Mulholland Books Popcorn Fiction Popcorn Fiction - Me (from before) by Elena Tropp
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A woman deals with life after the Surge in this cool short story by screenwriter Elena Tropp.

Me (from before)

Day 3

I am writing this longhand. In the afternoon. I haven't written anything in longhand that didn't include the words milk, eggs or low fat peanut butter in a very, very long time. But, I kinda think I have to document my experience of this. Which sounds so fucking pretentious and lame. I know the whole thing will be blogged to death. Right now, all over the western United States people are mentally composing giant chunks of internettery full of it. How I lived through the Surge. How I was amazingly prepared for and therefore successfully rode out the Surge. How I was actually very snotty to those who didn't really expect this to actually happen and have thus been sort of winging it during the Surge. I think that when the power comes back on, I am gonna get tired of the capitalized Surge awfully damn quick.

But, it's a thing. A Big Thing. And, as such, as the Biggest Thing that I have personally experienced, I will be called upon to talk about it. A lot. Where was I? What did I do? The whole JFK assassination bit that my mom had. (Porch. Radio announcement. Ice cream tremulously dropped on the pavement. Tears. For the ice cream. She was 4. Four-year-olds are not that empathetic.) I know I am supposed to have already experienced my Big Thing. 9/11. And I am not denying the Bigness of that Thing. It was huge. But, my experience of it? I was in LA. Asleep. My mom called. I turned on the TV. I watched all the horror from my couch with toast breaks.

This is my big thing. And it is certainly my kid's Big Thing. Though they are so young they will probably get at least one more Big Thing. And one that they think of as Big but everyone else barely notices. (RIP Kurt Cobain). But, they will ask. They will want me to remember for them, as well as for myself. They will want all the stories. Tidbits to trade on the playground and then in dorm rooms and finally at cocktail parties as a way of connecting with the cute guy in the rumpled shirt. At 1 and 2, they will have no real memories of this at all. Just pictures that they will manufacture "memories" from. Assuming the power comes back on and we can get them off the damn camera.


The neighbors bought stuff. We saw them in the weeks leading up to Transition Day. It was like they were starting their own Costco. But, it wasn't "Transition Day" then. I mean, it was. But for normal, not-hysterical, low-panic folks it was June 1st. The day after Memorial Day. The start of summer.

Nate and I watched them, the Layhes across the street, carting in the giant jugs of water and the canned beans, laying in the mounds of blue tarp and duct tape, climbing under the house to install a water relief valve. And we laughed. Not loudly at them. We are nice people. Outwardly, we are nice people. But to ourselves and later, in the bathroom as we brushed our teeth and savored a moment of child freedom, we laughed. We speculated that Karen was sewing teeny, tiny particle deflecting masks for their cats Fribble and Scoots. We imagined Mike down in the basement, carefully pulling off the homemade labels reading "Y2K supplies" and replacing them with new ones reading "GPT supplies." We pitied them, slaves as they were to their worries. And we felt superior. Not in an icky way, just in a quiet, convivial, aren't-we-lucky-we-have-each-other-to-share-in-our-sanity way. It was nice.

About a month before it happened, when there was that big article in the New York Times about the logistics of it, we almost did something. Not Layhe something. But I remember reading about the sequence of transverter switches that had to be thrown in perfect sync in order to make the transition smooth and it seemed, well, hard. And I mentioned it. '1 million technomotic transverter switches must convert from the Original Grid to the Expanded Grid in exact sequential order or there runs a very serious risk of power abatement.' You read that, you mention it.

"There are no such things as technomotic transverter switches."

"I know that, but I am paraphrasing a conversation that happened a month ago and I don't have that issue anymore and as you well know we have no internet so I can't just Google it. The technical names don't matter anyway. I can find them later. The thrust of the conversation is what I am looking for here. The moment we almost knew what was going to happen."

"No one knew what was going to happen. That was the point. People thought that it was going to go smoothly. Or, more realistically, they thought it was going to be a giant clusterfuck, but the kind of giant clusterfuck that is a pain in the ass but doesn't actually do much beyond create paperwork and cost money."

"Can you watch the language? I am thinking of this as a document for our children's future."

"Sorry. Okay. Future Katie. Future Meg. No one was really prepared for this because no one ever expects that not only will the worst case scenario happen, but there is actually a little bit worser case scenario that the first worst case scenario precipitates but that no one took the time to think about because the chance of it was so infinitesimal."

"Except the Layhes."

"I actually think that the worst case scenario the Layhes have prepared for hasn't shown up yet. I saw Mike wearing what looked alarmingly like a tinfoil hat this morning."

"Well, good. Tinfoil we have."

