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Coming of Age American Drama

I woke up and stretched. Looking around the room, my younger brother Greg was still sleeping. He never wanted to get up early on Sundays. “What’s the point” he would say “every day is the same anyways. Getting up earlier won’t change that.”

I was starting to worry that he was becoming depressed. He was 14 and always miserable. He complained that everything was plain and awful. He wanted to do things other than work and meet people who were beyond our community.

I wasn’t sure why, mom and dad always said we were safe here and we would never survive outside our protected space. We lived in a bunker in South Dakota. Mom and Dad had moved us here when I was a baby. They said they “saw how the human race was ruining the planet.” More wars were coming, some of them had never stopped, high level hurricanes, fires, hailstorms. It would all destroy humanity as they knew it, and it was only a matter of time.

I shuffled to the kitchen to have some water and opened the pantry for some granola.

My mom walked in, “Hey kiddo, don’t forget to take your pills today!”

“I know Mom.” I opened the cabinet again and grabbed vitamin D and C supplements. Mom’s friend Linda brought these supplements into the community, claiming they were 100% vegan. They even came in glass jars that we could reuse.

I grabbed my bowl of granola, threw a handful of blueberries in, and walked back to my room. Greg was awake, sitting up and staring at the wall in front of him. I sat down on my bed and grabbed a book, “The Monkey Wrench Gang”. Dad had given it to me a couple of weeks ago. He said it was about “people fighting for shit that actually matters”.

As I flipped open to the first chapter, Greg spoke.

“So Robby, what’s the plan for your birthday next week?”

I was turning 18. A milestone birthday.

“I’m not sure, mom will probably make a cake as usual.”

“Okay” Greg replied “But what’s your PLAN?”

“What do you mean?” I asked irritably.

I already knew what he meant. Was I going leave and enter an outside community? Live a life full of risk and disrespect towards our Mother Earth? Or was I going to stay in this bunker for the rest of my life and wait for the news of doomsday?

“You’ve gotta get the hell out of here man. I wish I could!”

I sighed. “You don’t understand what it’s like out there Greg.”

“Oh and you do??” He snapped. “None of us know what it’s like, because nobody will let us leave!! We are going to go crazy in here and we will never have a chance to live a real life. It’s bullshit.”

He stalked out of the room. I heard the bathroom door slam and shook my head. Life outside was a ticking time bomb, it was only a matter of time before everything was destroyed. Then we would be there to emerge and pick up the pieces. This was the only way to survive, he didn’t get it.

My parents were convinced that extreme environmental collapse was already in the process, citing the wildfires in California and the impending eruption of Yellowstone as their sources of proof. We were in the bunker because at any second, everything could completely fall apart. I believed them.

But Greg had a point. I had never seen the outside. I had never entered any other community beyond our own. How did I know?

I felt suddenly ashamed for doubting my parents. They would never do anything that wasn’t necessary to keep us safe. I put the thoughts out of my head, put my book aside and ventured up to the bunker doors to meet my cousin Nathan outside. I walked to the front of the bunker and entered the 8 digit code to open the heavily secured doors. I stepped out of the bunker and took in the sunshine and fresh air. Mom never wanted us outside too long beyond performing our duties.

Greg always wanted to go outside just to be there, to observe the world. He would try to find the highest peak so that he could see beyond our small land.

“Everything out there can’t be all bad, like everyone says.” He would always say as he squinted into the distance, a mixed look of hope and despair on his face.

I turned and saw Nathan waiting for me. “Ready to go?”

I nodded. We grabbed our axes and went into the woods. There was approximately 15 bunkers in our small community, a few of those were dedicated purely for storage. Storage of food, fuel and clean water. We were constantly working to add to these stockpiles and using the least possible.

As we swung our axes and I could feel the sweat dripping down my face, my mind began to wander back to my thoughts from this morning. How much was out there that I didn’t know about? That I had never experienced? Should I go see it for myself? Everyone always said that becoming an adult meant making some big decisions. Was this one that I needed to make?

Nathan looked up and could see that I was far away in thought. “What’s up?” he asked. “You’re usually talking nonstop about how much more wood we need to secure, what’s eating you?”

“Just thinking about turning 18, that’s all.”

“Oh yeah, big number!” Nathan was 27. He was 10 years old when his parents joined mine in the decision to dedicate their lives to living off the grid. He had some experience outside this life.

“Nathan…can I ask you a question?” He looked up at me. “Do you remember anything about life outside of the bunkers?”

