I used to know a kid called Terry Kay Drew who was always angry. Angry because his parents had given him two girl names and only one boy name. Angry because his parents were getting divorced after Christmas. Angry in a way that it made Terry Kay so crazy he thought the world was going to end.
It was a Thursday in grade school, and Terry said, “The world’s ending tomorrow.” He’d gotten all worked up over some sort of documentary he’d watched.
We were at recess, watching the fifth-graders pummel each other at kickball. Supposedly, the Mayans had predicted the apocalypse thousands of years ago, and it was landing on Friday, the 21st of December. The 21st also happened to be the day of our fractions test, but Terry claimed there was no use studying since the world would be on fire by midnight. I had a crush on Terry most days, so I threw away all my math papers in agreement.
The school wouldn’t cancel outdoor recess unless it was below twenty degrees, and snowflakes were getting caught in Terry’s eyelashes. I think the cold has always made me feel braver. Made my blood flow slower to my brain, made me say stupid things.
“It’s so beautiful right now.”
Terry paused, blinking, and all those snowflakes wobbled and fell.
He asked, “What’re you gonna remember when it’s all gone?”
Snowflakes, Terry. You.
Almost exactly six months before the world was supposed to end, Lonesome George, the last of the Pinta Island tortoises, died. I snuck downstairs after my parents fell asleep to watch a TV special on him. The Pinta Island species was considered extinct from the beginning of Lonesome George’s forty years in captivity. I wondered if George knew he was the last of his kind, an endling. The caretakers at Charles Darwin Research Station saran-wrapped and froze George, and express-mailed his corpse to the American Museum of Natural History. George was stuffed and mounted so that his loneliness might be preserved forever. He would keep dying his infinite death and be made immortal after the end.
My pediatrician had a fishbowl in her office which housed a quarter-sized turtle called Fred (a sorrier version of Lonesome George). Fred had been put into solitary confinement after trying to mate with other turtles in the main lobby’s reptile tank. After a while, he retreated into his shell and never came back out. The receptionist wrapped Fred in a spreadsheet and threw him in the trash can.
I think puberty gave me the posture of a turtle. For one, my underbite got worse, and I started to shrink into my backpack when scared. Every Friday after school, a nurse had to coax me out of my sweater-shell by offering me Polly Pockets, and would then proceed to drown me in industrial-grade eye drops. The nurse said the infection could take my vision, so I decided to practice becoming blind. At home, I stumbled along hallways with my eyes pinched shut, making lists of what I wanted to see if the end was truly coming.
I remember that once, on the way back from an eye appointment, we gave Terry a ride home. We were driving by the school, and Ma spotted him lying beneath the monkey bars. He’d been waiting three hours for his mother to pick him up. In the car, Terry sat pressed against the window and drew expletives in the fog from his breath.
None of us ever mentioned Terry’s mother. Terry’s mother, who everyone knew was a bit unhinged. Terry’s mother, who hadn’t left the house since her husband filed for divorce. She believed there were aliens on Pluto and that Amelia Earhart crash-landed in the Bermuda Triangle. Later, we found out Terry’s mother maxed out her credit card because she was so convinced the world was going to end in 2012.
For Terry, the world had started ending a long time ago. Doomsday was everywhere: in his mother’s neglect, his father’s nightly stays on the couch, the court date after winter break. Doomsday was in the front door that was never locked, that opened to a house reeking of dog pee and suburban decay.
It had felt like doomsday too that time Terry sacrificed bugs in the playground, as an offering to the worm gods to save my eyes. He tried to comfort me by saying there wouldn’t be much to see anyways once the world ended. I thought about asking Terry if he ever got the same feeling, the breathlessness of loam spilled into throat.
I thought about how on Friday, December 21st, Lonesome George would die another time. I thought about Lonesome George, whose world had ended six months ago and wouldn’t stop ending.
Terry covered my eyes with his hands, and for a second, I thought I’d already gone blind.
“That’s what it’s gonna be like tomorrow,” Terry said as he dug a hole next to his house, which was a street down from mine. The air was different in Terry’s part of the neighborhood. It had that half-new, half-hopeful smell of discount clothes.
The Mayans made grand pyramids and temples, some of the only proof they even existed. Maybe the Mayans predicted the end of their civilization and built all those palaces out of the fear of being forgotten.
Terry wanted to leave something behind too. Our legacy was to be in mulch monuments and plastic megaliths. We buried a Gatorade bottle filled with spit and all my best Nerf guns for archaeologists or martian conquerers to find.
Lonesome George’s caretakers tried everything to prevent the end of the Pinta Island tortoises. In an attempt to preserve George’s genotype, they mated him with two Volcán Wolf giant tortoises. All the offspring were inviable. Maybe after George turned to dust, his DNA would be returned to the atmosphere.
In 2012, Reuters reported that one in seven people were convinced the world would end in their lifetime.
At 11:39 p.m. on Thursday, just before the end of the world, Terry Kay Drew knocked on my patio door.
He handed me a bicycle helmet, saying it would give us a better chance at surviving the shower of moon rocks.
I told Terry about how scientists were trying to resurrect Lonesome George using the DNA of closely related tortoises.
I asked, “Do you think anyone will try to bring us back once we’re gone?”
Terry pulled the helmet over my ears and I closed my eyes. I grabbed his hand, which was sweaty, and we hid under the patio furniture. Waiting for the end, or something like that.
Caroline Wu is a young writer from Central Ohio. Her work has been recognized by the National YoungArts Foundation and the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers. She is an alumna of the Iowa Young Writers Studio and Kenyon Young Writers Workshop.