Authors: Curtis Krusie
Copyright © 2015 Curtis Krusie
All rights reserved.
ISBN 13: 9781506120010
Library of Congress Control Number: 2015900305
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
North Charleston, South Carolina
This story is dedicated to my loving wife, Bryn.
Special thanks to God; to my wife, Bryn; and to all of my friends and family who inspired this story in one way or another.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
—1 Corinthians 13:13
IN THE BEGINNING
still remember the Y2K scare.
2000. That was the first time I remember hearing people talk about a technological and economic meltdown. I was a freshman in high school. My friend Noah’s father had a cellar completely stocked with a year’s supply of food and water, just in case it took that long for him to find those things once the world went mad, which would occur at precisely midnight between December 31, 1999, and January 1, 2000. Their move from England to the States three years before had been the first step of his eccentric plan for disaster recovery. Of course, by the time the fireworks ended that morning, he had already made the shocking discovery that Windows 98 was still functioning on his IBM, so those first two digits in the “year” column probably hadn’t been much of an obstacle for the computers at MasterCard, Starbucks, or Norad, either. His family
was really sick of canned produce by the end of the next year.
Then came September 11, 2001. Just seeing the date on paper still gives me chills. Three thousand Americans kissed their families good-bye for the last time before leaving for work that morning. Those responsible called it jihad, or “holy war,” a concept that might fall into the category of comical irony if it weren’t so perverse—that is, if you interpret jihad the way the Western world has been driven to. Rather, if you know it as a spiritual struggle within, then perhaps we’re all mujahideen of sorts, all yearning for enlightenment, as misguided as a minority may be. Global markets shut down for days, and when they opened again, they tanked. Just the immediate damage was in the tens of billions of dollars. In response, the US government waged a “War on Terror” in two different countries, which ended up costing trillions more dollars and thousands more lives. People talked about prophetical fulfillments and signs of the Apocalypse.
Before the aftermath was even in our rear view, we saw the world economy upended again. That time, it began with the real estate crisis, caused by a series of irresponsible federal policies and risky bank investments over the course of two decades, but predictably pinned on the most convenient scapegoat: the then president of the United States of America. Why anyone would have wanted that job remains a great mystery to me. It was the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, perpetuated by the succeeding administration, which continued to
rack up federal debt in numbers that even an astrophysicist could scarcely comprehend. In the meantime, the political turmoil on the other side of the world erupted into violent revolutions across North Africa and the Middle East that compounded exponentially. The entertainment media capitalized on the convenient coincidence that all of those events seemed to be building toward the climax of the Mayan long-count calendar, which would come to an end on December 21, 2012. Yes, come to an end, not start over, according to the opportunistic sensationalists. That date, of course, would be the end of the world.
Those “Doomsdayers” had always been out there to warn that Armageddon was upon us. But there was hope—for a nominal monetary donation to Organization X. Some of the more hopeless ones didn’t even attempt to profit from it. They were content just to have an audience. It was less lonely that way. At least they’d found a cause.
I never bought into all of that nonsense. I wasn’t superstitious or particularly religious. In fact, sometimes I wondered if the latter wasn’t simply a specialized breed of the former. I graduated in 2008 from the University of Missouri–Columbia with a BS in Human Environmental Sciences and an emphasis in Personal Financial Planning. “BS” is an equally appropriate acronym for my extracurricular activities during my time at Mizzou as it is for Bachelor of Science. I wasn’t much of a student until my fifth year, when I realized that my academic record was the only means I had of convincing prospective employers that I was capable of doing a job, and my grade point
average needed a drastic boost in my last two semesters to make me marketable. Suddenly, my grades improved. All along, I had convinced myself that I simply wasn’t capable of that kind of success. I wasn’t capable until there was no other option. Just as the ink was drying on my diploma, I watched the market crashing to its demise, promising little in the way of employment prospects for a fresh graduate in an industry then loathed by the American public. Some fortunate circumstances, however, subsequently landed me a career as a financial planner, which, though not the simplest of careers to embark upon during a recession, proved to be a decent fit. Maria and I met shortly thereafter, and it wasn’t long before I was out shopping for the biggest rock I could afford with which to adorn her finger.
On June 9, 2012, my fiancée became my wife, and our signed marriage license was sealed and filed with the recorder of deeds in the County of what used to be St. Louis, Missouri. Six—nine—twelve. Maria liked it for the pattern. I’ll never forget how beautiful she was, gliding down the aisle in that white dress. Glowing like an angel. We had nothing on our minds but the handsome life we were starting together and all of the wonderful years in store for us. We certainly weren’t anticipatorily dwelling on an impending catastrophic collapse of the world economic system. In the still aching economy, we were blessed to have jobs, a contract on a picturesque home in the west-central suburbs that we would close on within the month, two new cars trimmed inside with shiny polished wood and leather, and few cares beyond the manageable
everyday responsibilities of the average upper-middle class American couple. We were living the American dream.
Our flight to Aruba left the following morning, and we spent the week getting sun kissed in the white sand, roaming the island wilderness, swimming in the blue Caribbean water, and dining on more fish than I had ever before consumed in such a short period of time. If there’s one thing they know about down there, it’s how to prepare fish. That, and any beverage with a foundation of rum.