Nathan paused. This wasn’t something he normally discussed. “Yeah, sure. It was busy. People everywhere, creating waste and eating up energy supplies. Nobody understands out there what they are doing to our planet. It was madness.”

“So you weren’t upset to leave?” I pressed.

Nathan looked conflicted. He continued “I wouldn’t say that…I was a child. I had friends and I didn’t understand all that I do now. I was ignorant to reality. When mom and dad moved me, I was upset for a while, but they explained to me that they were saving our lives. I realized that this was more important.”

I nodded. “Yeah, that makes sense.” I went back to chopping the log in front of me and loading the pieces into my wheelbarrow.

“Why are you asking about all that?” Nathan still hadn’t gone back to his chopping.

“I was just wondering.” Nathan continued to stare, and I sighed “Greg just got me thinking. I’m going to be an adult, should I explore what else is out there?”

Nathan looked thoughtful. He was silent for a few moments, then he said “Well Robby, the choice is yours.”

I was stunned. I expected him to say Greg was ridiculous, just a stupid kid who didn’t understand what was happening in the world. I didn’t expect him to tell me the choice is mine. Since when was the choice mine? The state of the world had made the choice for us all. The only choice was to stay here. To support my community. To survive after all has been lost.

We spent the rest of the day in silence. After our final trip to the fuel storage bunker, we said good night. I entered the 8 digit code and the doors opened, I secured them behind me and walked in, looking at our home as I never had before. The main color of our home was gray. Cement was everywhere, and there was always a constant musky smell from being underneath dirt. Most bunkers, ours included, are built into the side of hills. This method of construction, along with the materials used, helps protect us from whatever is coming. This could be anything from the inevitable environmental disasters to war. Mom liked to remind us that “The government is one of the biggest enemies, outside Mother Nature’s wrath.”

I walked into my room and removed my shoes and headed to the bathroom to wash my hands using one of the buckets of water that we were currently preserving.

I stared into the mirror. I couldn’t believe the reflection looking back at me was about to be an adult. I was about to go from learning to living. To making my own choices, as Nathan had said.

We had a typical dinner. Greg didn’t talk much and Dad went over all the numbers in each of the bunkers. “We’ve reached the point where we can feed both of our families for the next 5 years with all that we’ve stockpiled, and thanks to Robby and Nathan’s efforts, we have enough fuel resources to move forward for the next 3!” He looked proud as he clapped me on the shoulder. “You’re becoming an incredible asset to the community son.”

I forced a smile, and used my mouth being full as an excuse not to respond. Mom was beaming, “That’s wonderful honey! And I have some great news, I found some lavender growing when I was gardening with Aunt Dot today, we are going to make some new lavender soaps!”

Their conversation continued, more planning, more prepping, more stockpiling. The same discussion as every night. After dinner I helped rinse the plates and joined Greg in our room.

As I walked in Greg rushed to hide something under his mattress. It looked like a book, but glossy and big.

“What is that?” I asked.

“Nothing, mind your own business.” He replied.

I walked over and shoved Greg, quickly pushed his mattress up and snatched the book.

“Hey, give it back!” he yelled.

I looked down and saw the word “Travel” There was water and sand and sunshine. I opened it up and saw pictures of people laughing and smiling.

Greg snatched the book out of my hand.

“What is that?” I asked again.

Greg looked at me cautiously. “It’s a magazine. Nathan got it for me.”

I continued to stare and he continued.

“It talks about all these places in the world you can visit, I have a few more…” Greg lifted up his mattress to reveal about 10 more magazines. The covers said things like “History” “Eating Well” “TIME” and “New Yorker”.

“What else is in them?” I couldn’t take my eyes away.

“They talk about cars, technology, and all these amazing things. People get on planes and travel to different COUNTRIES. They eat good food and drive fast cars. They live life to have fun, not just to survive. It’s incredible.”

I stood silently, trying to absorb this. “Nathan gave you these? Where did he get them?”

“A woman he knows. They went to school together before he moved here. She found him after they got older and sometimes she meets him outside after everyone has gone to bed and she brings him different things to keep him up to date on the rest of the world.”

I was shocked. I thought Nathan would be the last person to doubt our way of life, he had seen evidence of everything that was wrong, why would he still want to be involved in it?

“Can I see one of those?”

Greg hesitated, “Why? Are you just going to run to mom and dad?”

“No” I shook my head “I really just want to see.”

He paused, and reluctantly pulled one of the magazines from underneath and handed it to me. It was the TIME magazine.

