I don’t normally promote books, but I came upon one recently that struck me as worth a read. It was a narrative in which a woman named Elizabeth Pendergrass recounts her travels after the Nuclear War of 2018. Instead of fixating on the droll suffering of the aftermath, she delves into something far more complex. A member of one of the few wealthy families who were protected during the war, she has a unique perspective on the tragedy of being in the unaffected minority. To give you a better understanding of the self-aware mastery of this novel, here is an excerpt from her book:
I would like to start by saying that I am fortunate, but it is to my detriment. I write for posterity, for the generations born after the events that followed the nuclear winter of 2018. The world around me crumbled, and while I did not perish like 46% of the world’s population, I suffered from something else entirely. Most of the surviving members of the human race emerged into a world torn apart, with nothing to their names and bouts of radiation poisoning, but I was whisked away from harm with a few other members of our well-to-do community. We were safely stowed away in a large bunker with our most valuable possessions. To be frank, other than the slight inconvenience here and there, we remained virtually unaffected by the end of the world.
That is not to say that my trials and tribulations should be overlooked.
You see, in this post-apocalyptic wasteland, those who suffered came out stronger. They pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and reclaimed their place in the world. Poverty and harsh physical plight gave these “less fortunate” survivors a sense of purpose and dignity — an aesthetic, if you will. That left me unscathed, unmarked, and grasping for an identity in a new world. Who was I? Where was my sense of purpose and dignity? Where the hell was my aesthetic?
This is when I decided to take the reins of my own fate and mark my place in this newly formed hellscape. With the government overlords gone and the slow ascent of anarchy permeating our society, I was free to truly find myself and get in touch with who I really was.
The first step in my transformative endeavor was an act of artistic rebellion. It took three days and two nights to make the trip to what was formerly known as the Grand Canyon. These days, the 277-mile-depth of the once great natural landmark teems with radioactive waste from the war. As I travelled closer and closer to the pit, I passed by several camps of people. Some of them, I noticed, had extra limbs or distorted facial figures. I was told by a guide that these people were the first to suffer from the radiation. Looking at them, I couldn’t help but think about how lucky they were. What I would have given to have as rich and eventful a story. History will look back with adoration at those who braved physical hardship. I couldn’t let history remember me as nothing. I made my way to the very edge of the once-beloved Grand Canyon, peered out into the vast depths of radioactive sludge, and recited my favorite Ernest Hemingway poem.
Some came in chains/Unrepentant but tired.
Too tired but to stumble
Thinking and hating were finished/ Thinking and fighting were finished
Retreating and hoping were finished.
Cures thus a long campaign/Making death easy.
To be quite honest, I don’t know the meaning behind this poem. But knowing Hemingway, I’m sure it was a fitting tribute.
After such a striking act of dissent, I had to focus on my own state of self next. The aftermath of the nuclear winter left farms across the continent barren wastelands with little to no signs of life. When I saw an abandoned cornfield during my travels east, I was filled with a newfound wonder. Where others may have seen death and destruction, I saw a chance to begin anew. I positioned myself in the middle of the field, and took in my surroundings. Save for the mutated crows, there was no other living thing in sight. I closed my eyes, crossed my legs, and began to meditate. The arid expanse of hopelessness cleansed my soul — I think. I meditated for eight minutes, and probably would have been there longer if the crows hadn’t begun to gather around me, apparently under the impression that I had died. Understandably, I had to chase them off, which interrupted my meditation. Nevertheless, I felt renewed.
I continued my journey by embarking on a pilgrimage to what was once the capital city of the land. Upon entering the city, I noticed the air was rife with the ghosts of suffering and violence. There, amidst the littered streets and charred remains of the landscape, the embalmed corpse of Our Gracious Dictator was displayed in a glass coffin for us all to see. It was meant to be a sobering display. This was the man who brought upon the nuclear winter, and the locals — who had taken to urinating on the coffin at least twice a day — did not seem to like him one bit. I took this opportunity to pose with the coffin, and asked a passing stranger to take a couple of pictures. I quickly noticed his scowling face and realized I was being insensitive. In an attempt to remedy the situation, I invited him to be included in the picture. Inexplicably, this made him angrier. I had not intended to anger a local, but it would not be beneficial to my goals if I were to assume blame for this kind of small thing.
The story doesn’t end here. If what you have read so far has titillated you, I encourage you to purchase Ms. Pendergrass’s book, Soothing the Soul After the Nuclear Apocalypse. It contains the experiences in this essay along with many more doomsday escapades. For example, Pendergrass talks about the time she fought a 12-year-old feral child for a share of the last chicken to exist on planet Earth, and how that event helped her identify personal strengths such as lightweight lifting and a healthy sense of entitlement. I could go on and on about how poignantly delightful Pendergrass’s book is, but I think it’s best described thusly: a triumph for mankind.