The year started off normal. School finished and my family took our long-awaited trip to Italy. Everything seemed perfect and aligned. The arrival of summer was like a fresh breath of air after a long day’s work or the first sip of warm morning coffee. In that moment, as my back hugged the sand and my gaze alternated between the vast blueness of the sky and the ocean ahead, it felt as if nothing could go wrong.
Then it did.
As we searched for our gate at the airport, I quickly texted my best friend that we were on our way home. It wouldn’t be for, at least, twelve hours until we’d arrive back at the house, but she said she missed me a lot. She also couldn’t stand being around her younger siblings for too long without the sweetness of my company. I was quite excited to see her too. It had only been two weeks, but it felt like an eternity.
When our steps came to a halt and a bright and welcoming smile greeted us, my father immediately checked us in. Ten minutes later, after the woman checked my parents’ passports, my two younger brothers’, and mine’s, we began to follow the other passengers. As I shoved my phone back in, I couldn’t help noticing the sudden change of color in the sky as the clouds gradually vanished and an ominous grayness crept in. I looked around, wondering if other people noticed, but everyone was absorbed in their own worlds. Some with their heads down checking their phones, some walking to their tables grasping trays, and some striding towards their gates, their paces quickening at every glance of their wristwatch.
Probably just rain, I thought to myself. After all, what else could it be?
The window seat was my favorite. I never understood why some people were terrified of sitting there, for it was always a peaceful place for me. Whenever I went on an airplane, I’d follow the same routine: sit down, fasten my seatbelt, plug in my earbuds, listen to my playlist, and stare outside the window. It was the one thing I looked forward to on every trip because it was the one thing that would never change.
Then, suddenly, it struck like the ferocious explosion of thunder. I didn’t realize I had fallen asleep until someone vigorously shook me awake and the deafening screams of men, women, and children alike rang in my ears. Jolting awake and seeing my mother pulling my two brothers in a tight embrace and sweat building up on my father’s face, I averted my eyes outside the window and gasped as the wings of the plane shifted in different directions, its movements wild and erratic. With my hands trembling and heart beating a thousand times per minute, I watched as people hugged each other, even the ones that seemed like strangers, as they held on for dear life.
The flight attendants had stopped walking around too and, rather than uttering sweet words into the speakers to restore tranquility, they remained quiet. I had no doubt that they were panicking as well and holding onto each other, thinking that it might be the last time they’ll ever be together.
In the midst of all the chaos, I looked at my father whose one hand gripped on the seat and the other holding onto my hand. I’d never seen him like that. He had always been the fearless one. The one who’d go skydiving if any of his friends dared him, the one who’d disappear in the cryptic woods and come out alive, and the one who went on a solo adventure around the globe as a teenager. This was the first time I had ever seen my father afraid and it didn’t give me a good feeling for what was to come.
I didn’t know what to do or what to say; it was as if my tongue succumbed to paralysis and took with it my limbs and appendages. It wasn’t like there was anything good to say, for as the plane continued to violently shift around, almost as if it was dancing to its impending doom, I realized that any moment could be my last.
I wasn’t ready to perish. I was just a young girl, a young girl who hadn’t lived her life to the fullest and wanted so desperately, so tenaciously, to live. Then, I realized that, when the time does come, you don’t really have much of a choice. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you have, or what you can do. It all comes to us just the same.
With the powerlessness seeping through my bones and the plane swaying back and forth like a bloodthirsty beast fighting its way out of its cage, I closed my eyes and let my thoughts drift back to the beautiful times. The times when my family watched cartoons together on snow days whilst the aroma of hot chocolate filled the air, when I’d get my best friend’s letters in the mail and melt at her heartfelt words, and on the sleepless nights when my mother sat on my bed and read a bedtime story even though I wasn’t a kid anymore. Moments like these were etched in my soul and these moments would be the one to haunt me the most.
And just like when my mother finished her story, I took a deep breath, smiled, and drifted off to sleep.
After an hour or so passed by, I slowly opened my eyes and watched as people began to step out of their seats, retrieve their bags, and join in the line of people, their faces painted with relief and bewilderment as if they had just seen the world for the first time. When I looked outside the window, there was land, in all its expansive glory, with people walking around and pushing carts. Then, when I turned towards my father, the beads of perspiration on his face were gone and, after his lips curved up into a smile, he immediately pulled me in for a warm embrace.
It was then that I realized we had made it.
