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  • Jane Un Ju Choi

How did we get here?

Updated: May 17, 2020

This is a short story loosely inspired by pandemic films and coronavirus/covid19. Hope you enjoy it and please let me know what you think in the comments. Thank you!

Another empty town full of abandoned houses and empty stores. She did a thorough search of the town’s stores and homes, hoping to find another healthy human being, but there was none. She is a cross between a feisty Katniss Everdeen, a badass Sarah O’Conner, and blunt as hell Erin Brockovich. She was like this even before it all went to shit; this is in part due to her parents’ upbringing. Her name is Elizabeth, named after Elizabeth Taylor. Her mother was obsessed with Elizabeth Taylor. Her dad would call her my Queen Elizabeth. Her dad would always tell her, “you are more than a princess; you are a queen, and don’t let any boy treat you otherwise.” They were her rock growing up, and she was thankful for the little time she had with them.

Elizabeth is in her mid-40s. She is slightly underweight from the scarcity of food. She’s been surviving on saltine crackers and peanut butter for the last six days. She was so grateful not to find any peanut butter in the abandoned houses she was ransacking. She hit the jackpot with the third abandoned house. She found an eight pack of batteries, three flashlights, a few lighter sticks, ramen noodles, canned tuna, beef jerky, and, most importantly, bottled water. To add icing on the cake, she found a portable DVD player and eight journals! She likes to collect journals for various reasons. Since there’s no Netflix or ways to play DVDs, the journals are a form of entertainment. It also reminds her that human beings exist and that there are others out there besides her.

Tonight was a blessing, she thought as she grabbed an ax and smashed the cedar wood bench in the living room. Her body feels like a two-ton weight. She has been put through more physical exertion and emotional turmoil than what used to be her “normal life” before it all went to shit. The idea of resting in this big once beautiful house gave her enough strength to smash the bench into firewood pieces. The house reminds her of her own 5-bedroom house she had with her husband and child. It has the same modern yet cozy warmth to it. Even though it has been abandoned and uncared for, you could tell it was once loved. There were the silky flowing window curtains, the children’s drawings on the refrigerator door, small decorative pieces and picture frames of the family members all over the house.

What a great day, she thought. She found a lighter stick with oil, so she didn’t have to start a fire a la caveman style. She had fresh bottles of water and ramen noodles with canned tuna for dinner. She thought about how different her idea of what a great day was from her old life.

Before it all went to shit, she had a maid, a cook, a gardener, a pool boy, hairstylist, makeup artist, and the list goes on. Breakfast in bed made by her husband, playtime with her child without any tantrum, a spa day with girlfriends and too much rose, a shopping spree at rodeo drive, wagyu filet mignon with foie gras and a 1996 Chateau Latour for dinner. These were her great days. Now canned tuna with ramen noodles and a bed to sleep in are her great days.

After dinner, she flopped on the bed. She grabbed the journals and skimmed through them. One of the journal’s pages catches her eye. It was a sentence: How did we get here?

Continues to read:

How did we get here?

That seems to be the million-dollar question.

I never thought this would happen. It feels like I’m in an apocalypse film. We wore masks and gloves everywhere we went. Luckily we were able to find some masks and gloves as people went nuts over them. Also, rapidly consuming sanitizer and toilet paper. I never understood why people always go crazy over toilet paper when there might be some type of disaster. We would wait in line for groceries because you can only have a certain amount of people inside. You had to have 6 feet of distance from each other. We never hugged or kissed our friends anymore.

There are several theories and stories out there about the virus and how it all started.

It started with a couple living in Hong Kong. The wife was from a small town in Al Kusul. (Yeah, I’ve never heard of either until this all happened.) The country is near Uzbekistan. (Thank you, Borat, for teaching us ignorant individuals’ geography.) Her parents were sick, so she went to visit them and to take them back home to see a specialist. But it was too late. By the time they arrived, the virus had infiltrated every facet of their bodies. They buried her parents and went back home. If you’ve ever traveled to Al Kusul, you’ll know, there is no direct flight. They had to take three different connecting flights. They came into so many direct contacts, not just on the plane but at the airport as well.

The first real proof of pandemic started in Hong Kong, so everyone thought the virus began there. There was so much we didn’t know at the time. How many lives could’ve been saved if we had known?

There are still people who believe in other conspiracy theories and stories. One that’s particularly popular is about the Earth. A writer wrote a short story on his LinkedIn.

The story goes:

Earth, for decades, let humans defile and destroy, but Earth couldn’t take it anymore. The humans were slowly killing Earth. Earth’s survival instincts kicked in. Earth had to do something about the destructive nature of humans before the humans destroyed Earth. So, Earth shut humans down, literally. It stopped humans from regular activity and had to be quarantined due to the nature of the virus and how easily it spread. Many people died. Some due to the infection. Others due to the lack of knowledge about the illness and how to treat it.

By wiping out so many humans, there were fewer resources from the Earth to be pillaged.

There were far fewer cars on the street and many other things that caused air pollution. Buildings and some factories were closed for a short period or indefinitely. Literally within a month, the water of Venice became cleaner. In six months the air pollution decreased drastically in India, China, and other places with harmful air pollution. The air was better, and the waters were cleaner. The Earth was happier because it was being restored. In six months, fewer people had the virus, and fewer people were dying from it. We thought we made it through. Earth thought the humans learned their lesson, but it was far from the truth.

Humans filled the streets with dirty gloves and masks. Humans were still taking things for granted, and Earth got angrier. So Earth decided it needed to take drastic measures to remind human beings how precious life really was and that any minute, we could no longer be here. A month after we started reopening the countries, more cases popped up. This time the virus mutated, and now it was even more contagious than before. Previously they had to cough or needed some type of contact with you. Now you just stand next to someone who had it, you were getting it. If you breathed in the same air next to each other, you were a goner. You had to be at least 6 feet away for you to be a safe distance away from the infected.

The environmentalist loved this version, but no one publicly admitted it. They didn’t want to be accused of belittling the situation. The post went viral. Even though she had written a preamble, the public came at the writer with a pitchfork.

The preamble stated:

This subject matter may be sensitive. I ask you to read it with an open mind and not to take any offense. This is a fictional story born out of imagination.

This did nothing to deter people from slandering and threatening her. They called her all kinds of derogatory remarks and threatened to kill her. The public vilified her. She sent a press release stating the following:

We live in an age where we can’t have conversations anymore, where we can’t have different opinions and agree to disagree. If we say something and it offends a particular group of people, he or she is berated and condemned. Now there is a difference between opinion or perception and hate speech. Although, even people speaking hate shouldn’t be vilified. As one wise person said, “you can’t teach love with hate.”

After the press release, she erased all her social media and all her existence. It was like she was never born. It’s sad because I don’t think she was belittling the situation. The thing is people missed what her story was talking about. If they stopped taking it so personally as if she was attacking them but read her story (because a lot of the people attacking her didn’t even read the story), they would’ve seen the deeper meaning behind it. The lack of fairness and fear-mongering ostracized her. Instead of reading the book themselves, a lot of people listened and followed the media’s sensationalism.

The story wasn’t about Earth’s revenge against men but really about the relationship between humankind. The stories and the different theories weren’t about belittling the situation but rather about human beings just trying to make sense of the chaos around them. They were trying to find a reason because all they wanted was to feel safe again….little did we know it would never be safe ever again.

She closed the journal. She cried - the kind of cry you do when no one is watching. The type of cry where you're

balling your eyes out and snot drips down to your lips, and you taste the saltiness of your snot and tears.

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