Even when you know that, at some point, the conditions of the West might force you to be driven out, it is unfathomable to a child of this coast to truly process “the end” of this part of the world. Of having to become a climate refugee from the very place where people once sought refuge in the climate. For California was all myths of golden sunshine and shimmering beaches for so long, that even seeing the reality of what it was now couldn’t compute as a result of the propaganda that still abounded. But the myth was vanishing (along with the resources), and people were starting to find it hard to ignore. Particularly the new arrivals who still came half-expecting what was promised in Clueless and Beverly Hills 90210 (either version).
The drought had more profound emotional effects on Andy—whose real name was Andrea—than she expected. And she couldn’t avoid making the correlation between her town’s drought and the one that had been occurring between her thighs. It had been over a year since the last time she had deemed someone worthy to enter, and even that guy was a goddamn shithead because, well, they all are. Some can hide it for longer than others, but sooner or later, the reality presents itself. So Andy kept her legs closed, and it was right around this time that the drought began to really intensify in her small town—called, cruelly, Wetlands. The aridity of the air—very few California towns bore enough humidity—could be cut with a knife. And when Andy walked through a strip mall to get to the store she “needed” to, it was like walking through a thick and invisible film. She couldn’t say if it was a “phantom film” or merely the lethargy that imbued one’s body when this level of heat came to roost.
In the past, rituals were performed to try to make the rain come. Including, but not limited to, human sacrifice. Andy was starting to wonder if maybe local society shouldn’t reimplement that practice. There was so much riffraff just taking up air. Doing nothing but taking. Expecting. Demanding. They were about to realize that no amount of “wanting” could undo what was happening. As the extreme conditions designed to worsen a drought amplified, the fires that raged through the state (and even its “top hat” neighbor, Oregon, wasn’t immune) added to the cauldron of climate disaster. Andy could barely breathe as she walked out of the Safeway, her bags filled with provisions that she felt somehow guilty for buying. She was racked with guilt about everything now. It all seemed wrong, a non-conducive way to existing. Or at least, promoting the existence of nature, an entity that no one could survive without.
Everything about humanity’s lifestyle, particularly here, at the edge of ocean, was designed for frivolous comfort—no one ever imagining that it could be snatched away from them at the drop of another tree in the forest. Humans lived as though resources could be plundered forever, and California was such a prime example of that mentality. With its gas-guzzling cars, infrastructure that tore through the topography and an endless sea of power lines just begging a flame to spark them (on that note, in Andy’s mind, PG&E stood for: Pretty Grotesque & Egregious). The drought was punishment, some would argue. Others of a more “partisan” mindset would merely write it off as, “We have to learn to live with it.” But where there was no water, there could be no life.
Luz, Andy’s friend who worked on the inside at the water department, told her one evening over a bowl of ramen served with no water (as was once the norm in restaurants) that it was so much worse than anyone could imagine. That the cutbacks about to come were going to be untenable. Especially to the average fat cat’s mentality. And everyone was a fat cat now—merely for thinking they were entitled to anything beyond a gallon of water a day. Andy knew that the news of the full extent of the scarcity would send those that could fleeing from the West. They would even risk the tornadoes and conservatism of Middle America to get their hands on some water. But what would happen when the influx of Western refugees dipped into the pool of those resources originally made to accommodate a certain population number? There was no way for the rivers and reservoirs of the Midwest to provide forever for this excess, and even those who deigned to fully betray their coast by opting for the East instead would have to contend with other eventual environmental smackdowns. Granted, the East seemed smug enough for the time being to think they could never suffer a (lack of) fortune as bleak as the West’s.
But the West, more than the East, had always been a blazer of trails—literally and figuratively. It would be the first to fall while the rest of the U.S. nodded solemnly and said, “That’s too bad” about its fate, seemingly unaware that it was soon to be theirs as well. And for the East it would not come so gently and slowly. It would be, ironically, a glut of water that would take it out—as usual, priding itself on being the exact opposite of the West. Yet, water or not, this was a country of dryness no matter what. Both cultural and emotional. A desiccation nation, if you will. Even if Europe was also burning, it still had more of a soul to offer the pyre (Australia, perhaps not so much).
Yet she couldn’t leave. Andy was not going to abandon Wetlands, CA. She decided this as she watched an exodus of cars heading for the freeway from her own perch at a stoplight. What would be the purpose, really? You could slowly die now or quickly die later. She preferred the former if it meant not turning her back on the land, the way it had so rightfully turned its back on its inhabitants. Plus, who knew? Maybe a drop of rain would show up sooner or later. And when it did, Andy would vow to be the last one left in the West to lap it up (that is, if the vultures circling her didn’t first). Maybe she’d even finally somehow fix the drought that had been afflicting her vag as well. Hope—stupid, necessary hope—dries out last.