Shatered States - Part 2

    The flight to the Los Angeles, California, in the Island Of California only takes a few hours. I find myself replaying the events of the last few days. Why did I agree to this assignment? My bosses at the CBC had a revolutionary idea. They wanted a objective report on the state of the new nations that had sprung up in the corpse of the United States. I was the perfect candidate for them. I was just popular enough that the viewers would have a slight idea who I was, just barely more than obscure. I also was born in the United States, lived in Chicago when it was a part of the Alliance and was now a Canadian citizen working for the government. My bosses were able to arrange access to a variety of sources in several of the new governments. My first stop is the Island of California. 

    I still sigh when I hear that name at how inaccurate the name  of their country state is. California has not suddenly become and island, and is no longer just California. What used to be Nevada, Washington, and Oregon are now part of the Island of California. The name is steep in the past, after all the first known maps of North America show California as an island, as well as looking to the future. The Californians thought of themselves after the fall as one of the last bastions of progressive thought, one of the few places that valued everyone. With its own sovereignty it flourished in the first few years after the fall.  Already a liberal stronghold, it kept attracting more and more like minded residences while those who blamed a lack of religion and moral center for our fall were drawn to The Alliance of the Midwest. Those who blamed race and border security for our fall were drawn to the Confederacy of Southern States. New  England attracted a more left of center moderate type and The Republic of Texas drew people who were attracted to the strong industry and right of center thought that prevailed.  

     These alignments of beliefs and personalities had already been coming to fruition before the attacks. Many people called it the Fox News Effect (Or whichever biased media source you wish to assert, Fox was not the only news source with a heavy slant, just the most successful ). I am able to look back and subjectively admit that even I was part of the problem, writing innocuous click bait articles as a freelancer for several online sites. It pains my heart to think of how articles like "21 Ways to Tell if your Lover is Cheating , #5 will break your heart", and the ilk lead to the over saturation of information out in the world. The information that was out there in the world was almost always written with a serious bias, or it was just mind numbing. 

     I know that with no one in their circle to challenge their point of view or their perceptions people went to extremes. I remember the internet being pitched to me when I was a kid as this great place, a place where you can find a world of people with the same beliefs as you, but with social media, you tended to ignore your neighbor who might have slightly different viewpoints. It was a world full of confirmation bias. 

    I'll be 100 percent honest. I had absolutely no idea what to expect as I got off the plane. The airport was so different than Midway, the Hub of the Great Lakes Province. LAX, like most of the buildings here had been rebuilt several times. While there still was an emphasis on security like any modern airport, the building itself seemed as vibrant as the travelers inside. The walls were lined with gigantic screens showing a variety of things, from advertisements to flight times, and the ceilings had large windows which let the natural light into the buildings, there were prominent reminders everywhere of California's to biggest exports, entertainment and green or bio tech. Looking at many of the residents another huge market had to be the plastic surgery industry, it looked like the current trend in medical alterations was an elfin look. I see my name on a card and see one of  my colleagues from La's CBC Bureau 

"Quinn," I yell to him. 

"Jake, welcome to sunny LA," he says to me as he pulls me in for a friendly hug. 

"It's been far too long, when was the last time we were together, was it that meeting in Toronto? " 

"Must have been," he replies. "Was that the night that I took you to Church and Wellesley, and we partied till dawn?"  

"That was probably the most fun I had in years," I exclaim, vividly remembering how liberating it was to be a part of that crowd, losing myself in the rhythm of the music. 

"Listen we are heading to the office now," he says as he motions he me to follow him. "California has set up a liaison for your journey, they are extremely interested in the story that you have been sent to cover, and they want eyes and ears on this trip." 

"So like a spy for California? And CBC is ok with this? " 

"They agreed once  the Californians agreed to split financing costs for the trip and unobstructed access to their archives. You will be able to request interviews from any heads of state you deem necessary." 

     While waiting for our cab to take us to our office, we catch up about the year since our last face to face meeting. We have of course been on screen together as various talking heads, but never have seemed to have the chance to catch up personally. Quinn is a few years younger than me but I have always felt that he is much more wise than I could ever hope to be. I always figured if I was ever ready to move try to open myself up again it would be with someone like Quinn, but I honestly think of that part of my life is over, I just can't bring myself to move on yet. In my heart I know that Jordan would have wanted me to, it's been over 10 years; but I have always been stubborn and move at my own pace. 