Day 5

I come from a long line of non-panickers. Actually, I think it's a short line. My dad. My dad didn't panic. My mother panics constantly. I honestly can't imagine how she is handling being cut off from us like this. But, I really can't imagine how anyone is handling being cut off from everyone. Or having everyone cut off from them. The neighborhood guess is that this is only affecting the Western US. From something like Rockies left. They were going to switch our grid first and then do the East Coast. I'm guessing they put that off. That first day we thought it was just us. Not our house, obviously, but just California. Or maybe even just Southern California. We woke up, June 2nd and everything was dark.

"That is an incredibly ominous sentence, Erin. 'Everything was dark'. Whoooo."

"Shut it. I meant metaphorically. It was June in SoCal. Everything was gorgeous and bright."

"What ever happened to June Gloom?"

"Excuse me?"

"You're right. It has been sunny and bright every morning this month. We had, like two days of coastal misery weather. What is up with that? Global warming? Someone should look into it. You've lived here longer than me, don't you remember how June is? How you keep waiting for it to be summer and it is summer, but only from like 11 o'clock on?"

"Nathan. Global catastrophe. Focus. We are discussing Day One."

"It's not global. At least, I don't think it's global. Let's try and not blow this out of proportion. It's a catastrophe. It was dark in that we were without power. It was not the end of the world."

"I whispered that to Meg last night as I was putting her to sleep. I got right in her ear and said, 'It's not the end of the world, darling baby. I promised you a whole life. One with all the bells and whistles. And it's coming.'"

"Do you want me to say it?"

"Yes. Please."

"It's not the end of the world. There is no such thing. It is a moment. A blip. And before you know it, it will be over. Everything will be back the way it was."

"Really?"

"No...ow! Fine. Functionally, everything will be back the way it was."

"Functionally? How is that comforting?"

"It's honest. The power will come back. The water will come back. Internet, banks, phones, sewage, garbage, police, fire, Ralph's, everything will come back. But, it will probably be slow and it will probably be imperfect. At least for a while."

"Better. Ish."

"You didn't lie to her. Tell her again tonight. Tell them both. Tell them every night until you don't have to. It won't be much longer. And it will always be true."


So, at first it was fun. Well, it wasn't fun. There was no coffee and there were no waffles and there were two kids who wanted waffles and even with coffee the unmet needs of toddlers are pretty intolerable, but it wasn't scary or anything. We went around and turned off the light switches and unplugged things so that when the power surged back we wouldn't blow fuses. That was on the little fridge magnet that we got in the mail in April. It was number #3—IF IT GETS DARK, PREVENT A SPARK. Then we packed up some lunch and headed to the park.

"The car accidents were a little alarming."

"Yeah. They still are. When will people stop driving?"

"When they run out of gas."

Our park is gorgeous. Leafy and green with a shaded playground that the kids love. It was a huge reason we moved here. We sat in the park on the Fourth of July eating hot dogs we bought from Boy Scouts and we were home. Before you have kids, the possibilities are what excite you. What will happen? When? If? After, the concept of stability, of constants, is the most thrilling thing you can imagine. If you aren't expecting that, it might be depressing. Some of my friends seem depressed by it. They miss the idea that life could change completely at any moment. They are high. The idea that my life could change completely at any moment is my biggest fear. Or it was.

I am also properly afraid of all the normal 30something mom shit. Preschools. Potty training. Phalates.

"Bullshit. You have no idea what a Phalate is."

"I pretend to."

"You let Katie eat sand."

"I don't serve it to her. She grazes, and I don't freak out about it."

"Everyone else does."

"Remember that time Meg had a mouthful of grass and that lady reached for her Purell and kind of absently caressed it? I think that was an apex of insanity we may never reach again."

"Doug Abele told me that he made a little burner out of Purell. Like one of those camp things. What do you call them? With the swirl of cardboard?"

"A camp burner. You told me I didn't have to worry about running out of charcoal for the grill. We had plenty. We were being careful."

"We do. We are. This was just adding to the whole Purell crazy lady story. It was in the vein of Purell. A Purell Fun Fact."

"—"

"*"

"Don't kiss me when you think I'm annoyed."

"Don't pretend to be annoyed when you are really just scared."

Day 6

I'm not scared. Not really. I am suitably nervous. We have been without power for 6 days. But, we have plenty of food still, charcoal for the grill, water. Diapers are getting scarce, but that is not the end of the...it's not a big deal. So we potty train a little early. Surge bonus. And, hokey as it sounds, I am kind of digging the community aspect of it all. We have met everybody this week. When there is no tv and no air conditioning everyone is sort of forced to be social. There is an all in this together sort of vibe.

