The first thing about that time is, you were never alone. That was good and bad but for the most part bad. There was never a room you were in with a door to shut and quiet and space. You were always sharing whatever area you had with someone and it was usually someones and rarely someones you knew. When the first big move happened it was people you knew and they were moving past you to somewhere inland and that was fine and maybe scary if you thought about it long but you didn’t have long to think because you were next and the water was at your ankles and there were coast guard helicopters and it always already triage time. Those coast guard helicopters and the life vests were the first time we’d see the orange and from then on it would be everywhere. FEMA and National Guard used blue and green but even then it was in a sea of orange and people moving.
You have to understand that most people lost their whole person-hood or whatever the word for that is. Everyone called everyone else by things other than their name and city names usually worked but eventually so many cities were ankle deep or knee deep or fish food that those fell out of favor too. Where we were, we used we even when we meant I because there was very little I anymore, anyway where we were there were train people and car people and boat people. Car people were the ones with enough money to pack up and move in their cars to a city inland they thought would have a reservation for them. They were good people to make friends with but bad ones to get stuck with because they wouldn’t think twice about leaving you. Train people were the majority, at least in this area. These were the people who moved with the water and when it got too high they trained inland and they got off when they could. They were people who stuck together and built families and towns out of what they had. Boat people had it worst. They were people from way north or way south and they had found a ship going somewhere that wasn’t where they were and they took it. They were desperate and would do anything to get somewhere that looked like their old homes did, which nothing around us did. They were good in a pinch but you had to stay awake around them.
We, this is my Aunt and Uncle and I, back when it first started, moved with a couple from San Francisco and a small family from Castro Valley. They were all nice and they would share and we would all laugh when we could and there was a kid there who was around my age so the adults would let us play and give us room which made us happy and it felt like back when we weren’t moving but eventually one of the two in the San Fran couple got sick and we were all there, stuck, watching her get sicker and sicker. Eventually my Uncle had to put a blanket over him and that made the space smaller and darker and I remember the Castro Valley kid not understanding it and my Aunt having to explain, because no one else could do it, that they weren’t going to be moving with us any longer, we were going to let them take the body.
It was years and years later that we, just my Aunt and I by then, would run into the Castro Valley kid. They were grown, just like I was by then, that’s how it worked, and we all three saw each other at the same time, at the same checkpoint. They were in one line we were in another, must’ve been for food or something. And I smiled and they looked at us and squinted, trying to place us, and then we saw their eyes place us and it clicked and we saw them get so sad and their eyes looked past us and we let our smiles fade in what we hoped seemed natural and I looked at my Aunt and she gave a small weak smile and kept moving and I didn’t want to let it go and I asked her what happened. My Aunt thought for a little bit while we snaked around the lines or walked in the street or did whatever we did, it was some moving of some sort and then she started talking in a voice that sounded like a story being told rather than an old woman explaining something to a young man.
“Everyone is doing this. The thing we are doing is the thing they are is the thing he and she and we and everyone. The people who aren’t doing it will be soon and they’ve already seen people move by them by now. But we’re lucky. We started together you and I. And there were more with us and we miss them. We miss them every day and every day we wake up and it scrapes us out a little more, more than we thought was even left, knowing the people we’ve left. But every day we wake up scraped out we look over and we see each other and we know it’s who we started with. We know we have some small tie back to what we used to have and who we used to be and see and wake up with. Am I speaking out of turn? I don’t know why they did that but I know if I was them I would maybe do that too. Feeling empty is easier when you don’t have to look at something a little less empty. This is all hard. This is all just waiting until the end. I think they just don’t have any reason to take their time.”