Those Who Call Themselves Elders

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There must be something so resilient in us, my love. Is that how you would define it? Resilience? The way I always defined it is being able to last past something that should have otherwise decimated us. God, I don’t even know anymore. Things did not change in an instant, and I think we always imagined the change to be instantaneous. One day, life goes on with all its usual stresses and inconveniences. The next second, all is gone, your whole family gone, your whole life gone and nothing in the aftermath. This is not to say such a calamity never happened again, my love, but this one, the most momentous of calamities, was such a slow one in comparison to those. It took its sweet time to get itself established, into the minds and bodies of all it touched, a poison unlike any other poison.

How to describe it, my love? Imagine the Tower of Babel, a thousand times worse, but that might not convey the magnitude of what I’m trying to instill in you. You’ve heard all about the Before, I’m sure, the Before where what you were and what you wanted to be was so heavily monitored and enforced to the nth degree. I know you can’t imagine a time like that, my love, and I think we all spoke fondly then of the days in which it wouldn’t be like that anymore, where we could live lives without violent interruption. We dreamed of that so long, and we grew into elders. Our elders were taken from us in a much smaller calamity than the one you remember, a calamity of disease and pestilence deliberately spread that we were in turn blamed for, seen as a convenience to those who wanted us gone. I was not around for that one either, my love, I’m not that old! I don’t think those same folks were anticipating the next one, but this would not be one of disease this time around. Much like the previous one had affected them as well, as much as they pretended those of them with it were in turn us (hear tell of the small child forced out of his education because of a transfusion of liquids?), they thought themselves immune from this new calamity.

Folly, folly is the word I would use to describe it and how we were the first to recognize it, long before they did! They had spent so long hurting us and hunting us that we found it most convenient to say nothing at all. We had long ago discovered that there was nothing we could do to prevent it, that all we could do was tucker in for the long run and hope for the best. It was not as if this was the only calamity in the forecast, mind you. There was the calamity of our broken environment, which did break soon enough. That break felt like a formality after the calamity we experienced. I wish I could better explain it. I’d give anything to say it, but the words are still unfamiliar to me, my love. I construct them with what I can find through the recesses of reality, what is left of it. There was a time before and after physical constitution of matter, a time before and after the fracture of our collective consciousness.

They say, the new scholars say, anyway, that the universe and everything that exists inside of it is merely its own way of being able to discover and express itself. That would connect us more than the similar construction of our material elements, my love! We would be two of an infinite number of expressions that can be found in every molecule, every atom, every quark, every subatomic particle smaller than that! Infinite growth, infinite shrinkage. But that was the calamity, you see, but a very specific one at that.

Normally, the fear relating to the heat death of the universe, an old concept from Before about the destruction and collapse of all matter into a singular point, would in turn apply to every facet of our reality and take us all with it. That was the original intention. With the data the scientists of Old had collected, that they came to the wrong conclusion ultimately cannot be blamed on them, as it turns out. We can only perceive what we’re capable of perceiving.

How to reconstruct? How to reform yourself from the remnants of yourself? You might be confused by my wording, my love, I know you must be. I am selecting from millions of potential options to convey what I feel and intend as best I can. That is the catastrophe I am trying to explain to you. There was a time, once, when all was tangible and logical and obeyed the laws of physics, and that time exists no longer. We spent so long preparing for a tangible calamity that we were caught completely unprepared for one that occurred in all others states of being, reduced us all into oneness.

I am me, I am you, you are me, you are I. Such a statement would not originally be true but now the figurative has become literal. The calamity was not instantaneous, at first it just just a room in a random home in a random city in a random time in a random place. This room, a living room if my word choice can be correctly calculated, fell into this realm of being. It grew from there, and it seemed to be only us who could make sense of it once it grew to a point where it could no longer be contained. Then there was another place, out in a field or a meadow if I recall correctly. And another, a power plant. Another, a schoolroom cafeteria. Another and another and another and another. People found themselves drawn into these voids, found themselves absorbed inside of it. Homogenized, some would say, all becoming the same, all losing their sense of self. It affected everyone in some way, it affected you and me, and yet by sheer force of will, we were able to resist it, for now.

