The Survivor Journals Omnibus [Books 1-3], page 47part #1 of The Survivor Journals Omnibus Series
“I know. It’s just…there should be a hospital, doctors, you know.”
“Women for centuries—” I started.
She cut me off. “I know what women have been doing. I’ve been thinking about it for weeks. That does not mean I want to have to do it that same way. I wanted every drug they could give me. I wanted to go to sleep and wake up with a doctor handing me a baby and saying, Congrats! It’s a boy! I am not going to get any of that.”
“Women—” I started again.
Ren’s eyes narrowed. “If you try to tell me about what women have done again, I’m going to punch you right in the beak. I know what they did, fool! I am a woman! I was almost a nurse. This is not new knowledge. I’m not a rube. I don’t care what they did. This is me we’re talking about. Not them.”
I smelled something burning at that moment. The javelina. I rolled Ren off me. “C’mon. We’ll eat something and talk. You’ll feel better after you eat.” I helped her to her feet.
“You have no idea. What is it I’m about to eat all of, leaving you nothing, anyhow?”
We sat in the chairs near the fire while I roasted hunks of javelina over the fire. The mesquite wood smoke flavored the meat well, and we added a little barbecue sauce to the finished product. I told Ren about the hunt, and what javelinas were. We both agreed that they were tasty. It was a pork-like meat, but a touch more gamy, as wild game is apt to be I’m told by all the hunting articles I’ve read. It would never hit the top three in best meats I’ve eaten, but given that I hunted it myself and it was the first fresh meat we had in ages, it tasted far better than it probably should have.
Ren demolished it. She loaded her plate and ate as much as she could hold. “I get to eat and get fat now. That’s the rules.”
I was not about to argue with a pregnant woman about the rules. Instead, when I finished eating, I tossed a few pieces of scraps to Fester, and then reclined in my seat, shifting to look at Ren. “I am happy about this. A few months ago, I guess I made up my mind that I’d never be a father. I guess I assumed it was out of the realm of possibility.”
“I did not want to get pregnant.” Ren spat a piece of gristle into the fire. “I didn’t want this to happen, Twist.”
“And now that it has?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know. I’m not sure. I’m still processing it, I guess.”
“Is any part of you happy?”
Ren thought about this and conceded it with a nod of her head. “Yes. Sort of. I can’t help but think that my sister should be here. My mom should be here, too. I can’t share this with them and it hurts me, you know?”
“I understand.” I let silence descend after that. What could I say? We were both trying to move on, to forge ahead in the world and let the past be the past, but you never stop grieving. You just figure out a way to function while grieving. Moments of joy like this make the loss and separation that much more painful.
“I’m scared, too.” Ren reached out and put one of her hands on mine. “What if…something goes wrong?”
“We deal with it.”
I shrugged. “As best we can. We’ve dealt with everything else, so far. We’ll figure it out as we come to it.”
“That’s not comforting.”
“It’s all I’ve got right now.”
Ren was silent again. After a few minutes of staring into the fire, she started to laugh. “My cousin Jaime got married a few months before the Flu. Of course, my Tia Sofia wanted to know when they were going to get to baby-making. Jaime’s wife was in law school. She was a very prim, proper upstate white chick, right? She goes, Oh, I don’t think I want to bring a baby into the world, things being what they are. My tia looks at her like she’d just grown an extra head. She says, Chica, I was born in a goddamned hut. I want to be an abuela!”
“People were still getting pregnant while bombs were being dropped on London in World War II.” I’d read enough books about World War II to know that the Brits never faltered in that regard. “I guess the lights-out orders made them feel romantic. Keep calm and carry on, indeed.”
“I guess we can’t stop the natural order, no matter how hard the natural order tried to stop us.”
I covered her hand with my other hand. “We will be fine.”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell myself. How can we be sure?”
“How can we be sure a tornado won’t drop out of the sky and kill both of us tonight while we sleep?”
