Okay okay okay okay okay. Focus. I start counting down from two hundred, like I always do when I feel like I’m horribly late or behind. Giving myself just over three minutes to rocket around the house. Maybe it’s the same reason that people say to count down from ten to calm yourself down? I don’t know. There’ll be plenty of time to ponder such things — later.
I’ve thought about this moment many times before, but I’ve never gotten as far as to decide what I would bring along as I race from home. Never really thought it would happen, you know? But then, a little bit ago (2 minutes? 10 minutes? who knows right now), my phone buzzed with one of those government alerts. Storm surge, flood barriers won’t be able to hold it, a bit more that I don’t remember right now. Basically, time to go. Like now, if you aren’t fond of a forced swim lesson.
Some people will probably stay. They don’t think it’ll get as bad as people say, that people are too worried about the rising sea level. Or sure, it’ll happen in other places, but it’ll never happen here. I’d rather be safe than sorry. I intend to survive.
I try to remember that little black and white pamphlet that the state distributed to us last year. Pack and Go, it read on the front. Tips for what to bring in the unlikely case of an emergency. I think I had thrown it in the recycling.
What here was even worth saving? I had this moment where I grabbed my computer, and then tossed it aside again where it bounced a bit on my mattress. What was really important? Not work emails.
I start with the easy stuff. Some cans of beans from the pantry, a bag of chips, an unopened can of salsa, a one-third-gone bag of bread, a can of peaches, three unopened bottles of water. All jammed into the bottom of my backpack. Oh! And a can opener for my beans. I’m a genius for remembering that.
That ought to be somewhat enough, I think. If this isn’t enough, and I need more than a couple days of food, I’ll probably end up starving. Where am I going anyway? I’ll figure that out in that car. Far from the coast, that’s for sure.
Next, I sprint up the stairs to my room in the attic. Behind my headboard there’s a bookshelf I’ve never used, stuffed with travel guides and my parents’ decaying old books. Scanning… scanning… a map of the northeast! A real life, physical map. One that won’t need cell towers, once the ones here are flooded and go out. Sure, it’s thirty years old, but roads don’t just move, right? I hope not.
Now that I’m done with the practical things, it gets harder. The beans in my backpack are starting to clank heavily against my leg when I hold it, so I leave it against the wall and start rummaging around in my room.
First, my shelf that’s full of notebooks. I’ve accumulated too many notebooks over the years: large, pocket-size, and anywhere in between. And now, none of these will ever get used. I grab two medium sized ones from the middle of the stack, letting the rest of them topple lazily. What does it matter? I grab a couple pens from a box on the shelf as well. I’ve always been a fan of writing down what happens, and who knows what the immediate future will bring. At some point, if I make it that far, I’d want to read back at a journal of what happened. My memory’s always been shoddy anyway, so I need some kind of record to remember past lives.
In my desk drawer, the only thing I find worth salvaging is a literal metal golden ticket. I got it after my final year at theater camp, some of the best summers of my life. The ticket also gets thrown into my backpack.
And from next to my bed, a stuffed teddy bear that I’ve had for over a decade now. It came from Hong Kong during the year of the tiger, so it’s a teddy bear dressed as a tiger. Very cute.
Something to remind me of home, I guess? That theater camp was a home. The bear, that’s family in Hong Kong, and family here in this house.
That’s enough. I lost track of my counting-down-backwards thing a while ago, but it’s definitely been more than three minutes. I stuff the bear into my backpack, and yank the zipper closed in such a rush that it takes me a couple tries. I swing the heavy bag on, sprint down the stairs, and hurl the door wide open. A jacket, a pair of shoes, I’ll figure the rest out once I’m out of harm’s way.
Opening the car door, I fling my backpack onto the passenger’s seat and try to jam my keys into the ignition. My hands are sweating and the adrenaline is still there. The car starts and I take one last look at the house, but I push the feelings of nostalgia way back down again and instead feel the car lurch out of the driveway.