Two words: ¡Aruba Arriba!
“One Happy Island” was their slogan. The simplicity of the south Caribbean lifestyle intrigued me. Most of the homes were humbly designed yet distinguishingly colored, and there was seemingly no kind of struggle between social classes. As an indicator of their diversity, every student on the island learned four languages: English, Spanish, Dutch, and Papiamento, which is a sort of medley of the preceding three. The unemployment and crime rates, they said, stood matched at 1 percent. One night we took a late meal about a mile up the island from the hotel where we were staying. We ate at a faded wooden table by the light of tiki torches with our toes in the sand, watching the sun set over the ocean. It was a nice night, so after dinner we asked our waiter if it would be safe for us to walk back to the resort under the stars. As Americans in a foreign country, naturally we had our reservations, but he laughed as if we had made a joke, which I took as a clear “yes.” The road was quite dark and vacant and was lined on both sides by foliage and an endless supply of hiding places. It almost
seemed unnatural not to fear the possibility of falling victim to the whims of some cracked-out criminal.
“How do you live this way?” I wanted to ask. “How do you make it work? What’s your big secret kept from the rest of the world?”
“No secret,” I imagine they’d reply with smiling faces. “We’re just people. Just like you.”
A few months after Maria’s and my honeymoon was the marriage of my best man, Paul, to his bride, Sarah. It was the last of four weddings, including my own, that I had participated in over the course of the year. That year—2012—was a year of love, as they all should be. As thanks for our participation in the ceremony, each of the groomsmen—Daniel, Mike, Noah, Gabe, John, and I—was graced with a gift that, at the time, I believe was intended more as a unique mantle piece than as an instrument of life preservation. I opened the modest white box to find an elegant wooden-handled Ka-Bar with my initials engraved into the fuller, or “blood groove,” of the matte black blade. The knife would spend the following few years collecting dust at my bedside coupled with the Mossberg 500A that I had purchased, but would never need, for home defense.
When I first bought the Mossberg, it came with a pistol grip and no stock. I got it from a pawnshop in Columbia, Missouri, during a wave of drug-related home invasions in the area. It was designed for room clearing, not for hunting. I took the shotgun to Paul’s farm that weekend for its maiden assault on a line of watermelons. Unfortunately, it had been a while since I had fired a shotgun, and I failed
to take into account the considerable twelve-gauge recoil. With eight shells in the magazine and one in the chamber, I took aim at my first ripe victim, eyeing its virgin green rind down the barrel, and I squeezed the trigger. Without a stock, my face served my shoulder’s purpose in absorbing the recoil, and the sound of the impact rivaled that of the shot itself. I calmly set down the gun and turned toward Paul, blood pouring from my mouth, and said, “Please tell me I still have all my teeth.” I still have a fat lip from the resulting scar tissue as a permanent reminder of my embarrassing mistake. Needless to say, I ordered a stock as soon as I returned home. The watermelon did not survive.
“I wish you’d put that thing where people can’t see it, Joe,” Maria had told me, referring to the shotgun that she, for some reason, found so much more offensive than the combat knife next to it.
“Who’s going to see it?”
“We have company.”
“Well, if they have a problem with weaponry, they should stay out of our bedroom.”
She shook her head at my innuendo and replied with a playful scowl, which I returned. But truly, I didn’t want it stored away. A home defense mechanism is useless if it’s not easily accessible. Of course, I kept the shells locked away for the sake of safety anyway. The gun was more for show.
Our new home quickly revealed a tendency to accumulate clutter. New Year’s. Valentine’s Day. St. Patrick’s Day. Easter. Memorial Day, conveniently followed by
Independence Day, which necessitated the same décor. Halloween. Thanksgiving. Christmas. New Year’s again. We took advantage of any excuse to buy more stuff to hang on the house, stick in the yard, or display on a table or wherever else we could find a vacant square foot of surface area. After a month or so, we’d swap it all out for the next occasion and restock the boxes in the basement between the litter box and the case of antique silverware that would never get used because it was a pain in the ass to clean.
Not to mention the decorating projects that never seemed to end. I insisted that my home office be exempt from the constant evolution of the rest of the house. It was just the way I liked it—olive walls, a solid-oak desk, and an enviable collection of guitars that I still loved, though I could never find the time in my schedule to play them anymore. Among them were a Taylor 614, an Alvarez jumbo twelve-string, a Martin dreadnought once owned by Bob Dylan, an American Stratocaster, and a Gibson Les Paul. Once upon a time, I was an avid guitarist, but my priorities had evolved, and little joys like music had fallen by the wayside. The love for literature that my wife and I shared, though, kept us many nights in the quiet company of one another by a warm fire in the fireplace, framed by a wall of bookshelves housing my prized collection of adventure classics. Maria preferred poetry—that, and the Bible. She sometimes teased that, with my propensity for slipping literary metaphors into casual conversation, I must have secretly aspired to star in some epic tale of my own. In truth, I was more comfortable in my armchair reading stories
told by others, but as Dr. Aronnax said, “Man proposes, but fate disposes.”