Ren stuck out her tongue at me. “Touché.”
“They used to say we could only be sure of death and taxes. Taxes don’t exist anymore, so we only have to worry about death now. Life is fifty percent easier than it used to be, if you use that metric.”
“We’re going to have a baby, Twist. A baby in this world. What kind of future can it have?”
“Whatever future it wants to have. We will help it as best we can, and it can figure out the rest on its own, just like every other person has since time began.”
“We sound stupid calling it It. Is this a baby or a demonic clown?”
“Hey, it can be both if it wants.”
“He,” Ren corrected me. “It’s a boy.” She set her plate down and put her hands on her stomach. “A strong baby boy.”
“How can you tell?”
“I’m Latin, and I’m going to be a mother. Latinas always know these things.”
“A boy it is, then.”
We lapsed into a long silence. The sun set, and we stared into the dancing flames of the fire pit. The night was warm, but not so warm that the fire was unwelcome. Fester lounged in the grass between us, tail twitching. We held hands, both of us trying to channel strength from the other.
I was scared, but this was a different kind of fear than anything I’d known in the last two years. It used to be that I was scared of death, or loneliness, or Bigfoot, but those were fears I could carry on my own shoulders. That was all on me, no one else. When Ren came into my life, my fear spread to blanket her, too. Now, I worried about her as much as I worried about myself—no, I worried about her more than myself. However, she was a woman grown. She could handle herself. My mistakes need not hurt her. As I sat and contemplated a new life, I realized that my decisions, my successes and failures, would carry far more weight than they had in the past. If I fail to hunt, that child starves. If I fail to gather wood, that child will be cold. If I fail anything, that child will carry some of whatever the fallout of that failure would be. That thought froze my guts. I wasn’t prepared for that sort of burden.
“We will call him Victor,” Ren said.
“My father’s name was Victor.”
It was a good name. Simple and strong. “Victor it is, then.” I liked the implications of the name. Victor, victory—Ren and I survived, and we continue to survive. We beat the Flu. We won. The child will be a fighter, too. It was a good name, a fitting name.
She squeezed my hand. In that squeeze, I found warmth that melted away much of the fear. I was going to be a father.
Curled into a small ball next to me, Ren fell asleep easily, worn out from the emotions of the day and the physical toll of pregnancy. I did not. I laid in bed for two or three hours, restless, before I eased myself out from under the covers. I threw on some shorts and my favorite hooded sweatshirt. I walked downstairs, slipped out the door to the yard, and walked barefoot through the damp grass to the road in front of the house. The day’s heat was still being held by the asphalt, and it felt good on my feet. I stood in the middle of the road and stared at the moon.
I thought about how young I was. I know that people have successfully parented much younger than I, however that was of little comfort to me. That was them; I’m me. I have no idea how to be a dad. I had a good dad, don’t get me wrong. The template is there. I just have never given serious thought to how to raise a kid, especially in this post-human world. What is this kid going to do? What is he going to be? I started get
Part of me was delighted by the prospect of being a father. Part of me wanted it a lot, far more than I thought I did. The other part of me had no idea what to expect. It was that part of me where all the creeping fear began to accumulate. Ren might have been eating for two, but I was worrying for three. I wondered if that was typical for new fathers-to-be. Something told me that it probably was.
After dinner, Ren and I spent most of the night talking around the fire. We discussed things we would need: diapers, formula, supplies, clothes—stuff like that. And we discussed stuff we would need for the actual delivery—most importantly, I’d need a book that explained how to deliver a baby at home. I’d have to go to a library and see what I could find. We talked about nutritional needs. Ren would need a lot of vegetables and fruits. She would need a steady supply of iron. She wasn’t craving pickles, but she did say she would be willing to fight a bear for a box of Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls (and who could blame her?), so I suppose I will have to find some of them toot suite.
