When I was a kid I imagined my dad’s death a lot. It was always one of two scenarios: either I would watch him shrink in my vision as the lifeboat I sat in lowered slowly into the cold water, leaving my father to await certain death on the foundering Titanic, or I would watch from the safety of the underground tornado shelter as, gripping the flimsy door to keep it latched and me safe, he was sucked up into the maw of the roaring funnel. The influence of history and pop culture on those scenes is obvious, and certainly I was a morbid child by nature anyway, but as I lay here in the midnight dark I wonder if there is more to them than overactive imagination. I wonder if my younger self sensed on some instinctive level that her father would be taken from her without warning and sought to prevent this looming disaster by compulsively imagining worst case scenarios. Or maybe she was simply attempting to blunt the inevitable future pain of his loss by repetition. Either way it didn’t work, perhaps because in those scenarios he was always sacrificing himself to save me when in the end there was no danger, no moment of swift choice between his life or his daughter’s. I was only a child, after all; back then I understood the threat disasters posed, but not that human ineptitude could just as easily shatter my fragile world.
I am life thriving in Chernobyl’s abandoned villages. I am the truth of what happened that night on the side of Kholat Syakhl. I am a blood-stained note left in a lonely cairn which reads “all well”. I am what sank the unsinkable. I am vanished planes and empty ships and photos you cannot quite explain. I am creatures you are sure do not exist, and yet… And yet. I am your wonder and your fear and your singularly human need to understand that which has no explanation. When you gaze up at the night sky and wonder if you are alone in the universe, I am staring back. You are not alone. You are never alone.
Sleep, oh weary wreck
Salt water dissolves your bones
The tides soothe your ghosts
What will you do with the deck tilting ten, twenty, thirty degrees under you? Look around; there are no lifeboats left, they’ve rowed away with those privileged enough to buy their safety. The rest of us losers better figure out something else fast. Will you chance the frigid waters that lap about your feet? It’s a long wait until dawn and that light on the horizon isn’t real hope, you know, just a mirage. Certainly there’s no saving this sinking ship; I think we can all admit by now that we’re far beyond the point of no return. So in that case, what’s left to do but grab a glass of champagne, hook an arm around the nearest rail, and listen as the band plays on? If we’re well and truly fucked – and we are – we might as well greet the end in style. It’s a lovely night for a concert anyway.
the chiropractor says my ribs keep popping out and i wonder if that’s from my heart trying to break free, i mean i can’t blame it, sometimes you just gotta jump ship before it sinks out from under you completely, every man for himself you know, and if that’s the case i’d rather break my sternum right open and set my struggling heart free, let it run run run, find a better home than me, let it fly away and stay away cause all i can promise it is pain, that sounds dramatic but ain’t it the truth, i’m no oracle but i can see where this world’s headed and i’m done done done, hand me the oars and i’ll steer for that light on the horizon, it’s probably a mirage but what the hell, we’ve got nothing better to do as we wait for dawn
I could swear I was there. The distant glittering stars, the glassy black water, the last violin strains of Nearer My God to Thee hovering in the cold air – they are clear as memory. Was I just that weird child, obsessed with death and nature’s might? Am I just that weird adult, expecting the worst in every situation? Or is there something more? I never dream about water so cold it kills; I cannot claim evidence from past life readings or inexplicable historical knowledge. Yet something binds me to that place, to that night, to that terrible disaster so much it feels like a homecoming. Like I belong there. I read the names of those lost and think I know you, I remember you. I want to tell them it wasn’t your fault, you couldn’t have known, no one could have known. Do the Titanic’s wayward ghosts reach beyond their world to those they know will tell their stories or relieve their guilt by solving the nagging unknowns? Perhaps over the years the spirits of fifteen hundred people, at the mercy of trade winds and deep water currents, have scattered across the globe to wash up on far foreign shores. Maybe some small child collecting seashells and beach glass brought something bigger home with them. Or maybe those souls passed on and even in new bodies, even living new lives, that night’s chill remains in their blood and cries out for resolution.
I’ve been thinking about inevitability. About how chance and circumstance could lead Igor Dyatlov’s hiking group to set up their tent in the exact center of an extremely rare and unknown wind vortex, the resulting infrasound of which sent them running into the subzero Siberian winter. Those students did everything right, everything, given what science knew at the time, and yet nine people froze to death in darkness. In 1958 no amount of investigation could answer the why of the disaster. Now we know. They couldn’t have.
I’ve been thinking about preparedness. About how chance and circumstance could lead the RMS Titanic to sail through an unknown thermal inversion, an ocular mirage that hid the iceberg, so confused the nearby Californian that it never went to assist, and ruined any chance those floating in freezing cold water had to survive the night. Both ships’ crews did everything right, everything, given what science knew at the time, and yet fifteen hundred people froze to death in darkness. In 1912 no amount of investigation could answer the why of the disaster. Now we know. They couldn’t have.
How can things go so extremely wrong when those involved are as educated, trained, and prepared as it is possible to be? When they do everything exactly right and still meet with helplessness and death? What does that mean for the rest of us who know so little? We can only prepare for what we know is coming. We can only imagine scenarios within the reality we conceptualize. Beyond that we are babes.
I do not fear the unknown. I do not fear aliens or curses or conspiracies, Sasquatch or Mothman or Bloody Mary. I fear what we already know. I fear the sleeping calderas and the pressurized fault lines; I fear the solar flares and the sixth great extinction. And I fear the as-yet-unknown. The to-be-known. The dangers already existing all around us, hidden only by the limits of human knowledge. What awaits us that we will never see coming?