My fear of commitment keeps me from embracing the apocalypse. This is what I tell the friend who I’ve nicknamed Joan the Revelator. She does not laugh.
Two years ago, Joan left New York to live out west on some property she inherited. Soon her emails and social media drifted into talk of water wars, polar shifts, and global chaos. Alarming but not that unusual. Nothing I hadn’t entertained on a fearful insomniac night.
Joan had been through some dark times before heading west: a brutal breakup, a rent hike, and scarce funding that led to the dissolution of her dance company. Twenty years in the downtown arts scene could make anyone a little nuts.
A mutual friend reported visiting Joan on a road trip and being frightened by her arsenal, food stockpiling, and scary pronouncements. I wanted to give Joan the benefit of the doubt but stories of her escapades started making the rounds. They said she was heavily armed at all times and cavorting with some frightening characters. We had drifted apart but it seemed that rather than relying on secondhand gossip and innuendo I should just ask. Can we have a phone date? I wrote in my email including my number.
I woke up the next morning to Joan’s response email in all caps and bolded. It was some kind of manifesto with my name sporadically appearing in a different font and size, though still all caps and bolded. There was a lot about Samarian tablets, reptiles, Illuminati, and false flag school shootings, interspersed with boilerplate xenophobia and racism. Repeatedly the refrain WAKE UP appeared. Although my coffee wasn’t ready, I was awake from sheer adrenaline. When I finished her email I fought the desire to forward it to anyone. What could they possibly say? It took me the better part of two hours to write, edit, and rewrite a response that I ended up scrapping.
I thought of Joan from a few years ago. We had been at a mutual friend’s birthday party. My mother had recently died and Joan had lost hers a few months before. She offered a few compassionate words and placed her hand on my shoulder. The music changed and a smile appeared on her face and then mine and we danced. She was graceful and free and I was awkward but trying to be free. I laughed at myself and she laughed at my laughter. It was the best I’d felt in months. When the song ended, though neither of us were huggers, we held each other and swayed a little.
Had all of that paranoia and hate been in her then? Was there something that changed her? Was it mental illness? I didn’t send back a reply to her rant. I told a few friends, instructing them not to share the story. But the story came back to me anyway. In the retelling I wasn’t the recipient. Sometimes I was told it was a mutual friend or someone anonymous, and twice people told me that they were the one who had received the email. And maybe they had too. It was clearly a form letter manifesto.
One night my phone rang from a blocked number. No message. Then a text: It’s Joan. The phone rang again and I picked it up. I panicked for a moment thinking she had somehow found out that I had told the story of her email and she was angry about it. This isn’t a secure connection so I can’t talk long, she said. I idiotically asked if she was okay. Listen, listen, there isn’t much time. You have to get out of New York. Something very bad is going happen. Her speech was slurry. I could hear voices in the background. Someone saying a name that wasn’t hers but to which she responded. I have to go, she said. Leave tonight. It starts tonight. She hung up.
I was rattled. I tried to shake off the phone call and go to bed, but I couldn’t fall asleep. I sat up thinking about Joan out in the night doing god knows what, evangelizing for the end of the world. Would she feel relieved or foolish when it didn’t arrive as she thought it would?
Clearly she was crazy now and surrounded by other crazies. Her manic voice saddened me. I wanted to go back to the night at the party and talk with her. I wanted to say something meaningful. But what can you say to someone who has outlived the world?
Nate Lippens is the author of the chapbook MINCE (Bridge Productions, 2016). His stories have been published in Catapult, Brooklyn Vol. 1, Hobart, and SAND Journal, among many others. He can be found on Twitter @NateLippens