But little did I know that that bliss, that gratitude, that restored hope, in that one afternoon wouldn’t last for long because it had just begun.
There were talks of habitable planets every single day yet nothing really came out of it. There was no way we could ever leave Earth, not when it was too complicated and risky. Besides, I don’t think I wanted to.
A few months have passed since the airplane incident and, though it seemed like my family had abandoned the memory, I couldn’t seem to do it as easily. It felt too real for me and, when I remembered that it was real and wasn’t a nightmare conjured up by the wildest corners of my imagination, I couldn’t shake off the fear brewing in my chest. The incident didn’t feel like it was a one-time thing; if anything, it seemed like it was an omen.
And I was right.
Exactly four months and twenty-five days later, another disaster hit. Like an epidemic, the story of ocean levels rising and ruthlessly swallowing up the islands in its vicinity took over news sites around the world. Pictures and videos of people, their faces stained with tears and voices pleading for help, and, behind them, the place they once called home shattering into fragments and, soon enough, they’d follow suit.
Next, there were the fires. They were everywhere; from the depths of the Australian wilderness, the rich rainforests of South America, to the wondrous woods of North America, wildfires conquered the world, its terrifying temper scathing and uncontrollable, and reduced everything in its path to forgotten ashes. They were all over the news too with people crying, their eyes imploring yet hopeless, and some, in between whimpers, claiming that it was the end of the world. I didn’t think so. Not yet, anyway. Not in a million years, perhaps.
Then, there were the floods. They came in sudden and harmless for some droplets of rain never seemed menacing―in fact, they were rather calming―but then, sneakily, like a snake slithering in the verdant grass, the clouds detonated like bombs in the meditative sky and turned into a deluge. Like the fires, it took everything in its way from the streets people walked on for their morning stroll, the cafés for a quick rendezvous, and even inside people’s houses, ravaging everything from pictures, furniture, to children’s toys. It was unstoppable. Even places that never flooded did and it didn’t sit well with me. That there were no exceptions.
And, finally, there came the news that spelled it all out for us. It was the news that united everyone―be it farmers, scientists, businessmen, or children. It didn’t matter what country we were from, what languages we spoke, or what we believed in, because the news affected all of us just the same.
The planet was running out of oxygen.
Even after watching the news of the disasters that plagued the world, I had never once in my mind thought that the worst could happen. That the planet would become unlivable, that it would turn into nothing but a wasteland. Or, even worse, that it would cease to exist. It didn’t seem possible; it wasn’t possible. It couldn’t be. Not when it was the miraculous planet that broke all the rules of the solar system and gave birth to life. Life that was rich, varied, and beautiful in every way.
Then, before I had time to register it, my family and I were in an enormous spaceship, fastening our seatbelts as tightly as we could, with thousands of people doing the same. As I sat there, taking in the reality of everything, the reality of how we arrived there, I shook my head, hoping it was all a dream. Hoping that everything was fantasy and it all happened inside my mind from a restless night. However, when I pinched my arm and opened my eyes, I was still there, strapped on that seat, and in the company of anxious thoughts and equally anxious people.
“Are you okay, sweetie?” My father, sitting beside me as he always did, asked with a gentle cadence to his voice.
“Yeah,” I replied, thoughts still drifting off to anywhere but there.
Then, he said, “Good. Everything will be okay.”
All I could do was nod. I knew that he was trying to make me feel better, to make the atmosphere feel less tense and excruciating, but, unfortunately for him, he had a smart child. A child that knew nothing would ever be okay, that we were escaping from familiarity and taking a chance on a distant, possibly murderous, planet that we knew so little about. We didn’t even know if we’d survive there. Nothing was certain and that was the most horrifying thing of all.
After the initial launch where my body felt like it was vibrating and squeezing my insides, we finally came to a slower pace and it was then that I heard someone, a six-year old boy with warm eyes, sitting next to me whisper and point, “Look, I think we can see Earth from here.” I raised my eyebrows in confusion, but when I diverted my focus to the small window, a gasp escaped my mouth and my eyes widened in shock.
There it was, in the distance, like a faraway star that one could only yearn to touch, the Earth in all of its magnificence. But there was something strange about it. I didn’t know how the little kid could recognize it because it didn’t look like the Earth anymore.
Because, as I stared out from the spaceship, the latter moving slowly as if wanting us to savor the fleeting moment, I saw the distant planet begin to crumble, the deep blue of the ocean and the rich green of nature vanquished by shadows of darkness, the bright lights blown out like candles on a stormy night, and that was when I realized there would be no more home to come back to.