Maybe we never had to resist it. I do not remember when I first met you, only that I knew that I loved you and that I could never scream it aloud. It was not one that was reciprocated in the conventional sense, I don’t think. Our love for one another was not predicated on a concept of transaction or ownership. That is the traditional way love is expressed or allowed. Transaction or ownership, and those who subscribed to that model were already homogenized in mind so it was not hard for them to be homogenized by body as well. Is that why they were the most susceptible, those who thought the way you and I were expected to think?

Not much has emerged from before. We were different people before. Was our change into other people, new people, or perhaps the people we’d been hiding inside all along, had that been what ultimately shielded us from this influence? I honestly couldn’t tell you, my love. I wish I had an easy explanation for it all. These bubbles of homogeneity mess with the mind, interfere with the senses, make it difficult to convey meaning. We don’t speak aloud anymore. I don’t remember the last time I opened my mouth to speak. I remember eating and breathing, I remember your mouth against mine and your warm embrace. I remember all uses of the mouth sans speaking, and when I try, only silent air escapes from my windpipe.

They’re not literally bubbles. I can feel myself returning to me. This method is working better my love. You sit next to me. You sit next to me, yes? You just nodded, that’s a good sign, and you nodded and smiled at me. Your smile has been one of my favorite things about you since the moment we met. I know that’s a cliched thing to say. You would say that every time.

I don’t think this is an affliction of being mute, at least not traditionally? It’s tough to formulate meaning through the brain. I feel myself straining through my words to get them out in the right order. I remember back before, when we first met and had to meet in hiding so we wouldn’t be found out that you said I was a better speaker than you. That’s such a ridiculous notion and I told you that then. I have to tell you that now. Sometimes the homogeneity makes me forget and sometimes it makes you forget. Today it’s my time. Perhaps we will both know for a couple weeks or a couple seconds. It really depends. But then it’s the job of one of us to be able to refresh the other. It’s not that the memories go away, per se. They all are still there. What is removed is not the memories themselves but the context behind them. I wish I could explain better to you. I’ve done this hundreds if not thousands of times and so have you. Through some sheer stroke of luck, it’s never been both of us at the same time. It’s only ever been one of us. Has some force out there realized the peril in having us both at the same time and always given us just one so we can be revived by the other?

I would do this a million times if that’s what it took, my love. I mean that. I do. I see you smiling again, I know it’s coming back slowly. My words return to me. Here we are now, with much less than before but somehow with a lot more. I’ll get to reacclimate you to so many things if we have the time this time. Sometimes the same one goes several times in a row before the others and I’m not sure if it was you or me. I’m typing this time. That’s all that matters, so who cares which one of us that had been? I know baked beans were never your favorite, but I’ll gladly feed them to you out of the can. I know you’ve never lost the ability to feed yourself but I’ll do it anyway because you’ll smile again. You always hated yours but I’ve always loved yours, I’ve loved you and will always love you for daring to be yourself when everyone else screams at you to do anything else, for the love of God.

I think we both love each other because we arrived at the center from two ends of an opposite spectrum. We are neither but we started out being conditioned as one or the other. What we wanted wasn’t what we were supposed to want. We don’t look as people were expected to look before or after. Now that we’re in the After, now that we’ve learned to live with these pockets of distortion, we don’t see many others anymore. The After is not necessarily easier to live through in physical means. Food is hard to come by. It was your idea to begin something more self-sustaining, but neither of us had ever farmed before. It took so much time and effort to find books to learn how, to recover seeds from plant nurseries, to use what was left to try and engender something new. We never ate this many vegetables Before. I remember reading the texts before claiming that an After would be better, that modern convenience was a curse, but it’s really more of a tradeoff. The tradeoff is bland vegetables to be finally allowed to be whatever we want to be. We can dress and present any way that we want to with what little we can find. Old corn husks for a wig, but at least nobody stops you or I from wearing them now. Life is so infrequent, sentient life less so, that nobody dares stop us, even if they would have done so Before. I will take all the inconveniences in the world. You would say the same during the times where it was I who had to be retaught and you who were completely cognitive. A blessing and a curse at the exact same time, that’s how you always put it. Every time, it would not occur to me until it was my turn for cognition that you hadn’t originated the phrase.

