By Chris Miskiewicz
I remember how he used to stay up late looking into the sky at whatever stars would show talking about how things used to be. This usually was preceded by a few drinks, which were prompted by bills, or power outages, water shortages, government breadlines not opening when they said they would, or any other number of things that constantly reminded him of the way it used to be.
He would lie back on our roof with me tucked under his arm, sipping from whatever brew the local distillery had put together while pointing up through the hazy clouds telling stories of space, astronauts, and the heights humanity had only recently achieved before the end of science fiction.
On nights like those, he’d stare down at me with a sad look in his eyes saying, “I wish I could have left you with a better world than this to live in.” But, I never really understood what world it was that he missed so much.
I understood, only through his stories, that we as a people and culture were going through a constant worldwide decline which seemed to begin the day that the last space shuttle sailed along the Hudson River on a barge. My father had taken me to the promenade to watch it go by. I remember distinctly how excited he was. My mother was also excited, but my father was very moved by the ship. He was of that generation that was born during the 1970’s who were promised the stars by their parents, American prosperity, and the culture. That generation of children believed in the lunar landing, that they would one day walk on Mars, meet extraterrestrials, and have a friend like Chewbacca to ride the stars at warp speed with.
But it didn’t happen.
The world changed too much after we ran out of oil for that kind of manufacturing to continue. The creation of such intricate parts required crude oil at some level of construction…and we just didn’t have any left in the ground. In the air, yes, and scattered across the globe in the form of plastic particles, sure. But no crude oil to pump.
He would drink and speak about all of the plastic in the world. “In a book called the Bible, there’s an ancient passage that says “And the dead shall rise.” I wonder if they meant oil? Since oil is basically dead matter that’s been broken down into that state? Do you think?”
I would nod.
How could I know the world he spoke of? I don’t remember it much, only my father’s stories about how streetlights used to shine at night all across the world. Of an Internet that allowed everyone to communicate. How that generation was able to touch each other’s minds at the speed of light, much like their fictionalized light speed.
“We were able to speak to each other across the world in the blink of an eye. Knowledge of every kind was at our very fingertips inside of a phone in our back pockets. It was shocking at first, and then it simply became entertainment, and apps to buy, and music to listen to. And instead of the brightest of ideas coming together to burn like a sun, we became a soup that boiled for too long that lost all of its taste…”
My father used to say that. I never understood it. They had been promised a piece of heaven from the moment they could walk.
But I will always remember the way he held me in his arms on the Brooklyn Promenade watching the Space Shuttle make its long journey to a museum. He just kept shaking his head.
“You see that, honey? That’s something we made that soared so high. Higher than clouds. That’s what we can do together.”
But it would never happen again.
After the oil was gone nations went crazy. Manufacturing stopped on all levels. Basic public services like water and sanitation ended. President Romney did his best during his eight years as the last President of the United States to institute thousands of off shore drilling rigs. And yet they found nothing.
After Europe fell to the Chinese no one knew what to expect, but they too fell apart. It was that old problem of supply chains that brought Hitler down in WWII. The world was just too big to canvass without our machines. And our machine were now nothing more than rusting hulks of broken windows that neighborhood children would play hide & seek within against the backdrop of once proud cities which were now just the shell of ghosts.
Through it all, no matter my age, he would look at me and say, “I wish I could have left you with a better world than this to live in.”
I remember the night we buried my father after his long battle with H1-15. That cursed disease had taken such a toll on him and his generation. My husband and I spent the day digging his grave in Greenwood Cemetery, a practice that not too many Brooklynites would do. Most threw their dead into the East River, which was nothing more than a polluted body of water that flushed out into the dead Atlantic Ocean, made out of more plastic particles than organic life.
We had finished burying him long after dark, working by torch light. I was so tired that I had forgot about the news of the NASA International Space Station falling to Earth. It was my son who reminded me by pulling on my arm and pointing into the dark night sky.
“What is that Mommy? A shooting star?”
I stared up at it as it came down after finally falling too low in its orbit to stay afloat in space. The derelict station had been empty for almost forty years, struck by debris, and falling apart. It was the final relic of a lost world coming back home with no one to greet her.
I patted my son’s head and stared up at the trail of burning debris that cut across our section of sky.
“No kiddo. It’s not a star,” I said. “It’s who we used to be.”
–Photo by Seth Kushner