Alternate Histories: 5/5, 6/13, 9/21


I’m always mad at people who are happy when it’s warm in winter … In person I’ll be like, “Oh, I’m a winter girl,” or “I like having seasons, I’m from New England.” On Facebook it’s good and bad, because I’m far away and I can’t see their faces, and I get angrier, but I work myself into a frenzy and either I end up writing nothing, or I write something really angry and then I try to edit it so I can actually convince somebody, and then it ends up being too weak so I don’t write anything. Especially with my family, who are on the other side of the political spectrum … They’ll use something you said when you were six against you in a conversation about climate change. It gets so emotional so quickly. Then I want to say things like, “My son!”

Like, “Don’t you want your grandchild to have a future?”



Mom: Warming in general. Typical stuff that you hear all the time. We’re connected together, so once one thing gets out of sync, the whole thing falls apart. I live in Pennsylvania, and this past winter was so cold, and a lot of people in the neighborhood suffered–they lost plants or trees. Nobody has any time to do anything. I just keep on going. But–I know how it sounds to say this, but I have faith in the next generation coming up.

Daughter: They say you’ve already screwed it for us.

Mom: Anything they tell me to do, I would do.

Daughter: We learn the limitations of humanity. In Rochester, the winter there every year is like this winter tenfold. I live up here, and this winter, we had federal emergency aid, we ran out of sand twice–if something actually catastrophic happens, we’re hosed. We’re not ready. We’re comfortable.



Talking together, B and H and K begin to do something unthinkable: they begin to change the quality of their expectations, the way they expect. It’s hard. It’s like prying up pavement: it wrecks what you had, and it hurts your whole body, and you don’t know what’s underneath. It could be useless. It could be terrible. You could die anyway.

But they are coming to understand that they will die anyway, and the parents among them, B and K, are beginning to know–know isn’t the right word, it’s like a miniature black hole in their flesh–that their children will die. That they can’t protect their children and their children can’t protect them in the way that they thought. That the spring may not come in the way that they thought, that the fall might not cool, that the heat might not fade, that the snow might not melt. And this is what they begin to say to the people they know.

Not surprisingly, the person with cancer writes back I fucking know that, and the person who police flung to the ground only two nights ago writes what do you think I think about?  But the world is changing itself and us, shifting its distribution of matter and its ways of mattering. Here, it manifests as parties, short pilgrimages, where you go outside in the season and listen to its insects and eat whatever it offers and tell it you are willing to hear its new name.  There, it shows up as a wall that doubles as a gravestone, acknowledging on the outside people who’ve already died of heat or flood or famine while on the inside sheltering, for now, people who may not die today.

The person with cancer receives their care for free, and dies quietly without much pain; there is no time to hoard, no reason to withhold. The person who traced a tattoo around the maps of their bruises knows it will be the last mark the police leave on them, because there are no more police: that’s not a good use of resources. The night watch prowls and sings, walking off their anger from the time before. Fear is a companion, the jumpy, sad companion for whom there is no permanent soothing, no lasting comfort. The world really is dangerous and life really is brief. The world really is rich, complex, fragrant, and life really is full. Whether B buries her daughter or H buries her mother (or burns her, eats her, gives her to the scavengers) their sorrow will be full, and it will be real, and they will live in it.


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