People were living in constant fear of the sky. Meteorite impacts, once predictable, now posed a critical threat to humanity. The first few meteors caused significant damage. The impacts destroyed cities, wiped out entire nations and caused immense, unfathomable human suffering. The affluent, industrious nations invested heavily in research, and in time, developed advanced technologies to shield their territories from incoming meteors, no matter the size or speed. Their citizens, they promised, would be kept safe within what they would call the protection zone. Those outside of it, however, would remain in danger.
During this period of technological development, the wealthiest nations welcomed the world’s leading scientists to contribute to their collective project. The reward for their efforts, once the project had been completed, was a chance to settle there, within the protection zone. Hundreds of engineers, physicists and astrologists from the danger zone left behind their homes and loved ones for a chance to secure a safer, better life, and relocated to these wealthier nations, where they were welcomed with a mix of gratitude and skepticism. Some of them, though, chose to stay behind to fight for the danger zone, refusing to leave.
One cold winter day, a massive meteor struck the outer core of the danger zone and fractured it, sending shockwaves across multiple cities. Those who had relocated from there to the protection zone, most of them now with families of their own, heard the news and tried, in panic and desperation, to communicate with their loved ones who they had left behind years ago. In the absence of all methods of telecommunication, they began to write letters, many of which never arrived at their destination, for their destination ceased to exist.
Hi. Are you alright? Such a stupid question at a time like this, I know. I’m not sure how to begin. I have no words to describe the pain I feel, the guilt I carry as I write these words. But I can do better. Let me try again.
I got the news. I’m really sorry.
I don’t know if you will ever receive this letter, I don’t know if you are even alive. So many questions, but the one I repeat the most is: Where are you?
Are you lying somewhere in a hospital bed? If there even is a hospital left, or are you dead under a wreck, your body going cold with no one in sight to save it? Are you watching our city crumble, our buildings shatter to pieces? Is your heart breaking like mine is right now? Perhaps even more.
Our city. Notice how I wrote that. I’m so used to these words. Can I still use them, though? Can I call this city mine after I have abandoned it and you and everyone else I love in it to endure the chaos, to suffer through all the destruction, all the corruption? Am I allowed to feel this sense of belonging, this sense of possession when I am not willing to endure the risks and the pain?
I realize I don’t know how you feel about the exchange. Are you mad at me at all? Mad that I am writing this letter to you from the safety of my new home? Mad that my home is safe because of the protection that our science built for what was not ours? Or are you happy for me? Happy that I am safe, that I escaped when I could? Perhaps you don’t feel anything. Again, perhaps there is no you left to feel anything. I regret now never having asked about your opinion. I wish I had reached out to you, fixed things between us. Maybe my failure to do so was a defense mechanism, a denial, a way of reassuring myself that it can wait, that I will have a lifetime to apologize to you, that nothing will ever happen to us.
But it did. Something did happen to us. And now I am clueless about how you might be feeling, or what you might be thinking of me, because I never dared to ask.
People like me are the topic of public debate, aren’t they? Some think that we abandoned a sinking ship when we caught sight of land — they say what we did was smart. Some think it was cowardly. Me? I don’t know.
A coward or a genius — I refuse to believe we are as simple as that.
I think we saw how dispensable we were, in a way. We finally realized that if we refused to go – if we rebelled – somebody else as good as us, if not better, would willingly take our place. So what good is there, we thought, in staying?
We were insignificant. That’s what we thought. That the choice of whether to leave or to stay would only affect our own survival, no one and nothing else, nothing greater than ourselves. But it did exceed us, didn’t it? Thinking only of ourselves, we each made the same decision: we left. And just like that, it wasn’t one person anymore, but a whole army.
And here we are.
The first day our shield was put into use, there were celebrations everywhere, we were the guests of honor. They told us that, after the installation of the shield, they would then help our cities, as a token of appreciation for our efforts. Did any of us truly believe it, I don’t know. But we wanted to.
Why didn’t we fight harder for you? For our cities? Perhaps we felt too comfortable with our safety and our success. We wanted to forget that we belonged somewhere else, where it wasn’t as safe.
Should I have been there?
I should have been there. And I wasn’t. I’m sorry. Can you ever forgive me?
I’m sending this letter to your most recent address, though I don’t know if you still live there. I hope you don’t. I hope you changed your mind after me, moved as far as you could ever go from there. I hope you’re safe.
Do you remember when you took me to see the cat park? You and I had sat down and watched the cats for hours. You had told me that despite what was so shitty about this place, at least the cats were being taken care of. I can’t stop thinking of them. What happened to the cats? To the cat park? I keep imagining buildings collapsing onto the shelters, crushing their little bodies underneath. The city is theirs, too. I remember you told me that.
It’s so hard to be away at moments like these. I came here for a chance at a better life. But whenever something makes me realize that I do, in fact, have a better life, I am torn to pieces by guilt and pain. Who ever decided that I deserve what others don’t? Do I truly deserve to be here? Then again, do people here who were born protected deserve to be protected? What did they ever do to deserve a safe home so free of pain, so free of suffering?
Truth is, nobody needs to deserve this. Safety should be the default. I’m so sorry that we have forgotten this, that pain has become our norm.
When I heard the news, I immediately thought of you.
As I write these lines, my heart breaks, over and over again. Why didn’t we stay in touch? Why didn’t we realize that this silence between us would become a huge question mark in time, like this open-ended question of where you are, how you are, or whether you are alive.
Please be alive.
You cannot leave this world. Not when I get to stay, because years ago, it was me who left and you who stayed. I don’t deserve this. People have been asking me if my loved ones are safe. Each time, I tell them yes, but is it true? Are you safe? Because you are a loved one. They ask me if I am okay, I tell them yes again. But it’s a lie. They ask me questions knowing I cannot be honest because, well, nobody is prepared to hear my honest answer. Because nobody actually wants to. They only want to feel that they’ve done their duty because they feel indebted: We paid for our own protection — and theirs — by sacrificing yours. They check up on us, but only out of a sense of duty. Is that love? I don’t think so.
I miss you. With all my heart. If you ever read this, know that I’m sorry. I have no more words to say, nothing more that accurately explains the way I feel. All that feels right to say is these words over and over again: I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.
I’m safe, I’m okay.
Please forgive me for that.