Barbara H. Peterson
A hypothetical story about one middle class American caught in the crossfire of a crashing economy and false belief system.
Just when did I get here, and how? As I look out to see the chaos surrounding me, food lines circling the block, and rats scampering for scraps across the feet of those waiting patiently for a partially full belly, I remember what it was like before the crash. Before everything that I knew turned to dust and was carried away by the wind of change. A change so drastic that I didn’t even realize it was happening until it was too late to do anything about it. And I wonder… Just what was I thinking?
I worked hard most of my life and thought that I had it made. A good job, house of my own, brand new car, friends with whom I could grab a beer at the local hangout every now and then, and enough cash to make things comfortable. The American Dream. And then it happened…
One day, without warning, the job was gone. Outsourced to another country. Not to worry, though. I had been there for over 20 years, so I had a pension coming. I could do very well on that. Until the retirement fund went bankrupt and the money dried up. But I still had cash in the bank, or so I thought. Then I went to the bank to withdraw some money and found that it was closed for ‘holiday.’ A cruel joke. Evidently a decree had been issued declaring that “Americans would have no access to banks or banking services. They could not withdraw or transfer their money, nor could they make deposits.” So I went home, driving on fumes since I could not buy gas without money from the bank. I was in shock. What now?
Denial took over. This couldn’t be happening. Not in America. Everything will sort itself out and be fine in the morning. I had enough food in the fridge to get by and needed some time to relax anyway. Besides, my favorite television show was on that night and I didn’t want to miss it. This situation was just a temporary glitch in the system. Until it wasn’t.
And so I kicked back, put my feet up, and watched Dialing for Dollars. Yes, things would be just fine. This was America after all, and the President was just on television the other day assuring us that everything was okay. In fact, the latest news report stated that the economy was going uphill, there were more jobs available than ever before, and hunger was being eradicated by a new and improved way of making food in a lab, courtesy of Monsanto, the chemical company that owned and operated most of the country’s food supply. Ah, yes. What could possibly go wrong? After all, only third-world countries have to worry about things such as poverty. And that can’t happen here. At least not to me. I’ve done everything right. Supported the right candidates, waved the American flag at fundraisers, toed the party line, gave my life to a job that I didn’t particularly like but kept at for the security it provided, and ignored those ‘conspiracy theorists’ shouting that the end was near. Nuts. Every last one of them. Yes, things will be back to normal in no time. Those in charge will take care of it and I don’t have to worry.
The next day, I was still optimistic. I tried contacting the bank and couldn’t get through. The lines were evidently jammed from people calling to find out when it would be open again for business, so I rode my bicycle to the closest automatic teller machine (ATM) to see if I could get some cash to pay for gas for the car and a few groceries. After all, I only had about a week’s worth of food on hand because anything else would be considered ‘hoarding.’ “Funds not available” was what the machine displayed. So, I rode back home and started calling my friends. Most of them didn’t have a clue about what was going on. They told me not to worry, that the situation was only temporary. Things would be back to normal in no time. So I waited another day, confident that the system would not let me down. Then another. And another…
A week went by and my friends had started reporting to me that they were experiencing the same sort of thing. But confidence remained high that everything would work out. All we had to do was wait. And we did. But the fridge was looking bare, my stomach was starting to growl, and watching Gilligan’s Island reruns was not as enjoyable as it once was. I was hungry, confused, and downright angry. After all, it was my money in the bank! How could they just hold it and not let me withdraw any of it? My mortgage was coming due, as well as the car payment, electrical bill, phone bill, cable TV and Internet service. I was not a happy camper. So I decided to use my credit cards to pay the bills, buy food, gas, and whatever else I needed to get me by until funds were released by the bank. Simple. No worries. I had plenty of credit cards, so I would be okay. Or so I thought.
Denial is a powerful drug. It numbs the senses and distorts reality. It is also addicting.
When the credit card bills came due and the banks still had not released any funds, I began to really get worried. Now what would I do? My friends were starting to panic too. How would I get by? What would happen? Where would I get food? Will the bank foreclose on my mortgage? Will the car be repossessed? Will the lights go out? How will I watch American Idol? Going cold turkey is hard, and that is what was happening. My supply of money was cut off, and with it everything else that I was accustomed to was circling the drain. Maybe those ‘preppers’ were not so deranged after all. Could the media reports touting a glowing future possibly be wrong? Could they have lied? I was beginning to doubt all that I had seen and heard. Where did I go wrong?
Others were getting restless too. People were roaming the streets, out of gas, out of money, out of food, and out of patience. Desperate people resort to desperate measures. Suddenly, the corner grocery store becomes a means of survival and the friend who owns it a mere roadblock in the way of that survival. Windows break, alarms go off, people who would never think of doing so before become looters, pillaging what they can in the hopes of staving off the hunger that gnaws at their insides like a ravenous beast chewing its way through the stomach lining. Chaos. The end of all that we believed to be true.
And then the police stepped in to impose ‘order.’ Gas exploding all around to quell the crowds of looters and protestors. It burned the eyes and lungs, causing the crowds to disperse momentarily. The beginning of the end of any liberty we believed that we had. Snatched away in the blink of an eye. Those who escaped the police cordon fled to abandoned areas to carve out a meek subsistence hiding from the law, homeless and afraid. Others were rounded up and placed in internment camps because the jails were rapidly overflowing. And the realization hit home that what we had been living was not real. It was a fantasy created by an over-reaching government to pacify the people until the time arrived when that fiction could no longer be maintained. Then the façade was torn down and the ugly truth remained. The truth of food lines, hunger, homelessness and fear. This was the truth that we were living now. The truth that was held at bay by government lies and propaganda. The truth that only a thin line lies between fantasy and reality, which can be erased at any time by those controlling the strings of our existence. And when those strings are cut and we fall? What lies in store is not what we have been told. There is no happy ending to the tragedy of despair.
But it didn’t have to be this way. I think back at all of the times when I should have listened to the small voices around me that I chose to disregard. The voices that shouted: “Don’t believe all that you are told! Turn the TV off! Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.” It all comes back to me now. All of the times that I thought of getting out of debt, learning to grow my own food, storing up for emergencies and getting out of the city. Some did listen. I wish them well. It will not be easy for them to survive what has happened, but they will. A remnant always does. They will escape the camps and learn to thrive in a world turned upside down. This is my hope. My last and only hope in a world that I no longer recognize. A new beginning rising out of the ashes.
As for me? I don’t know how, but I will survive. I no longer have the friends that I thought I had. I only have people around me that I can trust. When things go terribly wrong, only those with strength of character will remain loyal and not turn into predators intent on destruction.
This is the new American Dream. The dream of survival in a world gone mad with its own hubris. The world of tomorrow unless we wake up today and do what is necessary to provide for our friends and family. The most valuable things that we possess are not material goods. Not a new car, fancy house or money in the bank. They are survival skills. When all of the money is gone; when all of the comforts are history, will you be able to say that you did everything you could to ensure your survival and that of your loved ones? Will you stand, or succumb to the devastation surrounding you? The time to act is now.
©2016 Barbara H. Peterson
Originally published at GIA.