     As we stop to get out to go into the office, I start to worry about the liaison they will have paired me with. The Californians are famous for going through psyche profile to find the best fit in their massive catalogue of unemployed or underemployed agents, usually failed or aspiring actors or actresses. "Jobe is going to be your liaison for this assignment," Quinn says to me. I mentally chuckle at the thought of some escaped Alliance boy, blind leading the blind in California. 

     My heart sinks a little as I walk into the room. Jobe walks over with his hand firmly out ready to introduce himself. He looks to be in his late 20's early 30's with rusty red hair, and twinkling green eyes. 

Shattered States - Working title - Part 1

Chapter 1 

     On those rare nights that I can sleep, I find myself in a world that continued on from what was. I see in my mind the glowing beacon. I walk the streets in an idealized version of what was before. I feel a joy that does not exist in the world anymore as I look to my side and see Jordan there. He is so still so strong and the years that came did not diminish his rusty red hair, nor did it dull his shining green eyes. With him by my side I am whole again and barely even notice the gaggle of other friends surrounding us, friends that are now long lost. I walk the streets of old Chicago and hear the roaring hum of the el-trains. Jordan grabs my hand and pulls me closer and we walk sided by side, I feel the smooth metal of his titanium wedding band around his finger. My mind even in this state of unconsciousness struggles against this illogical reality, and my hand reaches towards my neck, finding nothing there. 

      It is euphoria and I find myself feeling that this is right, this is how it should be, and for one brief moment I forget that things are different. I feel life turned out how it should have instead of how it did. We walk aimlessly for what seem like hours but what is time in a dream.  Suddenly I find myself mysteriously at the bean looking into the reflection and all I see is myself. I look back around and see Jordan by my side still holding my hand and people all around us. I look back at the bean and my eyes are drawn back to me in the reflection. Drawn to the necklace that is around my neck, a small braided rope necklace with a ring embedded in it, and instinctively know it is Jordan's ring. 

     My focus pulls back and I see buildings in the distance that I should not be able to see in the reflection of the bean. Downtown is fully light but there are dark areas in the near surrounding areas. His view pulls back further and he sees the areas known as Lakeview and Wrigleyville in ruins, nothing standing where Wrigley Stadium stood for over a century. In the near distance I see a flag set of flags flying, the bottom is the flag of the city of Chicago, the middle is the newish flag of the Great Lakes Province, and the highest is the flag of Canada. 

     I feel an inescapable urge to touch the bean, and reach my hand out towards it. I am barely aware of the world around me, hardly noticing Jordan's screams for me to just stay where I am with him. My heart aches as I continue to reach forward my finger touches the bean. I feel the cold hard metal as I touch it and then feel it give way. It ripples like a pond the has had a rock thrown into it. I feel my finger go into the metal and I know that I am leaving behind my blissful fantasy world. Jordan still gripping my hand as I am slowly pulled up. I scream to him that I will always love him as I let go of his hand and disappear into the bean. 

  I jolt myself awake as always when I have this dream, soaked in sweat. Like always I am alone and feel the hole in my soul again. I reach for my necklace and I am soothed by the fact that I still have his ring around my neck. After the initial panic I catch my breath, and start sobbing like a baby, like always. I stop after a half an hour and it feels like my eyes have dried up. I sit in the darkness and flashes of my life past race through my mind. I see Jordan in most of these flashes, and am left with tinges of loss and regret. I stand on my balcony as dawn breaks, as the sunlight reaches my body I feel a strange sensation. I feel an emotion that I have no idea where it came from or how it came to me. I feel hope and it is the thing that scares me most about this night. 

