Our best guess is that we have been staring at the neatly stacked mountains of shipping containers at the Port of Los Angeles. Our sailboat, sandwiched between the glass-smooth sea and still, crisp sky. No wind to move our sails. We ran out of gas for the motor years ago. We ran out of desire to be on solid ground with other people years before that. How many years had it been? 10? 12?
How odd it would be that we drifted back home? We left without a plan beyond getting away from the virus, getting away from the fires, getting away from everything breaking down. I was just thirteen when our parents (who had been amicably divorced for some time) sat us down to talk. The last time the four of us sat down together for our parents to talk to us, they told us they were divorcing. I remember thinking, crap, what comes after divorce?
My mother plainly explained that the four of us and Aunty Jay were going on a boat trip in Dad’s sailboat. My mother’s calmness shook me. So many things were wrong with that idea. It had been my belief, founded or unfounded, that my Dad purchasing the boat was what caused my parents’ divorce. My dad and my mom’s sister, Aunty Jay, have never gotten along. There is no good blood between them. She had been living with us for the past few months. She lost her home in one of the wildfires and her insurance company had collapsed. She had nobody but us.
Ten minutes later we were all piled in the back of Dad’s truck with a small box each for belongings. The roads were pretty empty. People got in the habit of hunkering down during fire season. The air burned our nostrils. The smoke just hung there. Demanding space. The conversation was kept very procedural. I don’t remember being upset or scared. I wasn’t worried about not being able to hang out with my friends. The school buildings had been closed for over a year. All classes were held online. It seemed to help to keep the virus down. I do remember feeling worried about anyone having to stay. Even though I had limited life experience, leaving Los Angeles by boat seemed logical. It wasn’t like the movies where everyone was fleeing an obvious disaster mounting over their shoulders. The demise of Los Angeles, the home of post-apocalyptic disaster porn, was a bit of a fizzle.
We sat at the back of the boat and took in the mountains of shipping containers wrapped in the blanket of smog from the fires. The ocean swept up the smog with her motherly winds and dumped it back on the city.
I don’t remember my little sister being a pest. She just observed. We all just observed. This was all just sprung on us but we had seen it coming for months. First, there was the scrubbing away of the polished veneer that is Los Angeles. The sickness, the fires, the explosive anger of strangers brought on by whatever combo of sickness and fires they were battling. Nobody was spared. Los Angeles had been all shiny and a robust vision of the good life right up to the tipping point. In any society that is based on the superficial, nobody wants to show what’s underneath. Those on top of the game want to be thought of as still on top of the game. Nobody wants to be seen as a victim of anything.
For the first few years, we sailed close to land, stopping at whatever port seemed friendly. We were tied to the land for food and supplies. As the virus spread, the ports became too dangerous. Survivors, not wanting to be exposed to new strains, booby-trapped docks and sniped at us from invisible vantage points. We gave up on looking for fuel. Food was a bit trickier until the abandoned pontoon boat found us. My mother came up with the idea of making it into a floating garden. We had been keeping seeds from all the strange fruits and vegetables we had tried while drifting port to port. We built up the sides and filled with the soil we collected from a trip to land in an area we thought was uninhabited. Aside from that, we ate fish. We ate a lot of fish. We collected seaweed and dried it on the deck of the boat and used it for fuel. Our life on the boat was centered around finding food. We stayed on the boat as much as possible. When we went on land we risked getting exposed to the virus and violence. The better we got at living at sea, the less we risked the land.
The last time we set foot on land was over two years ago. How odd that we are floating slowly towards the Port of Los Angeles. It took us four days from when we first saw the mountains of shipping containers to be close enough to shore to get there by dingy.
The most striking thing about coming home was the crystal clear skyline. All these years, in my mind I thought of home shrouded in a brown fog. Even as I thought about time in school with friends, the picture in my mind wore a sepia filter.
The filter was gone. The bustle was gone. The skies were clear. At some point humanity just stopped. Cars were left on the streets. Some with the boney remains of their owners at the wheel. Whole city blocks were burned to the ground, the charred remains decorated with lush growth, their blooms making me blush from their unrestrained beauty. A flock of parrots flew overhead. Their squawks were deafening. There had to be thousands of them. There was a herd of wild horses grazing down in the valley. Lizards, cats, dogs roamed the streets freely. Not a single person, but plenty of animals. The butterflies, wow. Was a flock of butterflies a thing?
We decided to head towards our old home. Our entire street was charred. The only thing left of our house was the mailbox. A bit of nostalgia overtook me and I opened it, just like I did every day after school so many years ago. It was full of stones. Each had numbers on them. They were dates. Who did this? What did the dates mean? What was the latest date? What is today?