TW: substance abuse
August 12, 2021
My Dearest Samantha,
As a great American (Mike Tyson) once said, “Everybody’s got a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth.”
As I write this, the sun just sank below the horizon. I’m sitting at the kitchen table of the lakehouse, working by the light of a half dozen assorted scented candles I found in the pantry. I suspect they’ve been there since you were a toddler. The smell is, well, it’s certainly something. I only arrived a few minutes ago after hightailing it out of my apartment. I barely had time to throw my stuff in the Jeep.
The world lost power about three hours ago. Enough time for people to start worrying, but not enough for them to start doing anything about it. Humans instinctively look to rationalize. Conversations beginning with phrases like ‘We’ve had blackouts before’ and ‘I’m sure someone is fixing it right now’ are happening across the globe.
I wonder if that’s what you’d tell me if you were here.
Maybe they’re right. After all, the news isn’t broadcasting, leaving everyone, both literally and figuratively, in the dark. I remember your mom laughing at me back in ‘03 when we lost power for a day in the big New York blackout. It turned out that it was no big deal: equipment failure and human error, like most disasters in history. I’d give anything for her to be here to laugh at me today.
I was wrong then, and I hope to God I’m wrong now. I probably am. But I might not be.
Back then, I started wondering, what if the next one isn’t just a fluke? Why don’t we have a plan? Why doesn’t everyone?
I once read that, every year, the odds of an asteroid hit big enough to demolish a city were 0.1%. It seems pretty low, I suppose. But if you live to be 100 years old, there’s a 10% chance that one plows into the Earth during your lifetime. One that size hit Russia about a century ago. A place called Tunguska.
The odds that a good emergency plan will make a difference are pretty low. But they’re not zero.
There are all sorts of things that planning won’t much help. Robert Frost had it right: it doesn’t matter whether the world ends in fire or ice. Nuclear war, rogue black hole, an asteroid as big as the one that killed the dinosaurs, the list goes on. We’ll all go to the Good Lord just the same, only I’ll be a few bucks poorer for my wasted effort.
But what if the disaster isn’t quite so dire?
When you stormed out ten years ago, I drank myself stupid. I spent every night replaying that cataclysmic fight in my mind. Thinking about what I should have said or done, instead of what I did say and do. You told me not to look for you, and I didn’t. Your mom would have said that you were a grown woman and could make your own decisions. If I didn’t let you, it meant I didn’t respect you.
I do, though. I always have, and I always will. Enough to let you go if that’s what you wanted.
I spent a month drunk as a skunk, hoping that you’d come back so I could apologize. Heaven knows why you would. Maybe to tell me off one last time. It’s not like I gave you many other reasons.
One day, as I rotted away in some dive bar, slowly fermenting my liver, the news started showing footage of that volcano erupting in Iceland. The smoke was so bad it closed down airports across Europe. Remember? The one with a name no one could spell or pronounce? That got me thinking. I went to the library the next day and read everything I could about volcanos.
I can almost picture you scoffing that ‘it can’t happen here.’ You’re probably right. Only 57 people died when Mount St. Helens went up in 1980, and it’s on the other side of the country. That said, did you know there’s a supervolcano under Yellowstone? It would cover most of the continental United States in volcanic ash three feet thick if it erupted.
Unlikely? Very. But not impossible.
It took me three months to sober up and another three to figure out a plan. The first two shafts I dug collapsed before I could set the supports. The second one nearly buried me alive. I may be handy, but this was another level. I almost gave up. I spent a lot of nights staring at the liquor bottles in the back of the pantry.
It was so daunting. Not the digging; that was straightforward enough. It was the engineering needed for airflow and stability, the logistics of getting supplies out here and then below ground. It was the money that was already running low from keeping up the mortgage on the lakehouse that your mom always loved, as well as paying my rent. It was the loneliness and the almost certain futility of my efforts.
I just about gave up. But not quite.
It’s remarkable how much you can learn from YouTube videos these days. I took notes, joined some online forums, found answers. Once I begged, borrowed, and gathered (not stole!) the supplies I needed, I tried again. I won’t bore you with the details, but after a lot of toil and trouble, I had a secure, fully functional bunker safely outside the city.
Stocking it was the next challenge. I wanted to lay in a year of supplies, but it’s a lot more complex than just swinging by Walmart for a few pallets of canned beans and 300 gallons of water.
Do you remember that Twilight Zone episode? The book-loving hero is the lone survivor of some apocalypse. He leaves his bunker to read, and the first thing he does is accidentally step on his glasses. That one hit pretty close to home. I’ve got two dozen pairs of reading glasses, just in case. I also pruned my novel collection to make sure I’m not missing the third book of a trilogy or anything.
I might as well avoid the minor disasters while I’m at it.
Next, I got myself a dog.
Ha, I wish I could see the look on your face right now! I remember how badly you wanted one growing up, and I sorely regret telling you no all those times. You’d like him. I named him Rufus on account of how he barks. He’s part German Shepard, part who-knows-what. I got him at the shelter a few days before he was going to be put down.
Rufus is good company, even when I’m not. He tolerates the bunker but doesn’t love it. Hard to blame him, I suppose. He never really grew to like the city either. He prefers the woods and the trail around the lake where he can stalk through the high grass and terrify the ducks. I’m sorry to take him away from that.
I’d like to think he still prefers to be with me, even if it means living underground.
I bought us one of those push treadmills and trained Rufus to walk on it when he needs exercise. I imagine we’ll both use it. I rigged a little crank generator to it, so we’ll have some electricity for the lights and the radio.
No phone, though. There are enough man-made disaster scenarios where I don’t want something that might be tracked.
The bunker was big enough to divide into four rooms. I made one bedroom for Rufus and me, another into a combination living room and kitchen, and dedicated the third to storage.
What about the fourth room, you ask? Well, I added a few extra things to the storage area, just in case. It’s not just a boatload of dog food and shelves of the regular freeze-dried fare. I threw in a few spare sleeping bags. A bunch of those cans of tuna that you always liked. Enough astronaut ice cream to spark joy in any child. Infant formula, just in case.
I don’t know what’s happened in your life in the last ten years. Maybe you’re married. You could have a baby. Or a gaggle of kids.
You could be dead.
I have no way to know, especially now. But if you’re reading this, head out to that tree you used to climb when you were little, along the trail south of the lake. A year’s worth of food could easily supply a family of four (or more) for at least a few months. I suspect three months underground might smooth away the world’s rough edges almost as well as the whole twelve. The code on the hatch is your mom’s birthday.
You almost certainly won’t ever find this note, even though I left it in your old bedroom. Assuming you do, I’m most likely overreacting, everyone is okay, and you’ll wish you weren’t related to the crazy old guy living in a hole in the ground. Even if, by some miracle, you make it out here during a disaster and read it, you probably won’t come to join me.
But you might.