Daniel killed himself on a Tuesday morning. He walked into an alley and cut himself with a discarded bottle, so deeply he was gone before anyone, even a couple of passersby, could find him, much less help him. It was just days before our wedding.
I cried for weeks on end, it seemed. My roommates would attempt to engage me in this or that conversation or activity but I wanted none of it. Daniel’s death rocked me and it took months to recover.
When I finally went back to work I refused to be involved with any patient suspected of coming in because of The Wave. There weren’t many, but the idea of seeing someone who had survived reminded me too painfully of what I’d lost. Of who I’d lost.
That was the year The Wave picked up speed. 12 months later the human population dropped 25% from the year before. A year after that it was down 45% from even that number. The pace increased. Even more than before, death was all around us.
It wasn’t like in the movies. Governments didn’t fall, at least not at any sort of unusual rate. There wasn’t any mass panic, just mass depression and grief. We all felt that the inevitable end was coming. Eventually the concept of money went out of fashion. It was still used for some purchases but the barter economy reemerged, people trading what they had for what they needed, whether it was goods or services. Government reconfigured itself at all levels to accommodate a population that was not only smaller but more spread out as people gathered in smaller, more distinctly separate communities. We kept using the internet. Life continued, if not for everyone.
I kept working at the hospital for a few years after Daniel’s death but eventually could no longer maintain the emotional damage it was doing. One day a patient I was discharging started telling me of her family’s history. For two hours she told me stories of her grandparents and other ancestors and relatives. Out of nowhere, I asked if I could write this down for her. Two weeks later I met her at her house and we talked for an entire day, a conversation I recorded and transcribed.
Writing had never been something I did or enjoyed. As I typed out this woman’s history I was drawn into the characters and their adventures more and more deeply. She cried when a month after our session I gave her the finished product, promising me she would treasure it and consider it a family heirloom, something to be passed to future generations. There were tears of joy from both of us.
I kept doing more of these interviews, finding they carried a lot of importance to people, as well as to myself. I felt I was capturing something, creating documented proof of people who had existed for those yet to come. I’d sometimes trade them for food, solar batteries or other necessities, giving whatever I couldn’t use to the others in my village.
Six years after Daniel died I married Tony, a musician who lived in the next town over. He was a good man and we loved each other very much. The year after that news came: The Wave had crested. The mass erasure of the human race was over, the population still shrinking, but not because of unnatural causes. Over time it would stabilize. There were no figures available of how many people there were in the world at the time it ended, but some people estimated it was 10% of the population of 15 years ago.
Maybe humanity could claw its way back. Not only were there fewer people, there was less inhabitable area and fewer arable acres available, both due to the climate change we caused. Commentators and experts were full of ideas on how we could structure things better this time, more sustainably and less harmfully. The future was uncertain, but for the first time in too long there was a bit of hope.
Daniel was never far from my thoughts in all this time. Even 20 years after he died, as I watched my children play in a field and eventually grow into young adults, he still crossed my mind regularly. It was his spirit that kept me writing, I believe.
He once told me he feared the world would collapse into him. It didn’t. It got both bigger and smaller, poorer for his presence but richer in new and unexpected ways