During my freshman year of high school, my grandmother started preparing for the Second Coming. She stocked up on a year’s worth of dehydrated food and hoarded it under her staircase. My grandfather got out his old show guns, polished them, and took out the blanks. My aunt cleared out the brambles on the abandoned family farm. They dug a well, set up a shelter, and waited.
The rapture happens differently according to different denominations and Biblical interpretations. Some believe that Christ will return before the seven years of the apocalypse to take all his believers back before the shit really hits the fan. Others believe that all must live through the seven years, the seven horsemen, and the seven tribulations before Christ returns. I don’t know what my grandparents believe. I don’t even know if they know what they believe. But I know that they’ve hedged their bets and prepared for the worst.
At Wesleyan, I’m far away from this world of dry cracking earth and blistering heat, trees that scream at night, and the promise of damnation and hellfire. But that doesn’t mean I don’t keep it and all its messages wrapped up inside of me. After a while, uncertainty—the promise that nothing is promised—becomes a kind of pathos. The world is moving toward destruction and chaos, and the only way to survive is to set your teeth and fight it. This is the mindset I’ve been living with for the last two years as I fought to get on this campus and then to stay here. My worries and my grandparents’ worries are different, but our responses are the same: hunker down, grit your teeth, prepare for the worst.
When COVID-19 hit, I admit that it didn’t disrupt me emotionally. I was worried about housing, where I was going to live, whether I’d lose my jobs, whether I’d be able to pay tuition, whether I’d be able to afford move out fees, travel fees, etc. But all these had been normal and present fears before. My grandfather was ill, so my mother asked me not to have contact with any members of my family. Various crises hit my family; people lost their jobs, had dangerous run-ins with drug overdoses, and faced uncertainty about housing situations. This was also nothing new. My response was to alternate between varying degrees of anxiety and apathy. Again, not a big difference from my day-to-day. So I simply went on with things as I had before, gritting my teeth and bearing it, unloading my blanks, and preparing for the worst.
The thing about this type of rugged individualism—this callousness for the sake of survival—is that it makes you numb not only to your own pain but also to others’. I found myself not only apathetic to my own problems, but also to others’ problems, like people who wouldn’t get to see their friends again or graduating seniors whose last year had been cut short. I didn’t feel like I had enough emotional energy or support to extend to others. I was hoarding it all for myself, preparing for the oncoming barrage of chaos. Except that this time things didn’t unfold the way I expected them.
Wesleyan, for once, kept its promises. I was afforded refunds, reimbursements, and support. My friends and professors reached out to me to ask how I was doing, what they could do to help. I was able to leave California with my boyfriend and come home before his apartment lease was up. I have safe housing, enough money to survive, and I get to keep my jobs. A group of students started the mutual aid resource sheet to help one another, Jessi Russell ’20 started the FGLI Go Fund Me to step in where the University couldn’t or wouldn’t, and the WSA funded and supported all of the students they could. COVID-19 sparked the most community support for FGLI and at-risk students that I had seen since I came to Wesleyan.
Every few days I check the news for the body count and feel a slight pinching in my stomach when I see it’s doubled since I last checked. The other day, after listening to COVID-19 stats on Fox News, my boyfriend’s father preached Revelation to me, as though I hadn’t grown up studying the rapture, waiting for flashes in the sky. He told me about the fourth seal of death:
“And when the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, ‘Come!’ Then I looked and saw a pale horse. Its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed close behind. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill by sword, by famine, by plague, and by the beasts of the earth.”
And he warned me about the end times and hellfire and damnation, as I had been warned many times before. And here, back home, people hoard their food and polish their guns and hedge their bets and wait.
But I would like to propose a softer apocalypse, one wherein I no longer have to bare my teeth and be reliant on only myself. Every day I am locked in this house with my boyfriend and his parents, we become a little more dependent on each another. I’m seeding a garden for us to harvest in the summer, his mother bakes me banana bread, and in the evenings he and I go for walks in empty fields that smell like moist, tilled earth and my childhood summers.
I know things will continue to get worse. The economy will suffer, the planet is dying, the age of prosperity does not belong to us. But if we are to survive these little raptures, we will not be able to do it by hoarding money or food or resources or compassion, but by sharing what little or plentiful resources we each have with one another. I have only survived thus far with the help of others, because I can not survive on my own, as much as I’d like to believe that I can.
I will continue to prepare for the worst, hedge my bets, and watch the world suffer. But I hope, as I think we all do, that I won’t have to be alone while I do it.
Katie Livingston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.