May 9, 2:03 p.m.
There are only 45 minutes until impact and I haven’t made any preparations for the nuclear missile that’s apparently about to destroy half the world, my half of the world to be exact. I have until 2:48 p.m. today to live.
Run. That’s my first thought, but I doubt I’d get far enough. Instead, I’d just be ensuring that I die looking like an ice cream cone on a summer day mess. I wish I didn’t know what was about to happen, but instead would prefer just to be quickly surprised by death. There feels like there’s not enough time and far too much time all at the same time. Do I call my family and tell them I love them and goodbye, or would that hurt them all too much? Do I go to a shelter and pray? Do I go to church and pray? Do I get drunk and pass out and hope that the blast happens while I’m blissfully inebriated/incapacitated/unconscious?
I have no idea what to do, so I do nothing.
I sit back down on the couch where I just finished watching the smartly dressed newscaster tell me that I’m going to die in less than an hour. I turn the flat-screen off, stare out the window to my right, and begin to cry.
I feel these tears like I’ve never cried before. My tears are hot, watery, and incredibly salty. I should’ve drunk more water and eaten more vegetables when I had the chance, I think to myself as I continue to cry.
Soon, there’s snot bubbling out of my nose and I can hear hysterical screaming and wailing coming from somewhere in the distance. Soon, I realize that I’m the one screaming, but I’m okay with that. The screams match the fresh hair that’s now on the floor as I can’t seem to stop pulling mine out as I cry and thrash. I hear myself sobbing loudly, uninhibitedly, as I continue to choke on my own mucus and turn red with panic.
I gasp and pull in air as I lower my face to the plush, olive green carpet. I blow my nose into nothing and feel the hot snot roll down onto my $900 area rug, no longer caring about stains or appearances.
I begin to pick at the carpet and roll the fibers between my fingers, sliding some pieces between my index finger and thumb, feeling the material as if I’ve never felt anything on God’s green Earth before.
I don’t want to die.
“You’re wasting time,” I say to myself harshly.
I sit up and drop the carpet fibers I’d just been toying with in order to readjust my horn-rimmed glasses, now tearstained and askew. I slowly peel myself off the now damp patch of floor that I’ve sunken to in my hysteria and plop back on the couch with a huge sigh. I look around for tissues, remember that I’ve never been so classy as to have a dainty box of tissues around, and decide to blow my full nose on the hem of my dress, manners be damned.
I stare down at my dark blue sundress and the cherry pattern that decorates it. I love this dress. It cinches in at my waist, making it look smaller, and has a scoop back, showing off my assets, before falling in a sophisticated A-line right above my knee. What an appropriate time to wear it, on the last day of my life.
I currently live alone abroad, teaching English in Istanbul, and I can hear chaos outside my window. The crowd sounds different than the usual Friday night parties and parades. The pandemonium that is this interesting intersection of east and west and the revelry that I’m used to admonishing from my window have been replaced with panic.
I listen to the crowd and quickly remember why I’m crying, and why the police aren’t stopping the steadily growing crowd, the looting, or the general panic-stricken mayhem. What’s the point if we’re all going to be gone in 39 minutes?
I’ve been walking around my one-bedroom apartment for what seems like hours, tapping my iPhone against my long legs, all the while debating whether or not to call my mom. I stop at my hall mirror and look at my haggard self. My dark, curly hair is in knots thanks to my earlier ‘bawl like a baby’ idea and my makeup has decided to skip the apocalypse. My signature red lipstick is still in place – smudged, but in place.
I stare in the mirror for longer than I have left.
I lift my cherry dress and violently wipe my lipstick off with the edge. It hurts and I’m glad. After running my fingers through my messy hair, getting caught on tangles and ripping huge chunks out, I decide to call my sister.
14 missed calls, 59 text messages. Damn.
Barely one ring and Josephine picks up the phone. I fall to the floor at the sound of her voice and a low scream escapes my lips. I imagine her in her kitchen in Savannah, probably smacking her husband Lawrence on the back to signal to him that she finally has me on the phone.
“Cara!” she says through tears.
“I’m here, Josie,” I reply quietly.
“Cara, you have to leave! You have to run! Get out of Turkey!”