 

Chapter 2 

    Anyone who is my age or older can break their lives into two easy parts, the before and the after, with most of us living somewhere between the two. The before is how it used to be, and the after is when we let our country fall about, and the chaos afterwards in what we have let our country become. In the early hours after dawn think back and realize I was so oblivious to it all. You could say that was typical  of someone in their mid twenties. I was too worried about my own issues. I was too worried about what might happen instead of what was happening. I knew that the marches and protests were going on but I honestly just couldn't get myself to care. I was too worried about my career, and the little time I had left after all the extra hours I was worried about spending as much time with Jordan as I could. Somewhere deep in core I foolishly think that somehow if I had noticed what was going on that I personally could have stopped it. That Jordan and I could have been the great heroes that kept the United States together. Imagine it, a banker and a lifestyle writer, saving the world, but it is a nice fantasy to sometimes slip into. 

    After I pack and get dressed, I flip on the television. I watch some inane innocuous morning programming as they break to a live story downtown about a small car wreck and how it's backing up traffic, my mind drifts as soon as I see the breaking news logo. So much of what happened came to us is breaking news on our television. I remember sitting in our Lakeview apartment as we saw the news about the EMP blast that took out a majority of  the east coast and throughout large chunks of the Midwest and west coast, thinking to myself how lucky we were to have escaped the communications blackout most of the nation faced. 

     I will never forget how lost I felt as they broke into their breaking news to tell us about the attacks on the capitol. How glad I was that Jordan was there by my side. I started to realize that all my hours trying to snag the best buzziest tag line were all for naught. I cried as I learned of the death of the president that I didn't vote for and that the vice president was missing and presumed dead as well. I realized how fucked we were when they went on scene at what was the Capitol Building. The news compared it to Pearl Harbor and the September 11th attacks but you could tell that this was the beginning of something different. 

     I pull myself out of my past and bravely try to brave my future for the day. I walk to my el stop, dragging my luggage for my trip along, glad to be part of the cacophony of the city. As I get close I see the train in station and join the others rushing to the train. The running in the crowd flashes a memory. I am running with Jordan in the crowd as we hear gun shots in the distance. Not just one gun going off but return fire. I can only vaguely remember what happened then, even my memories having a vague sense of shock to them. I can't hear what is going on. I am vaguely also aware that my real body has made it into the train, rushing back to reality as the train starts up again. 

     The woman behind me bumps into me, a small bump but it brings me back to that day and my past. In my mind I feel Jordan push me to the side and out of the way as a flash goes off in the window of a small cafe we are next to. I still can't remember anything after that except for seeing Jordan's limp hand sticking out of the rubble. I remember seeing his ring on his hand, knowing that he was gone. 

    I don't remember pulling the ring off of his finger, nor do I remember  anything about that day after that. I desperately try to pull myself out of the funk that I am in. I gain an odd strength by grabbing hold of my necklace, and I look around at the faces of my fellow passengers, noticing that anyone old enough to remember how things were has the same glazed over look in their eyes. The same look that any moment their emotional walls could come crashing down and the tears would just fly out. I realized then and there that we may have survived but we all lost a bit of ourselves. 

    

 

Shattered States - 1st attempt

    Anyone who is my age or older can break there lives into two easy parts, before and after. Before we let our country fall about, and the chaos afterwards in what we have let our country become. I was so oblivious to it all, typical of someone in their mid twenties. I was too worried about my own issues; too worried about what might happen instead of what was happening. I knew that the marches and protests were going on but I honestly just couldn't get myself to care. I was too worried about applying my self in my new career, worried about working the extra hours to get to the next position. There always was a next rung to think about, there never was there time to just enjoy where you are. I really think that is the biggest regret that I have in my life so far, that I wasn't able to enjoy the here and now at the time when it was the most important, that I wasn't able to see the signs of what was to come. Somewhere deep in dreams I foolishly think that somehow if I had noticed what was going on that I personally could have stopped it.

     On those rare nights that I can sleep, I find myself in a world that continued on from what was. I see in my mind the glowing beacon , and I walk the streets in an idealized version of what was before. I feel a joy that does not exist in the world these days. I am whole again, and those that I have lost along the way are walking behind me. I walk the streets of old Chicago and hear the roaring hum of the el-trains. Suddenly I find myself mysteriously at the bean looking into the reflection with all that was and see a twisted reflection of what is now looking back at me. I reach my hand up to the smooth surface as the dark twisted reality I see is so terrifying I want to scream. Instead of the vibrant lights and cacophony of voices on the side that was I see myself standing alone in the dark in the side that is. I see the bombed out buildings, I see only a smattering of lights emanating from the buildings that are still intact. In the near distance I see a flag set of flags flying, the bottom is the flag of the city of Chicago, the middle is the newish flag of the Great Lakes Province, and the highest is the flag of Canada. As my hand reached the surface of the bean the smooth cold metal surface gives way, there is a ripple effect as though someone dropped a rock in a pond of water. The surface suddenly gives way and I feel myself pulled up and into the bean, seconds later I am suddenly fully enveloped inside.

