You just had to be brave today. You just had to go out of your apartment to go downstairs to the rows of silver mailboxes, get your little silver key out, and check the mail. It took you a good thirty seconds, braving the stares of your fellow apartment dwellers, whether these stares were real or imagined, to unjam all the accumulated ads and fliers and other junk mail that was wedged into the small cubicle reserved for your incoming post and dump it into a plastic shopping bag, the contents of which you would quickly examine when you got back up to your rooms and probably then dump completely into the trash. But now it was just to get this done and get back to safety, if there was such a thing. You kept your gaze low, but at the same time registered everything that was going on around you, a trick you taught yourself after years of having panic attacks and agoraphobia. Nothing is that real after all. What is the worst thing that could happen. Something pretty terrible, that's what. Well the worst thing will probably never happen. Nothing much ever happens. Just this creeping terror and lying on the verge of panic when you go out.
Back safely to the apartment. The clean smell, the cool air. You sit down and breathe and feel giddy to be back in your safe little haven. You drop the bag of mail onto the table and plop down in your favorite big chair. "Once begun, half done," you repeat your little mantra out loud, over and over, breathlessly. You look out the window. Dark clouds are beginning to form and the thunder rolls deeply in the distance. A big storm is coming, you could smell the ozone when you were in the lobby. Soon it will be be very dark and loud with thunder claps. Once again only sun was predicted today. Nothing that has happened over the past few months has been predicted. Not the epidemic, that has people shut off from one another, just like you are shut off from everyone, not the gradual integration back to society by everyone else, which you kind of resent, and not the riots in the streets. You understand this anger. It boils right under your own surface, maybe. You shake off that thought. Nothing has ever been gained by you from deep introspection. Don't ruin this stormy day by starting now.
You get up and shake the long forsaken mail loose from the plastic bag. One fat little letter breaks free from the junk mail and circulars and skids across the table.
It has your name and address painstakingly hand printed on it.
"Oh shit," you say to yourself, you recognize the handwriting but somehow can't place it. It doesn't make you happy to see it. It makes your heart drop and a cold sweat come over your entire body. It's family stuff. Not only that, but this means someone in your family knows where you live. You drop the letter and put a large mug of water in the microwave to make tea from one soothing herb or another. Or maybe instant coffee. As the microwave hums you look out the window. Large drops of rain are beginning to fall eagerly on the pane, and the little ornamental trees planted in front of the buildings are starting to be whipped by the angry wind. Figures in surgical masks hurry from one place to the next, eager to find shelter from the storm. Everyone is scared of everything nowdays. Some people are happily calling this the end times. You wish you could shake them. People have been ranting about the end of days for thousands of years. You wish they would grow some hair. Then you think, you are afraid to go out of your apartment, you are terrified of the little letter that is lying on your kitchen table.
But you're not afraid of the end times. You've seen so much worse. You've prayed for the end of the world many times over and then taken it back. It's not your place to decide.
You know there is something to live for and you know you will find it. Your father was wrong. Your family was wrong. You will find it. You lived your whole life afraid of the end of the world. This political catastrophe meant the Russians were going to attack, that political misadventure meant the Chinese were going to get us. Every house you lived in as a child came complete with a bomb shelter and your father was only too happy to try it out. The bombs never came, but tornados did and you used them for that, huddled in the damp with the rest of your family, pondering what it would be like when you didn't have a home, didn't have a mother, a dog, a school. Your father lectured you on why you couldn't invite your neighbors to the bomb shelter when the end of the world came, their would only be enough for your family. "Enough what?" you asked. "Food, Water, Supplies," he replied. You didn't want the kind of food he was talking about. He was always ordering freeze dried food for the shelter and it was terrible. Then he would quit or get fired from yet another job and your mother would serve the freeze dried food to you for dinner because there was nothing else. It was already the end of the world, you thought.
The microwave dinged. Two minutes are up. You go over to the microwave and take out the cup of hot water. You don't feel like having tea or coffee. You don't want to put anything in your mouth. You want to spew out fifty five years of fear and self hatred. How did you get so much self hatred. You are happy to be left alone, that is all you want from the world. To spend down the rest of your life not being bothered. Not being judged. It is a sad request. Two minutes of deep reflection can do a lot. You scoop up all the junk mail and the circulars and the fat little letter and throw them in the trash. A lightening bolt hits something nearby and is immediately followed by the crack of thunder overhead, you jump, and then you laugh at yourself for jumping. It's going to be a good day.