“Thanks”

I sat down and started to flip through. There was pictures of people in suits, walking down cement sidewalks, going into huge tall buildings that had no protection. They were just out in the open with glass on every side. What would they do if there was a volcanic eruption? A bombing? How would they hide and be protected?

No one talked about their plans for when the world fell apart. They all talked about themselves. Their lives, what they enjoyed, what they worked hard at. One man talked about how he traveled to every country within one year. All the different cultures and how it changed his life.

Were they ignorant? Had no one told them how much they needed to worry? Greg gave me another magazine. This one was about Science and that’s when I saw the information about climate change. They talked about this organization, Greenpeace. Full of people who were fighting to keep our planet healthy. Not by hiding, but by working with everyone around them to make things better.

I was amazed. According to this article, we didn’t just need to hide and expect nothing but doom. We could work together to save the planet. Suddenly I thought “Maybe I wasn’t wrong to have some doubt.”

The next day I confronted Nathan about the magazines. He didn’t seem surprised that Greg shared them with me. He said that he knew it was only a matter of time, especially after our conversation yesterday. He said “I know that what we do here is important and will guarantee our survival. But sometimes I wonder about how things are really going out there since we can’t see it for ourselves. And I miss Rosie.” Rosie was the woman who visited him. He said she came out once a week, every Sunday evening after everyone had gone to bed and they would sit together in her car and talk.

“She’s tried to get me to move back out there, but I just can’t leave my parents. They need me here.”

I understood.

The rest of the week I continued to read Greg’s stockpile of magazines and by the time my birthday came around, I felt like I needed to understand this world from a different point of view. And if I didn’t do it now, when would I?

It was the morning of my birthday and I punched the 8 digit code to open the door and walk outside. I saw Nathan standing there and together we proceeded to work on gathering more fuel.

I turned to him and said “I think I need to go.”

“I know” Nathan replied.

I was shocked. “You know?”

“I could tell something had changed after you saw those magazines. You’ve been sheltered, hidden away from an entire world. Now is your chance to explore it.” He continued “I already talked to Rosie about it. She agreed to take you with her next Sunday when she drives back into town. She lives near our Aunt Peggy, who obviously you’ve never met. She visits with her and she’s agreed to let you stay with her and her two sons for a while as you explore and figure out how you want to move forward.”

I didn’t know how to respond, so I simply said; “Thank you”.

Sunday came quickly. I was finishing packing when I was overcome with a sense of guilt. I told Greg how I was feeling and I expected a quip about how I shouldn’t care. But his face was serious as he said “I know. I get it Robby. But you need to do this. For you, for us. Just promise me you’ll come back and get me after you get settled.”

I stared at him and tried my best to not get emotional “Obviously kid”.

We embraced in an awkward, emotional hug. I grabbed my bags and snuck out the front door to see Nathan waiting. He motioned silently and I followed him through the woods to a dirt path where a car was waiting. A tall woman with long red hair stepped out of the car when she saw us approaching.

She looked at me and said “Hi Robby, I’m Rosie. It’s great to meet you.” She extended her hand.

I shook it “Hi Rosie. Thank you for doing this.”

“Of course.” She replied. “Anything for Nate!”

She then turned to Nate and said “You sure you don’t want to come? Peggy told me she’s happy to have you both.”

Nathan looked at her, I could see he was struggling. “I just can’t Rosie.”

Rosie inhaled deeply and nodded. “Okay. Well, Robby we should probably get out of here quickly.”

“Yeah, you should.” Nathan grabbed me by the shoulders and swung me around so that I was looking at him “Listen” he said “this is going to be hard, okay? There’s going to be a lot that you never knew about. But just stick with it. You can do this. Rosie is going to check in on you and update me, and I’ll talk to your parents. They will be fine.”

I suddenly felt my eyes welling up with tears. I couldn’t speak, so I just nodded.

Nathan nodded back, turned me around and said “Okay, I’ll see you soon Rosie!”

I climbed into the car and we drove away. Rosie and I didn’t talk much. She asked me some questions about life in the bunkers, and I answered. It didn’t take long before she stopped the car and turned it off.

“Okay, this is it.”

I got out of the car and looked around at the large square houses, with the squares of glass on each side. Everything was out in the open. I followed Rosie up the path and she knocked on the door. A woman answered, looked down at me and smiled and said “Robby, we’ve been expecting you.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. This was it, this was my chance to make an impact on this world. I had made my choice. I was ready for change. I smiled back, lifted up my bags and walked through the door.

March 08, 2021 20:13

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