Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Difficulty of Having a Best Friend in the Atomic Age

The following is (maybe) an excerpt from a novel-in-progress which has the working title An American History.

On Sunday, I woke up late and couldn't write a thing.  Actually, I couldn't do much of anything.  It was  one of those weird lonely weekends where I was experiencing a particularly 21st century American problem: Having an entire day with nothing to do and no one I must meaningfully interact with.  So, I lay in bed watching videos on my computer, feeling a rising anxiety.  This always happened at the end of a teaching semester for me, when I had huge gaps of time that were not pre-structured.  Having huge gaps of free time tended to give me anxiety and loneliness.

I fell asleep on Saturday around 2 in the afternoon and had this dream:

I was living on earth when the Apocalypse happened--a series of atomic bomb explosions.  In the dream, I expected to be taken to heaven in some kind of a "rapture" but I was left on Earth.  I was "Left Behind," like those movies starring Kirk Cameron.   Somehow I survived (I couldn't remember how) and I found a few other survivors and together we discovered a whole different world underground, where people were safe from the Apocalypse.  When we eventually returned to the Earth's surface, everything was rebuilt, but it felt all wrong: artificial, empty somehow.  Plus our eyes had trouble adjusting to the brightness of the sun.  So we headed back underground.

I awoke in a sweat, and drank two glasses of filtered water and sent my dad a text message, asking if I could do laundry at their house.  He said sure.  Thirty minutes later, my dad, mom, and grandma arrived to pick me up.

As my laundry was being machine-washed, we all sat in my parents living room in Brea, talking about how hard it is for adults to make friends, and wondering why this is.  I had the kind of relationship with my parents where we could talk about things like this.  It both comforted and disturbed me to learn that my parents, who are 58 and 60 years old, still have trouble making good friends.

Why is it okay, even expected, for kids to have a best friend, but it sounds weird for an adult to have a best friend?  If anything, adults need best friends more than kids, because they have way more responsibility and emotional trauma.  Why are adults so often alone, without a best friend?  Is this an American thing?  Is it a 21st century thing?  And what are the reasons?  What are the causes?  And how does an adult human being even go about finding, and keeping, a best friend?

The classified De-Moleculization And Neutrino Decelerator (DEMAND) program began in the early 1960s as a joint venture between the United States government, Hughes Aircraft, and a handful of physics professors from the newly-created California State University, Fullerton.  The purpose of the program had something to do with making a new kind of weapon--one that would do the work of an atomic bomb, minus all the mess.

The researchers were experimenting with the idea of collapsing the distance between atoms and molecules, shrinking matter into superdense balls, which could be disposed of by being shot into space, or buried, or dropped into the ocean.  This weapon could do all the destructive work of a powerful nuclear bomb, with none of the unpleasant untidiness of a big explosion.  The American public had responded with ambivalence to the stockpiling of atomic weaponry, and the scientists at the DEMAND program were hard at work to make these new, clean weapons of mass reduction.

Ultimately, the program was abandoned because, in trying to collapse matter, the scientists opened a door they could not close.  The best they could do was hide it somewhere no one would possibly go looking in the second half of the 20th century--a library.

1 comment:

  1. It's easy to have a best friend in these times. The problem is that I tend to fall in love with them.