fingernails. Soon, they too will break off and I will fall fall fall into the darkness.
She should have been beautiful.
We were young and terrified at the thought of having a child but we wanted her. We were ready for her. We knew we could raise her to be kind and brilliant. She was going to be wild and beautiful with my hair and her father’s eyes.
She was going to be perfect.
Instead, she slipped out of my body all skin and bones, tiny and sleek without a single hair. She should have cried. She should have screamed. Instead, her lips quivered silently. Fingers that should have grown long and thin curled around each other. Legs that should have been firm and strong ended at the knee. She never whimpered. She barely blinked. She did not last a single night and now I am all alone.
I can see her in my dreams, still, dreams that haunt me when I am asleep and when I am awake. Her eyes bore holes into what is left of my soul and I feel her blaming me, cursing me, for not protecting her when she was still in my womb, closer to my heart than anyone has ever been. Closer than anyone ever will be.
But still they tell me that I am lucky. I am fortunate. I am blessed.
I wish I had been buried in the rubble, incinerated in the ash. I am not lucky because I am alive. No, I am cursed by their deaths, condemned to a half-life of loneliness. I bear the burden of memory.
When the fire fell out of the sky, I knew I would die. I have always been prone to accidents and misfortune; I don’t think I have ever gone a single week without a new bruise. I remember this: a blaze of bright light, the shrill of a thousand screams and a shrouding boom and crash and then—
And I alone live to tell the tale.
Oh, but what is there to tell? I cannot tell you the why or the how, explain the simpering justification made by those whose power runs too deep for culpability. I cannot tell you who started this, who fired the first shot or dropped the first bomb or sent the first drone. I cannot tell you how many people have died, how many people will die, how many people will lie awake at night trembling in the shuddering loss of everything they have ever known.
I can only tell you of the pervasive loneliness, of the unquenchable guilt, of the smog of desperation that clings through every moment of every day, every long, agonizing, damnable day. I can no longer look to the future because the future is shrouded in smoke; all I have left are memories.
Remember, remember, remember the green grass before it turned to ash, the blue of the sky and the water that sparkled like diamonds. Remember the color of your lover’s laugh and the first time he asked you to dance. Remember the wind in your hair and the dreams you only half dared to dream. Remember the tree you climbed when you were seven and how you scraped your knees going up but kept climbing until you got to the top and cried because you did not know how to come back down and your father came after you and brought you down and held you in his arms. Remember your best friend and how she taught you how to jump double dutch. Remember the shape of your mother’s eyes, your sister’s strawberry allergy, the way your brother tickled you until your eyes watered from laughing. Remember every single one of the people you will never see again because you are the only one left who can.
Remember that it is the innocent who must pay for the crimes of the few. Remember that we are people too. Remember that our lives are no different from your own, that this time it is we who pay the price but tomorrow it could be you.
But not today.
No, for today you are warm and coddled, naively myopic and serenely content. Today you are a son, a daughter, a wife, a father, a student, a doctor, a teacher, a twenty-something figuring out life, a lover, a reader, an artist. You love to dance in the rain, to sing love songs off-key, to cook. You are waiting for your one true love, you are watching your child take his first steps, you are building a snowman in your backyard, you are buying a new car, a new house, a bigger and better television. You are safe. You are happy.
Tomorrow, you could die. But not today.
No…Today, you are lucky. You are fortunate. You are blessed.