What did we do before, my love? Whatever it was, it was completely pointless and futile work, busywork as an excuse for busywork. Sometimes I prefer it to what we have to do now in order to make it through another cold winter day. Should we be expected to always look at this new life as if we should always enjoy it? I’m the one who can get angry about this, my love, but never you. I’ve always been envious of how you’re able to see the brighter things in life no matter how bleak they might seem. When it first began, before it affected us, when it was thousands of miles away from us, there was always cheer in your voice and pep in your step.

We make as best a living as we can now, my love. You were so proud when the tomatoes sprouted for the first time. You were so joyous when we were able to trade some of our supply for our first chickens. You never saw us as farming types, nor did I, my love. We always lived somewhere metropolitan before, and that hasn’t changed! Having a whole building to ourselves made it difficult at first, plants growing everywhere, decay and rot setting in without the constant maintenance we were used to before. We had to find something more sustainable, to access our inner “flower children,” as you put it, and live at one with nature as best we could. The decay of the city meant we moved farther out, taking supplies where we could. Our consumption of media about this very topic made us on edge and always expect ravenous looters or the zombie apocalypse. As it turned out, we had nothing to fear, my love. It was something we’d find out much later, during one of the times when it was your turn during After.

I see the quizzical expression on your face, my love. You turn to me now, not realizing I was able to see it. I was, and I’m not judging you for it. Whenever it’s my turn during After, you’re often quite the same with me. I remember that, for now. I love that about you. What I mean to say is that all the literature about this subject tells us the worst of people comes out during a prolonged crisis. This turns out not to be the case. Ironically, when the systems in power that have conditioned us to mistreat each other fall to pieces because of a reality altering occurrence no one could’ve predicted, the opposite tends to happen. Without a system controlling our pay and our livelihood, people are drawn back to human nature. That human nature always was and always will be kindness, my love. Not just the kindness you share with me every day by giving me the privilege of existing with you. Our first days were so anxiety-inducing, we feared everyone and anyone. And yet, as the days went by, we had to venture farther and farther, searching for a new permanent home.

It all changed the first time we saw others after that. The first time we saw others was the time we’d ran out of supplies, starving and miserable, and we cried in each others arms, dressed only in piles of rags. Our clothes had deteriorated from all the wear and tear. And so someone came through the overturned dumpster we lay in, as we waited patiently for death, and opened each of our mouths. Into our mouths went a spoon, and on the spoon was a bite of beans. I know that sounds silly, my love. It was someone else. Someone had gone and found us. They asked us questions of ourselves, and confirmed what we already knew. They were like us, my love! They wandered out in the open like we’d always dreamed of. Like us, they had grown a chrysalis out of themselves and changed their form into something more. We saw it as a prison, they saw it as freedom, and that bite of beans, that’s a moment I know you remember! I see you smiling now, that wide smile, the smile I fell in love with. A little shy, to hide your teeth, something you still carry on from the time you wore braces all throughout high school. I wish I had known you then, my love, I wish I had known you. You’d be so beautiful with or without braces. You smile more and you blush and you giggle now at me typing what you’re doing. I do it because I like how you react to it, my love. I do this because once I was so angry and furious and hateful at the world and in my lowest moments, there you were like a respite from it all.

We don’t know that person anymore, my love. There was no falling out between us. We ended our time together with them as happily as it began. They had a lot of work to do, you see, and could only spare a little kindness for us. That kindness was more than enough. We could do the same for others. What was the point now of hoarding money if all currency was worthless? What was the point of hoarding resources if they would all spoil? Why take more than you needed? What was the point? All they said before they left was that we needed to be to others what they had been to us. You took to it so well whenever it was your turn during After. I wish I had your talent for it. It still makes me feel uncomfortable to give to others. Not because I don’t want to, mind you! It’s because you have such a way with them! There’s always some lost souls wandering near our encampment, hungry and starving. You’ve got such a way with them when it’s your turn during After, my love. The way their faces light up while you feed them some of your trademark tomato bisque. I don’t have that sort of way with people, I never did. People are always grateful and kind to me, of course. But that’s not why I do it.