I hear her requests and demands like she’s speaking through a time warp. Her voice has never sounded so beautiful. I just want to hold onto it for a little bit longer.
“Please don’t go,” I say weakly, fresh tears in my eyes and a new lump of despair in my throat. “Don’t leave me.”
“Baby! Pl-please!” I hear her beg and I vaguely realize that she’s fallen to the floor. I hear Sir Henry barking loudly in the background and I wish I could have just one more pet of my favorite Dalmatian.
“I’ll love you ‘til the Sun stops spinning,” I say quietly.
“No! Please! You have to try!”
“Just say it, Josie,” I beg. I know I can’t talk to her any longer.
“You have to try, Cara B. Please try for me?” she says, her voice sounding more and more unhinged. I hear Sir Henry going crazy in the background and Lawrence whispering “it’s okay, shhh,” softly in the foreground and suddenly miss them all too much. I can’t stay on the phone anymore; I can’t take the familiarity of it all and know that I’ll never have it again.
“Please!” I beseech her, my voice cracking as I cry-scream the word. “Please, just say it!”
“I’ve loved you since the Garden.”
I press the red “end call” button with a shaking thumb and let myself fall over.
“Please, Lord,” I beg. “Not like this.”
I stay on the floor, drained, contemplating calling my brother, thinking about what my last phone call with my mom would be like, and then decide that my heart won’t survive either.
I stand up and walk to my kitchen, suddenly desperate for Belvedere Vodka. I open the freezer, grab a bottle, and tip it up. The liquid burns my throat and the sides of my mouth, but I don’t care, I chug it.
It’s not fair. Countries get into disputes and suddenly the civilians living in them become collateral damage? Suddenly I don’t get to say goodbye to my family because superpowers are in a pissing contest? I never get to go home again because of irreconcilable differences?
My anger takes control of me and I rip the bottle from my lips and send it flying across the spacious kitchen. It shatters on the far wall and the sound of broken glass is unexpectedly satisfying. I stare at the mess I’ve made for a moment, unsure of what I’ve just done. I slowly walk over to where the glass and vodka have mixed on the ground and abruptly need to feel something other than this anger, this betrayal, this grief.
I tentatively step onto the broken glass and wince as a sharp piece lodges itself into my left foot. It feels good. I put all my weight on my left foot and cry out in the blissful, isolated pain. I step forward with my right foot and let the piece of glass that’s trying to hold the label onto the bottle penetrate my heel.
I stand there for a minute, watching my bright red blood mix with the vodka and glass in fascination. I hear sirens in the distance and my phone ringing from the hallway. Sounds sound so silly, I think to myself with a chuckle. I keep standing there, watching my blood swirl around my feet and laughing at noises.
My growing hysteria is interrupted by a knock at the door. I stare in the general direction of my front door as I continue to stand on broken glass. The knocking intensifies to a loud, “bang. Bang. BANG!” and I’m jolted out of my reverie. I cry out softly as I step away from the bloody puddle and pull glass from my feet.
“Cara!” I hear a man screaming frantically from the door.
I get excited at the sound of someone coming to die with me and rip the glass from my feet unceremoniously and watch dark blood spurt out. I don’t care. I sprint to the door, leaving well-defined footprints in my wake, and fling it open, giddy from the idea of company, suddenly wishing I’d made it to the grocery store this week so I’d have something nice to offer my guest.
I see Christian, my long-standing friend with benefits, standing there in a panic. He grabs me instantly and kissing me roughly, pushing hair out of my face and taking quick notice of my bloody feet.
“We have to run!” he says quickly, trying unsuccessfully to pull me out into the hallway.
“What?” I say curiously, interested in what he’s saying but detached. Why isn’t he coming in?
“There’s a shelter, an underground shelter, it’s not far from here, but we have to go now!” he screams at me, shaking me by the shoulders. His brown eyes look bright and terrified.
“You came to get me?” I question softly. He doesn’t respond but tries to extricate me from the doorway again with more force this time.
“Care Bear,” he says, dropping his bag by his feet and taking my face in his hands. “We have to move. You can’t stay here, do you understand me? We have to leave.”