My stomach started to get fluttery. Nerves. Worry. A lot of worry. Too much worry, perhaps. I started thinking about my own mortality. When the Flu first hit, I thought about checking out of the planet manually, on my own terms. I decided against it, if for no other reason than I was still living despite the world trying to make sure I wasn’t. I figured it was a good reason to spite the planet. When I met Ren, she gave me a simple reason for living: I loved her, and I wanted to be around her. Now, the idea of a baby, of a small, dependent life that not only needed me to live, but to provide knowledge, leadership, love, and direction. That life would need to be fed and nurtured. It would need to be taught to survive. How in the hell could I teach a baby to survive when I’ve only been winging it, myself? And what if the inevitable happened and I died? What then? What if Ren predeceased me, and then I passed away from illness, rogue peccary attack, or accident? Anything was possible. What would happen to that baby? What if that baby was a toddler or a child when I died? What then? And how would I educate that baby? I never even graduated from high school!
I sank down to the road and cried. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I did not feel like I ever would. I sure as hell was not prepared to raise a child in this world. At that moment, I wanted my mom. Seems silly to say that, but it’s true. I wanted to go to her and get her advice. She was only twenty-two when she had me. Granted, my birth was not all that unusual. She and my dad were married, and my dad had recently passed the CPA exams, so they were going to be alright. But, I wanted to hear her voice. I wanted to hear her excitement for this baby. I wanted her to tell me what to do and how to handle it.
I laid in the road a long time. I spent hours watching stars and trying to talk myself into being a parent. I fell back to using logic, as I so often have. Put it perspective, my dad used to say. So, I did. I was not going to be the first person on the planet to have to raise a child without a lot of help. I was not going to be the first person to have to help deliver his own baby. I was not going to be the first person to raise a child without basic utilities, television, and public schools. The more I put things in perspective, the better I felt about the situation. I started to think about the positives. I tried to picture the baby Ren and I would make. Would it look like her, or like me? I hoped it would have her nose, at least. I never liked my nose; I always thought it looked too big for my face. I started thinking about teaching my future son to hunt, and to harvest. I thought about him playing with kittens in the barn, or chasing chickens around the yard. This kid would be the first American child in a couple of generations to be raised by firelight and books instead of television. I reminded myself that this kid would never know the world as it was before, so he would only know the world as it was now. I wasn’t scared of the world before the Flu, so he would not be scared of the post-Flu world. He would be a hunter and gatherer from birth. He would raise his own animals. I would teach him to read and farm and hunt, and then books and experience would have to teach him the rest.
Maybe having a kid wouldn’t be so bad.
I started to get excited about it, actually. I started to want to be a dad. The desire for a child started like a spark, but quickly caught flame. I suddenly really wanted to be a father. I wanted it more than anything else, at that moment. After all, that’s the whole point, right? Perpetuate the species. Keep humanity alive. I was going to do my part.
For Better or Worse
I woke with a start. Something was wrong. The bed was empty. That, in and of itself, was not unusual. Twist generally slept a lot less than I did, especially since I became an incubator. He usually eased himself out of bed around dawn and started on his day. Most days I slept until he had breakfast ready. He was a morning person. I was not. However, the bed being empty made all the fears of him running away a sudden reality. For a split second, I was back in my old neighborhood disappointing my parents by getting knocked up with the father being little more than a sperm donor dodging out when it came time to pay the piper. I felt shame well up inside me. Tears smarted at the corner of my eyes. C’mon, Ren—get it together. Stupid hormones.
It was dark, still the middle of the night. Where was Twist? I walked through the house. He was nowhere to be found. He was not in the shack we’d built to house our composting toilet, either. (Believe me, having an outhouse is not the height of glamorous, but needs dictate what needs must.) When I didn’t find him in the barn, I got really scared. And angry. I wanted to hurt him at that second, which is stupid. I know Twist. He’s kind. He’s got a good heart. He wouldn’t run. But, the pregnancy hormones are silly. They make you overreact. Every insecurity I had suddenly flooded my brain. I ran back to our bedroom and cried again. Partly because of hormones, and partly because of fear.
