I found out yesterday (though I kinda already knew) that I’d not made the long list for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Literary Non-Fiction Prize this year. I thought this one had some real potential. Anyway, I present it here for you ne’er do wells to judge.
How I Spent My Mayan Apocalypse
When I was a little kid I would count on my fingers how old I’d be when the century turned. Such a long ways away, I thought; I would be thirty-seven years old, and for the little kid that I was that was ancient. When the calendar finally did flip in 1999 I was laying on a tattered old sofa in an equally tattered old house that had been retrofitted as an ambulance station in the east end of Hamilton. What was supposed to be a night of chaos and drama turned out, surprisingly enough, to be the slowest shift I ever did while working as a paramedic. I watched the ball drop, then turned over and went back to sleep.
We all have moments in our lives we use to mark the journey, to look to as set pieces for the more mundane things that surrounded them, and each exists more firmly, more brightly, in our memories for reasons that are just as deeply personal. They are our life-structuring milestones. Some, of course, can be shared, like the generation before mine remembering where they were that horrible November day in 1963. For my peers, it’s 9/11. Those are huge events that become part of our collective social and cultural memory, and the signposts they leave are poured cement with professionally screen-printed banners. What I find more interesting are the smaller moments meant only for us that we stake into the ground ourselves with a stick and maybe a bit of found yarn.
So let me tell you a little bit about the Mayan apocalypse…
It’s not that they were bad at math. In fact, from what I’ve read, their calendar was specifically designed to end on 12/12/2012, and it was really just marking the end of a cycle more than five-thousand years old before the beginning of another. While many in Central and South America celebrated it, others, more imaginative folks, picked it up as a sure sign the Mayans had known something we had forgotten. The best-by date for our highly advanced civilisation was nigh, they said, and we should best make our peace.
Like the technological apocalypse prophesied for the turn of the century, it made for great media sensationalism. The Internet loves that shit. I was living in a small but pleasant one-bedroom apartment that had, not by design or desire or intent, turned into my whole world. It was a nest I could settle into, armour I could wear, and the comforting arms of a mother. The post-traumatic stress disorder I had been fighting for the last few years of my ambulance career and the years since, had finally become more than I was able to manage. It had grown into severe agoraphobia and a bunch of other fun things with clinical names I have no care to list. I kept the curtains drawn tight because the movement of a branch in the wind outside, caught in my peripheral vision, sent me into paroxysms of terror. I would mute the TV if there were footsteps in the hall outside lest the little old ladies I shared the floor with figure out I was there. Grocery runs were combat missions that needed careful planning, always happened at seven on a Wednesday morning, and I had long ago stopped varying the liquor stores I used in order to keep the staff from realising how much I drank because it was more important to go to the closest one and just get the fuck back home. Someone once suggested I have my groceries delivered instead and I think I muttered some response that sounded reasonable at the time, but the truth was the terror of having another person rip open my armour and enter my nest was worse than the struggle I went through just mad-dashing it to the store and back. When they introduced self-checkouts, I am pretty sure I cried with joy.
Many colleagues had taken their own lives long before reaching this point, and more than a few were personal friends. What was it about me, then, that even in the darkest of the dark holes, despite thinking about it all the time, could I not man up and just do the thing? I still don’t know. I have stopped trying to speculate like I have stopped telling war stories. Let’s leave that for sort of thing for deeper thinkers.
I wanted this horror to end though. I wanted to go to bed at night and not wake up. So when the threat of the world ending came around in 2012, despite being smart enough to know it was just hyperbole based on the same type of paranoid fantasies that keeps the A&E channel pumping out less than stellar arts and entertainment programming, I embraced it. Please be true, I kept thinking.
Please. I just wanted some peace.
How would it happen? I pondered on the nature of the end of days. It would have to be something quick, because despite the world generally turning to shit, there was nothing new developing. There was no viral outbreak in some isolated pocket of the globe turning people into zombies (that I had heard of at least), or threats of nuclear war any worse than the ones I grew up with in the glory days of American/Soviet detente. Personally, I was rooting for a huge solar storm nobody saw coming that would rip our atmosphere away and vaporise all living things in a crisp and euphoric moment of absolute, completely painless, possibly orgasmic, joy. I wanted it to be true, but I didn’t want to linger about afterward. A giant asteroid could cause the same sort of destruction but only on a much smaller scale, leaving many parts of the globe to wait on a slower though no less assured death. An alien invasion would be cool to see, but same thing.
Yeah, waiting around wasn’t going to work for me.
It was a Wednesday. Hump day. Though at the time I was too preoccupied to recognise it this way, now I think that was somewhat poetic. I didn’t get groceries that morning because I had my money riding on the doomsday, but I had a bottle that I started in on just around ten in the morning. I spent the afternoon playing computer games, drinking heavily, fantasising more on the exact nature of the reckoning, and occasionally peeking out through the living room curtains to see if it had begun yet.
Midnight, though, found me long passed out on the sofa with the TV droning on, probably tuned to A&E because they made nice sleepy-time stuff—the kind you occupy your brain with to keep it from going off on its own tangent but not so interesting as to keep you awake. The game I’d been playing was still open on my laptop and the unfinished half of what turned out to be my last drink of judgment day was making a ring in the wood of my coffee table.
All I got from the Mayan Apocalypse was dry mouth and a sense of thickness around the edges that only the most insidious hangovers give you.
And so, I drove a stick into the ground, wrapped a bit of brightly coloured yarn around it, and carried on. I counted on my fingers how old I would be if I made it to 2020.