I hear him, but my mind’s already made up. If I’m going to die, I’d rather do it in my apartment, in my bed, not running through Istanbul with my thrice-weekly lover to an unnamed shelter that we hope to find.
“I can’t go with you, Christian, but thank you for your time. For all the time you’ve given me, and thanks for comin’ over today, really sweet of you.”
“Car-” I hear him say, but I’m already closing the door again. I hear him scream my name a few more times before I hear bag scraping against concrete and feet disappearing down the hallway.
“I hope you make it,” I offer up the small wish for him to the heavens before sliding down the door and crying again.
“Mama, Kenny, Josie – I love ya’ll. I never would’ve come here if I’d known this was gonna happen. I thought I had so much more time with each of you, I thought I had so much more time for myself. If someone had told me five years ago that I was gonna die at 29 single, alone, and in Istanbul from nuclear war I’d have laughed in their face. But here I am, here we are.”
I pause the recording I’m making for my family to take another swig of Jack and cry. I drop my head in my hands and am shocked by the weight. Has my head always been this heavy?
I let the sobs take over my body for a few seconds and then lift my head back up. I clean my face with a camel-colored dishcloth and keep recording.
“I wish I could hug each of you just one more time, but wish in one hand, right?”
I try to smile at that, but it doesn’t reach my eyes. I imagine them all sitting down to watch my final message to them and I wonder if I’m doing the right thing. Kenny’s been through a lot this year; maybe the guilt of him being alive and me being dead will be too much for him? Maybe I shouldn’t send a video message at all and just go quietly? Or would it be worse to know I died alone and scared and didn’t even say goodbye?
No time to make a pro/con list.
“Mama, I know our relationship hasn’t been all sunshine and summertime, but I’m so glad that God chose you for me. I’ve loved you from applesauce to hot sauce to hittin’ the sauce and nothing could ever change how much I’ve loved living and growing with you. You’re my friend and my mother and I love you so damn much.”
My voice breaks on “much” and I pause the video again to cry. I chug more whiskey and glance out the window. It’s getting quieter outside.
“Kenny, you’ve protected me for 29 years and I hope you know that that hasn’t changed now. The thought of you has kept me going, and I’m so grateful to you for that. Big brothers don’t come better than you. Thanks, Ken Doll.”
I pause the video one last time to finish the bottle. I fall back against the couch for a second, only a second, breathe out deeply, and then sit back up and press record.
“Josie, my sweet baby sister. I’m so sorry for anything I need to apologize to you for. For everything I’ve ever done that wasn’t right by you and everything you think I did, I’m sorry. Please forgive me, baby. Don’t miss me too much; don’t stop living for even a second, and burn down NYC for me, okay? I want to be in Heaven looking down on that concrete jungle and brag to everyone else that my little sister’s a big time city doctor. Don’t stay in Savannah forever; you have to promise me that, yeah? I love you, kitten. I love you all. Pray for my soul, and I want all ya’ll to live incredible lives that would make me say, ‘wow.’ Don’t forget me, but don’t get lost thinkin’ about me either. ‘Til next time!”
I press send on the video message, check to make sure it goes through, and then turn my phone on silent.
I go into my bedroom and crawl under covers. I saw that all three had played my video message and now they’re all trying to call me. How many times will they replay that message once I’m gone? I wonder as I nestle down under the comforter. I wish I’d had more time to think of something better to say to them, maybe have better lighting and fix my face.
I laugh into my pillows at that idea. I’m about to die and I’m wishing I’d been able to stage my death note a bit better.
I begin to wonder what it’ll be like to die, if it’ll hurt or if it’ll just be like falling asleep. Then I get scared. I’ve been Catholic my whole life, but what if I don’t go to Heaven? What if I wake up in flames? I’ve only questioned my faith a few times in my life, and now questions are all I seem to have.
“I wanna go home,” I say into my pillow, tears running down my cheeks. I picture my parent’s farmhouse and my siblings inside, all of us eating red velvet cake and watching cartoons. My dad’s in his favorite chair and my mom’s good naturedly chastising him about letting us eat cake and sit too close to the TV at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning.
At least I’ll get to see my dad soon I muse to myself.
My head’s under covers but I can feel that my phone is still going off with calls and messages. I cry quietly, and then begin to laugh loudly.