After the Flu hit, I made peace with the world being the way it was. I spent my days crawling through people’s apartments in New York for food, books, and supplies. I figured that was going to be what my life was until I died, be it from accident, old age, or personal choice. The idea of being a mother never, ever occurred to me during that first year. It seemed silly to think about being someone’s parent in a world that was barely equipped to keep me alive.
When I met Twist, I saw a better option for life. He was going south, and that sounded better than sticking around New York for another stupid winter. He had an RV, a cat, and supplies. He was clearly better at this whole survival thing than I was, and he was willing to share, to help me. It made sense for me to hitch my wagon to his. The idea of being a mother crept into my head then, briefly. A fleeting image. Me and him, the last two people on Earth, the whole “Adam and Eve” thing was there. How could it not be? But, I decided quickly that I did not want a baby, not because I didn’t like Twist, but because it would be asking too much of that child. Maybe the Flu did exactly what it was supposed to do, right? Maybe it was time for humanity to end, and who was I to buck Nature? Humankind was supposed to end, and I was content to be a mistake in the Grand Plan, but that mistake should end with me.
I guess Nature had other plans.
I’m scared. I suppose I can say that. I’m terrified. I did not want this baby, but now that I know for certain that it’s there, I can’t imagine not wanting it. I don’t want it for Twist’s sake, or Nature’s Plans, or even for the good of Humanity—I want it because of some primordial maternal instinct that I didn’t even know I had. As I lay in that empty bed, my pessimistic brain trying to convince me that Twist had run off rather than be my baby’s father, I vowed to have that baby regardless of anything else. Nothing would prevent me from having this kid and raising him. I would teach him whatever I could, and he would have to learn the rest on his own. I didn’t need Twist, my parents, my sister—I would
I went back to sleep, but it was an uneasy sleep, and eventually the noise of the birds in the trees around the house roused me out of bed at dawn. I threw a hand over to Twist’s side of the bed. It was cold. He had not slept there. I tried to reassure myself, tell myself that he was just nervous or excited and was somewhere doing chores or something.
I dressed, preparing for another day of house scavenging, or maybe I’d take my bike to look for fruit trees. Fresh peaches sounded good. Apples sounded even better. I wished there were banana trees around here. I could use the potassium. I could also work in the garden. We had a nice plot of plants coming up, corn and potatoes, some assorted veggies. There was always plenty to do on the farm. And it would never end. I would do it all by myself, if I had to.
I grabbed breakfast. We had a large store of Pop-Tarts and dried oatmeal. I went with Pop-Tarts because they were as good cold as they were hot. I slipped on my shoes and went outside, hoping to see Twist at the fire. He wasn’t. The embers were not even stoked. Wherever he was, it wasn’t on the property. Fine. Screw ‘em. I don’t need him anyway. I refused to cry.
You’re being stupid, girl, I told myself. Where would he even go? He was around. Knowing Twist, he was off trying to figure out some grand scheme for the future, or maybe he remembered something in a house nearby that he absolutely needed to have at that moment. He wasn’t exactly impulsive, but when he got one of his silly notions, he would have to follow it through. Still, all the reassuring in the world did not make me feel better.
I ate my Pop-Tarts and drank a large glass of bottled water. Twist was working on getting a filtering system up and running so we could harvest lake water and purify it for our needs, but until then, we had a whole bedroom full of bottled water that we’d been hording for months. Then, I gathered up my little canvas knapsack of supplies, added some food, and prepared to go hike down the road to go through another house. I was almost out of the yard before I remembered the pills. I had to go back and take some of Mrs. Perfect’s prenatal vitamins and some of that folic acid. This was to be the new normal for me. Take the pills. Make sure the baby would be healthy. I had my mission.