The Coleman's nanny/au pair person showed up today. Lila. I feel bad for her, stuck with the Colemans all this time. On Day 3, Bonnie actually tried to insist that she hadn't really noticed the Surge since they were so committed to "living off the grid". Vom. It.

I really don't know Lila, the Coleman kids are older—8 or something, and they are well, Colemans. I offered one a water gun once and he lectured me about escalating gun violence in the inner cities. With a lisp.

Apparently she wants to stay with us until she can get back to her family. The Colemans left this morning. They have a cabin somewhere, I guess. And they are concerned about the smoke. Nate says it's fine. He spends a lot of time saying things are fine. He is becoming less good at it. Especially since what seemed like one little fire yesterday, now looks like a lot of bigger fires. Looty type fires. Downtown is burning type fires.

"Lakers win the play-offs type fires."

"See, you are getting exponentionally less believable."

"Looting is to be expected. People are running out of shit. The food is spoiling in the stores. I am thinking of hitting Vons for some steaks later."

"You are not! We don't loot."

"No. Not with fires and aggression. But, honey, you realize that we didn't just happen to have eleven bags of charcoal in the garage. On day four, Doug and I hit the Lowe's."

"You shopped."

"I stole."

"-“

"I'm not saying I feel good about it, but I am not about to let you guys starve."

Day 8

We saw tanks yesterday. Which was both comforting and terrifying. They didn't stop. They just rolled by, in a convoy, down the 110. Again with the comfort and the terror. Meg waved. They didn't wave back. Advantage: terror.

"I've been wondering where the National Guard was in all this."

"Iraq. Afghanistan. Kirsten's husband very astutely pointed out that our troops are engaged elsewhere and since this is just a power outage, well..."

"That made total sense on Day 3. It is making no sense on Day 8. It is worse somewhere. That is why they aren't here. It is bad here, but it is horrific somewhere else."

"It has to be almost over, right? It has to be."

"Do you want me to be honest with you?"

"No."

"It is almost over."

"Yes."

"This part is almost over."

"What do you mean, "this part'?"

"I mean this, us just living in our house with our charcoal grill and our unwashed clothes and pretending that any second things are going to go back to normal. This is unsustainable."

"What else can we do? This is our life. We can't just abandon it."

Day 11

Apparently, we have to.

Yesterday, at the park, these fell from the sky:

Instructions for voluntary relocation:

  1. Gather all important papers: passports, deeds, bills of ownership for houses, cars, boats, etc. Any printed statements from banks or brokerage houses with assets delineated. Secure these on your person.
  2. Bring no more than one packed bag for each family member. One extra bag is allotted for those under 5 or over 55.
  3. Secure your home. Lock all doors. Board windows if possible. Leave all furniture and appliances behind.
  4. Secure your vehicle in a garage if possible. If not, leave it parked and locked near your abode.
  5. It is not necessary to bring food or personal care items. They will be provided. Bring only clothes, medication and personal papers.
  6. Do not bring cell phones or other personal electronics.

"Number six is the kicker. Why can't we bring cell phones? They don't work, so who cares?"

"They don't want us to be able to record video."

"Seriously, Nate."

"I am being serious. Doug and Casey and Mark are meeting me at the park to discuss this in an hour."

"Meeting you? I'm not invited?"

"No, come. Bring the girls. The other wives and kids are coming."

"How nice of you. I feel so welcome."

"Enough, Erin. This is serious. This is not okay."

"Stop waving that around. You are practically foaming at the mouth. I think it is great. It's about time that the government told us what was going on, offered some help."

"But they didn't. There is no mention of what is going on. No mention even of what we are preparing for."

"Voluntary Relocation."

"Yeah. That does not have a comforting ring to it."

"The voluntary part sort of does."

"I'm pretty sure they don't mean it."

Day 15

I am trying to think of this from a pioneer prospective. Amy calls it biblical. She thinks she is being sarcastic, but she isn't entirely wrong. We are setting out in search of a new land.

"We are going to Griffith Park.""Work with me, Nate. I agreed to your plan, but..."

"We all agreed together. This is better. Safer. It's an adventure."

Whatever it is, it is happening. We aren't going to the relocation camp. We are making our own. There are about twenty of us. Four families plus a few assorted stragglers. Lila. Doug Abele's single brother. The lady from the café. We have camping supplies and provisions. Casey Huston is bringing a gun. We leave in the morning.

I am bringing paper. I don't know what else to do.

I don't want to go.

I know we can't stay.

Please, please, let us come back.

Let it all come back.

About the Author

Elena Tropp is a screenwriter who has written for animation and live action at lots of major studios such as the ones whose names begin with the letters F, D and U. They always make her sign pesky confidentiality agreements. She can't be trusted.