The place where I’d lived all my life, where I learned about love and felt it in the most tender moments, where I danced fearlessly under the rain, where I gazed at the stars in my lonely days and longed for something I couldn’t quite name, where I dreamt of bathing in the moon’s radiant light, it was all gone. This was the end of an era and a thousand more.
Perhaps, the new planet will be better, younger, and cleaner. Perhaps, everyone will love it better than they did with Earth and forget the latter, but I knew that I wouldn’t. I could never even if I tried because, at the end of the day―at the end of the world―there would be no other place like home. It will live in my soul for as long as I do.
I don’t know how many days it has been since we arrived. Things, and especially time, worked differently around here and I’m not quite ready to figure them out. Everywhere I looked, people were exploring and conversing, and, a few feet away, children ran around and laughed. For a second, it all seemed normal, that we weren’t in a land far away from home, far away from everything we used to know.
But, as I discovered a few minutes ago from an astronomer who spoke with me about the universe as he noticed my eyes glued to the darkness above, the Earth wasn’t so far away after all. Except it wasn’t what I hoped he’d say. If anything, I wish he wouldn’t have spoken to me, just so my heart would still be in pieces.
He said that, from here, I could see the last pieces of the Earth’s annihilation, its return to dust after being filled with so much energy and vitality.
When he said those words, I shuddered. It didn’t feel real. It wasn’t supposed to be real. He was lying. He had to be. But yet, I remained there, body adhering to the spot. I don’t know what I was doing, I didn’t want to watch the Earth decimated into pieces, but I couldn’t get up.
Then, it happened. There were no deafening noises such as those that you’d hear from a heart-wrenching tragedy nor any screams or wails, but rather a distant light in the corner of my eye. For some reason, I thought I would see solidified fragments, but this made more sense.
The light was everything―it was the last piece of flesh and bone from the Earth and the testament that there was once a planet, so rich, colorful, and vibrant, that housed lives so complex and filled with love.
As the light faded away and droplets of tears streamed down my face, a long-lasting breath made its way out of my lips with the words that almost came out as a whisper, “Goodbye.”
I wasn’t the kind that said goodbye. Instead, I’d always say, see you later. Goodbye meant an ending, a finite conclusion that I’d never see them again. I don’t remember the last time I’d said it. I don’t think I ever had. But, it seemed fitting this time. I wanted to say more; in fact, I wanted to scream, to let out everything, but I couldn’t because nothing would come out. All there was was a hollow emptiness, a helpless yearning, for the ghost of a place that was once there.
And that was when I realized my planet was truly beautiful. It wasn’t a novel thought; I knew that the Earth was beautiful. It was a trinket―a memento―of the vast, enigmatic universe and so were we. But this time, the feeling was different because, as I reminisced staring out the stainless window, the planet destroying itself in agony and distress, I realized it was utterly and profoundly beautiful and felt it in my bones. It started as a shiver, then a chill in the spine, and later on, like a festering disease, it seized my whole body, wrapping its arms for protection.
I was prepared for the end of the world. I knew it would come for, after all, everything that lives must also die. It was the cycle of life, the only rule that was concrete and definite. Birth and death, beginnings and endings, they came in a pair. But what I didn’t prepare for was the planet dying and me being alive. I could’ve never seen that coming. It didn’t seem possible. It didn’t seem right. The searing emptiness was there, steaming like a witch’s pot. The feeling that I was incomplete, that there was something missing, that the Earth couldn’t die without its children, and that its children couldn’t live without the Earth. We came in a pair, after all.
“Are you alright, sweetie?” I didn’t realize my mother was right there and, as I looked up at her, her brown eyes hopeful and her smile kind, I leapt up from the spot and into her arms.
Then, in between her gentle rubs on my back and my sobs, I whispered, “I will be.” I meant it. I didn’t know when, but I knew that, one day, I would be.
I knew that, as long as life existed, so would remnants of the Earth. And, since the Earth was beautiful, so was life, and, in that ephemeral moment in time, I knew that, as I go on and breathe the freshness of the new air, my life would be different. Not because I was living on a strange and unfamiliar planet, not because I was forced to restart everything, but because, this time, I wouldn’t waste a scintilla of it. After all, there was nothing incredibly more fragile and frail in existence than the very thing we called life itself.