Your face had taken on an angular shape and stubble now marred your otherwise smooth skin. A deep and resonant voice had replaced the high pitch squeak I’d grown accustomed to, and sometimes my tired brain hears your father. I miss him. I wish he was here to hold my hand as I hold yours. I brush a curled lock from your forehead. My fingers disturb the sweat that beads across your brow and a few salty drops roll down the bridge of your nose and across your fevered cheeks. I sit quietly by your bedside and marvel at your perfection. It seemed that overnight you had become a man.
“Hey Kiddo” I whispered, “Just hold on a little longer. Just give me a little more time”.
“No Mom. Please. Let me go.”
I had to remove my hand from yours. I was shaking too badly and the vibrations were traveling through your sickened body making you wince. I stood quietly and walked to the opening of the cave. I stared at the expanse beyond. The whole world had gone brown. Not one tree stood untouched, most were crumbling from the inside out and the rest didn’t have long. There was very little sound in the world anymore. Even the bugs had ceased to buzz. I strained to hear life, anything to give me hope but was met with emptiness. A hollow world had been the answer to our once hollow lives.
A gentle wind brushed past the trees. Branches cracked and disintegrated. Their ash settled over our world but would never infuse it with life again. If trees could scream this is what it would sound like. I slid to my knees. I felt tears wet my face and was surprised that I wasn’t as dry as everything else. Nothing was left. Not one bird to sing a mournful song for me. Not one ounce of hope to keep from my task.
I took a deep breath. It hurt. My lungs burned in protest. It seemed that everything in this world was so dry it would crumble at the slightest touch, except the air. The atmosphere was so humid that it was like trying to breathe in a sauna. A sauna with no temperature control unless you were eager for the heat to rise a little more.
I’m not sure how long I crouched at the entrance to our makeshift home. But when I stood again I was struck by the cruelty of it all. I could still remember a time when life flourished. When even death could be delayed and fate could be sidestepped. Medical advances could prolong even the most sickened life; we called it miraculous, brilliant, a scientific marvel. We’d become too self assured and prideful. We’d become Gods in our own minds, and Gods need not apologize for anything…
Today is your fifteenth birthday and the last you will ever have. The only thing I can give you is the comfort of my arms and a reprieve from your suffering. I saved the horse chest nuts we found a few autumns ago. It was surprising to both of us that any tree still managed to bring forth seeds, that life wasn’t fully gone from this earth. So I picked up the nuts and squirreled them away.
“For hope” I told you.
“For death” I thought. Horse chestnuts are extremely poisonous if consumed raw.
You first fell ill a month ago with a hacking cough that would not let up. Who knows the cause; infection, disease? Last night you spiked a fever, one that should have taken your life. Somehow you’ve survived the night but I know it’s only a matter of time. You are going to die. You are already suffering. Hyperthermia has taken hold. The fever has made it so that you can no longer thermoregulate in this heat. The humidity ensures that the sweat your body creates cannot cool you down. It pools upon your skin, but it does not evaporate. Like a child trapped inside a vehicle during a heat wave, you too are cooking from the inside out. It won’t be a pleasant death. So I retrieve the hidden chestnuts and proceed to crush them. I feed them to you by hand. You cough and sputter on their bitter taste but swallow every last piece I give you.
I pass you some water and you look at me gratefully. I shy away from your stare, ashamed. Your chapped lips crack a little more as they form a seal over the cups edge and greedily gulp the liquid. My heart screams. I hyperventilate. Am I really doing this? I pull my knees to my chest and tightly grasp their bony form. My grief trickles out of me and a prolonged groan escapes my lungs as I slowly rock back and forth beside you. This is my fault, at least partially.
Over the years I have tried to explain to you how it had all gone so wrong; how the climate had changed so brutally. I talked endlessly about the follies of the industrial revolution, the unwavering belief in the infallibility of technology – of economy. How do you describe economy to a person who’s never lived in one? Ours had collapsed before you were seven years old; money, profits, livelihoods, and keeping up with the Jones’” – none of it was real to you; certainly none of it was worth it.
By the time you were ten we were nomads. We walked for weeks at a time trying desperately to find food in a dying world, to acquire clean water, and maybe if we were lucky, a home once more to call our own. When your dad died last year we gave up. There is no place left. Searching for those simple comforts we once took for granted was cruel. Hope no longer exists and I can no longer pretend I hold any.
I should have been more prepared. I was neither blind nor ignorant to the issues. The technological world I grew up in passed information faster than any other. Blogs, online scientific journals, forums, all of it held the dire truth. We read it every day. It was in the News. It was on our minds. It was debated and declared desperate or alarmist. Whatever side you fell on – you knew the concern. It was never hidden. The word unprecedented was used a lot. Unprecedented floods, unprecedented droughts, unprecedented heat waves, unprecedented cold snaps, unprecedented acidification of the oceans, unprecedented CO2 levels, unprecedented methane releases, unprecedented glacier and arctic melts… Unprecedented…
And yet I continued on as though everything was normal. I noticed the plants flowering earlier, the leaves changing color later. I suffered through the heat waves and water restrictions. I stood witness as farmers lost crops and had to feed their livestock candy. I watched as grocery store raised their prices because crop yields grew smaller or were destroyed outright by that dastardly unprecedented new precedence.
And with all the evidence before me I didn’t take up a cause. I didn’t rally for new laws. I didn’t live more simply. Instead I continued to purchase and pollute with all those products made from non-renewable resources. Everything made for me was stolen from you.
I don’t know the exact date or moment when all our lies unraveled, when denial was no longer in fashion. In the beginning blame was passed around. The fault was laid at the doorstep of CEO’s, those whose corporations and greedy corruption had put life second to profits. But didn’t I put consumerism ahead of morality and ahead of your future. Wasn’t I just as guilty?
I glance down at my hands. They are covered in chestnuts crumbs. I wipe them hastily on my jeans and tried to reason that I’ve set you free; that I haven’t murdered you. But the truth is, this isn’t the first time I’ve poisoned you… haven’t I been doing it since the day you were born?
I wrote this story after the new IPCC report came out. I’ve been trying to comprehend the damage we’ve caused to the planet. I’ve been reading many different scientific conclusions, made by many different scientific minds, but I have not read about what it means to me, a mother. I needed to imagine it. Some argue this is our future in a 100 years, some argue in 50, and still others argue it could be as soon as a decade… when my oldest son is 15 years old. Being that no one can predict the future, this story is obviously fiction. But I hope the scientific undertones generates the same shock in you as it did in me. Let’s stop poisoning our future.