     On these nights I usually jolt awake in a cold sweat. I sit there in my bed, alone as I drink in all the emotions that I try to suppress in during the day. My mind forces me to deal with the emotions that I so desperately try to ignore. I am left with a deep feeling of loss, regret, and the slightest tinge of hope. In reading about the psychological effects of the fall the first two are more common than anyone would care to admit. The later emotion is the rare one, even I do not know what that means, why any of this situation would give me any hope.

     Many of us in the Chicago area count our blessings that we ended up where we were. There was so much chaos and confusion when everything started. When I think of those days the overwhelming emotion that comes to me is panic. I can remember so many incidents of running in pure panic, but for the life of me can't remember from what. If I try to explain to someone what was going on in those days I go to an almost text book version of what happened.

     We know that there was a massive EMP that took out communications in the majority of the nation for weeks. As the EMP went off and people panicked in the darkness and disconnection the capitol was attacked. Details even now are still sparse, we do not know the cause. They picked a great time, most Senators were in DC as the Senate was in session. The president was in residence at the white house and having a meeting with the vice president, when suddenly the bombs went off. Nearly instantly wiping out the majority of our federal government. Our country which should have coalesced in the face of such a tragedy, strengthening our bond, shattered instead into a million pieces.

     What followed was pure anarchy, each and every state on their own. Our neighbors up north were the saviors to Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan; those state governments asking for help from the Canadian military to keep peace in the areas. Illinois made an alliance with Missouri, Kansas, Ohio, Iowa, and Indiana. For the last few years leading up to the fall there had been a growing discontent with modern mores. Many of the rural areas had subscribed to a neo-traditionalism that harkened back to the days when we didn't rely on technology to do our work, there was much talk of the affect that God being absent from our everyday life had on us as a whole. They saw that the rising sea levels and temperatures was God  showing his disdain for the disrespect that we have shown His gifts. There was a growing disconnect between the  Chicago area and the rest of the state, but the alliance of states needed many of the cities financial resources and was content to let Chicago stand alone as an area of weak mores. When the new Alliance tried to pass laws limiting the use of electricity and technology; outlawing any religion outside of christianity; outlawing homosexuality and fornication outside of marriage, the people of Chicago rebelled. Many of Chicago's iconic buildings were destroyed or damaged in the ensuing conflict. Chicago reached out to the Canadians just neighboring in Wisconsin and Michigan and were offered salvation just as there defenses were ready to fall as the Canadian army swept in and turned the tide. The alliance accepted the occupation of Chicago because it needed to retain a good trading relationship and relied heavily on the Canadian currency as the most stable Currency in North America. Soon afterwards the new areas were officially annexed by Canada and the new Great Lakes province was formed.

    With all of this strife and conflict why would Chicagoans feel lucky to have ended up where they did? Under Canadian law we have flourished more than most of our immediate neighbors. We are still able to live our lives under basically the same moral system that we always new. Out of the corpse of the United States of America grew several smaller nations, many combining to form less small nations. The major powers left are the Alliance - now known as the Breadbasket, based on their mainly agricultural economy, the Confederacy, a collection of the southern states, the republic of Texas, New England and the Isle of California.

Nobody Cares

    News flash, nobody cares. Another harsh but true life lesson. Really honestly and truly nobody does. You are not the center of anyone's life except your own. You are not owed love, again it is something that you have to earn. Your parents and your children are going to be the closet you will get to unconditional love, but even that can be fucked up by your or their own actions. Your wife/husband/partner definitely does not owe you anything, and you will have times where you are going to heavily disagree on things. Your motivations and desires are going to be different, and that is more than ok. It is actually great! Think about it, if your significant other wanted the same things exactly that you did in life there would be no force at home that would challenge you to learn and grow.

