I used to joke that I would regret all of the postapocalyptic novels I read in my twenties and here I am, regretting all of the postapocalyptic novels I read in my twenties.
Mostly Station Eleven. Imagine me last week handing my passport to a gate agent in a surgical mask at SFO to board a twelve-hour flight to London, thinking about nothing except the scene in that book where a plane parks on the tarmac, forever hermetically sealing its flu-ridden passengers off from the world so their last act isn’t to infect it. If you haven’t read it, now isn’t a great time to do so, though maybe you’re a less anxious creature than me.
If so, good on you. I’m losing my mind. I want to go back to that time when I saw the first fifteen minutes of “I Am Legend” at the gym and change the channel back to CNN where it belongs. I want to un-read Susan Beth Pfeiffer’s Life As We Knew It quartet, and not only because the last book took a weird turn from climate-change survival thriller/teen romance to men’s-rights defense (complete with teen-on-teen rape scene. Aren’t you glad I read it so you don’t have to?).
Between that and Severance, I know full well what happens to New York City during the apocalypse: Seamless stops delivering, and everyone dies. I feel grateful to live in London now instead of New York. Here, I have enough space in my kitchen for twelve cans of beans.
Truthfully, though, my fear isn’t the apocalypse itself; it’s surviving it. I am slow, weak, and lazy; I have a face made for dying first in a horror movie. I bought the tenth-to-last 16-pack of toilet paper at Waitrose last Tuesday and it practically left me sweating. (And only to be chastised by my favorite Instagram doctor!)
I’m joking, but I spent this past week feeling pretty freaked. It didn’t help that I returned from the US early, while my fiancé was still in India, leaving me alone in a foreign country with nothing to do except read Tweets about better options for hand-washing songs and vote for Elizabeth Warren. In other words, at no point this week did I feel that I had a sense of agency.
I’m excitable. The other day my mind wandered to imagining myself on my coronavirus deathbed attached to a ventilator, reflecting on whether I’d lived my life properly. (Before I had time to negotiate properly with my response to that question, I set to thinking about how to make sure that someone capable gets a hold of my half-completed novels and essays upon my death so I can get famous posthumously. Hashtag priorities.) Yesterday I overheard a British woman with one of those really exhaustingly posh accents moaning about how everyone was making too big a fuss about the coronavirus and we just needed to practice “basic hygiene” and it was all I could do not to turn around and virtue-signal about helpless nursing home residents and also question whether she really soaped for 20 seconds every time she washed her hands before last week, because I refuse to believe anyone did or surely we’d all be walking around with our skin flaking off like mine currently is, singing Toto.
I don’t have anything of substance to contribute to the discourse. I’m just trying to be good. It’s not clear whether that means hunkering down to avoid becoming a vector or going out and propping up the collapsing economy and being performatively antiracist, so I’m splitting the difference, which conveniently means avoiding the Tube during rush hour and going out for Neapolitan pizza. For now, I’m living my life as I usually do (i.e., one day at a time, without much furthering the greater good), only sometimes I remember to wipe the weights down with antibacterial wipes before I start lifting at the gym and instead of reading people’s text messages over their shoulders on the Tube, I judge them for biting their nails. What more can I do than that?