I do it because you learned so much empathy and compassion from those giving souls, you always called them Elders. That term didn’t have the same kind of meaning Before, but you saw it as having additional meaning now that these people would wander the remnants of our nation giving what they could. Sometimes they’d give supplies, sometimes they’d be shoulders to cry on, sometimes a friendly voice to listen to when the voices in your head were so unkind.

Giving and giving of oneself is never something I could understand Before. I was not an especially giving person Before, my love. I’m not really sure what you saw in me Before. I was so angry and so selfish as a result that I gave only to myself. That’s the way the system wanted it, my love, it wanted to legislate us out of existence. It was under the control of those who were threatened by us. They were threatened by us, my love, because our very existence proved their existence to be forfeit. They did everything they could to hide that truth, and then the calamity occurred and they no longer had the power to fight us off any longer. They no longer had the homogenizing influence they had on their side. They could no longer control us, and their denial of their very selves was their undoing. They left for us a world that was nearly broken, nearly undone, just on the very brink of ruin. It made sense then, as one Elder told us on a dark and stormy night with only the light of the fire for warmth and comfort.

I’m an Elder now, love. We both are. That’s not something that we could have ever foreseen for ourselves, that I know. You’re almost there, my love. We have a lot of work to do, but I’ve grown so patient with you. We are slowly coming back to ourselves. I will do this till the day I die, my love. That I promise you. Once we’re back to ourselves, once we are fully restored, once we shoulder the burden of After, we can return to our work. Once upon a time, someone gave us a spoonful of beans when we were starving, and now we are called to action. We are not in the service of any deity, or any word used to express the limited comprehension of the divine that we may only have for ourselves as human beings. We do this because we have a world to rebuild, one soul at a time, regardless of who they were Before. We cannot do anything for those Before that tried to eliminate us, who hurt us in unspeakable ways. They are entranced by the calamity, every aspect of it, nothing can tear their gaze from it. Ironic, isn’t it, that the people they least wanted to exist somehow became those most able to withstand the very alteration of the fabric of reality itself. Life can be strange in that way.

We have work to do, my love. I can see it so close now. I love you so dearly, but there is work that must be done. You see, as time went on, I suppose people began to talk about us in ways I’d never imagine we’d be talked about. Desperate people, lonely people, looking for any reason to go on. They don’t know how to manage for themselves. How could they? They were intentionally taught how to consume and not to create. Word slowly spreads, and there’s more of them than before, and we speak of the Elders who came before who showed us the way while we were in such need of guidance. Now we must spread to them what we know. We must tell them of our failures and our follies. We must tell them how we faltered. They must be so much more than we ever were, my love.

There. I see you now, my love. There you are. You have returned to me. This was relatively fast this time around, I must say. We usually are able to get some amount of warning now of when the calamity will erupt again and which of us will be taken by it. So far, it has never been both of us at once. I see that fire in your eyes, my favorite thing about you. We’re ready to do the work, you and I. We will go out there and instruct them and tell them what we know, we will never cease our efforts. Every day more brings another soul for us to work with.

We will begin with a warning. Not a warning of doom and gloom, but a warning they must heed nonetheless. We give them the warning that those such as us, those who were once cocoons and then blossomed, we will not remain students forever. We will ask them to describe why they look at us the way they do. They will have an assortment of answers. We will tell them that one day, others will look at them with the same pleading eyes. Once, we looked at an Elder with those eyes as they fed us from a can of beans. That day will come. They must not be caught as unprepared by that responsibility as we were. We will end our first lesson with them by saying exactly what that Elder once said to us, their warning to us. Full of hope, but also uncertainty.

“One day, you will yourself be called Elder.”

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