    So now you are bummed out, thinking I am not special and nobody cares, but don't wallow in that fact, and don't take it totally literally either. Of course there are going to be individuals in your life that do care about you, as a person. We are wired to be social people and we do best in social environments, having a seemingly hard wired need for companionship. But in the general sense of the world, honestly nobody cares. Nobody cares if you are 15 minutes late, nobody cares if you are the best or worst salesperson on your team, and honestly nobody cares who you saw last week at Starbucks when you are loudly broadcasting your day on your cell phone ( I'm looking at you, loud cell phone talker). You may think how depressing but I see it as liberating.

     All of those expectations that you think society puts on you, you put on yourself. Your unrelenting desire to keep up with the Jones, totally put there by yourself (or programmed from your parents). Honestly if Miranda down the street got a pool put in and you didn't, who cares? Or if you tried your hardest and made a huge mistake, who cares? Or if what you really want to do in life is be an underwater basket weaver, who cares? Hopefully you are starting to see where I am going with this.

     Take a moment to let it all sink in, quite that little voice inside your head that you are using to read. Sit there and breathe in and out deeply. Do this for a few moments and come back to this.

    Did you do it really, because if you are like me you didn't. But honestly I am trying to prove a point. You do you, the way only you can. When you are alone and have only your thoughts to yourself, you know the things that are truly important to you. You always have, no matter how hard you have tried to deny that drive to be the rodeo clown, the desire to open that café, your secret love of stripping, or the many others things you want but have been afraid to work for because of your fear that you would fail, the fear that you would look stupid, or that others would judge you. Lets be honest with ourselves again, nobody really cares. 

You are not special

Life advice from a pragmatist 

     You are not special. That might sting to accept, but it is true. I am not special, you are not special, we are not special. No matter what our moms or dads ever tried to tell us. Life is not going to give us a participation ribbon. If we want to get something we have to earn it. Now I am not going to lie and say that things are not going to be easier for easier for some of us. Genetics, socioeconomic status, gender, race, sexual orientation, and so very much more can make things easier but that subject would be better served by "Life isn't fair". So yes boys and girls our parents have lied to us all our lives (and not just about Santa) , but don't blame them they were just trying to help. You are not owed anything by anyone, plain and simple. Your parents do not owe you anything, they brought you into this world. Your teachers do not owe you anything, they gave you the tools you need. They world does not owe you anything, it already gives you more than you should ever expect.

     Once you realize this crushing blow to your psyche you will be liberated. It is exhausting to walk around all day thinking you are the center of the universe, believe me I did it as much as you do. You are constantly waiting for your moment to come, waiting for opportunity to knock on your door, waiting for things to go your way. Luck is a funny thing, its random, and not something that you can rely on in life. Most of the time your "lucky break" will have come after much hard work and honing your skill and talents. This will come from honing your craft, experience, and knowledge on when to pounce on a situation. You may have a natural talent that makes something easier for you to do, but look at any of your best in field heroes, they all practiced, they all went out there and did what it is they do. They did not just show up, there were no perfect attendance awards given in their field.

      This may seem contradictory but self worth is important, as is inner dialog. Knowing that you are not special does not mean that you don't have skills and knowledge, does not mean you do not have worth. You will always have to work hard at things to achieve what you want. Nothing in life is free or easy, again you are not owed anything in life and have to earn it. Always have a goal, and take the time to figure out what it will take to get there, and the inner strength to keep on track. You will get off track, you will get sidetracked and that is ok. Most of us do not have the inner fortitude to remain the type of driven that you need to be to get to the top. That is ok. That is going to happen.    You should always plan for some of this slack, useless chatter,  passionate romance,  mind numbing hobbies, not so passionate romances and more. Things happen the way they do and no amount of wishing can change the past, but you can learn from it.

     So if none of us are special, why should I be listening to you? you ask yourself. That is a great question!!! These are just my musings on life, things I have learned over the years, things I want to remind myself of. Every one of us has a unique perspective, and I really feel that by sharing and understanding each others perspective we all grow. Just a little journey into my odd mind and what drives me as a person.