“I don’t think you’d make my zombie apocalypse team,” I said matter-of-factly, pulling the car out of park and starting towards the dark street. Woodstock’s Pizza glowed behind us in bright letters and our camera equipment rattled quietly in the back seat.
“Why wouldn’t I make the team?” Zach asked.
“I just don’t know what skills you would bring to it,” I pondered, fingers tapping the steering wheel.
“I’d be the one who’d die first, give you guys a fighting chance,” he said. “You know, I don’t see myself surviving the zombie apocalypse anyway.”
“See,” I said as we turned on to College Avenue, back towards the newsroom, “I just can’t have that kind of attitude on my team.”
It’s pretty safe to say that I am more prepared for the zombie apocalypse than I am for finals.
It’s a growing paranoia, my fear of the zombie end-times. On some level, I know it is completely ridiculous. But that doesn’t stop me from checking the backseat of my car after dark before getting in to make sure there isn’t a member of the living dead waiting for me. It doesn’t stop me from turning off the night lamp in the kitchen because zombies are attracted to light. And it certainly has not stopped me from devising a complete zombie apocalypse survival plan should we be in an actual crisis.
I’d rather be in the ranks of the foolishly over-prepared than join the legions of the undead.
Transferring to San Diego State University in late August shook up my life in all the expected ways: longer commute to school, fewer viable food options, more homework, less sleep, etc. The most aggravating change by far, however, has been the need to completely reorient my zombie preparedness plan. My home and former schoolmates are too far to realistically call upon during a breakout.
I have a new ground zero. And now I have to establish a new team.
“This office is woefully ill-equipped for an escape,” I mourned from my swivel chair. We had returned from shooting our pregame show at Woodstock’s Pizza on El Cajon, and now the staff was in the throes of ‘production night.’ I was rendering video, which is my new least favorite thing to do because you just have to sit in a chair and wait for the computer to finish doing whatever it does.
That’s a lot of my life, these days. I render video. How I managed to get myself into an editorial position that required me to do video, I still can’t figure. I don’t like being on camera, I miss writing terribly, and I am just as ill-equipped to edit film as our office is to providing a viable means of escape.
“Firstly, this is a basement,” I said, mostly to myself because as soon as I mention zombies people stop listening. “And although zombies are unlikely to get in, neither will anything else — food, water, light, clean air. We’d die down here. I’d give us 72 hours after we lose electricity.”
“Come on, York,” said Brian gruffly from his chair. “You know this isn’t the worst place you’ve been.”
Brian would know. He’s been with me to most of the worst places I’ve been, including that pirate-themed bar in National City. He also gave me a survivor’s guide to the zombie apocalypse last summer (because this is a paranoia that needs feeding…), so he’s got a credible grip on my zombie background.
And it’s true. Hands-down the worst place to be when the break-out happens is SDCCU Stadium. Not only would getting out of Mission Valley be a nightmare, but at any given Aztec football game, that stadium can have 30,000 people in it.
That’s a lot of zombies.
I’ve been on the field during games a number of times this semester. It’s one of the best parts of my job. The guys get settled up in the press box overlooking the stadium and I saunter down several floors by way of a rickety elevator that sometimes doesn’t quite make it all the way back up to the media level at the end of the night. Then, I crawl through the blue and grey passageways under the stadium, lit by flickering lights that Dean Spanos never thought to get replaced, and down a long walk-way that spills out onto the field and into the roar of thousands of fans.
Sometimes, when I’m on the field with a huge camera propped on my shoulder, when the game is in between plays and the cheerleaders are making the most of the screen time to flip and bounce around, when all I can see is black and scarlet in the stands and the bright stadium lights washing over the endzones, I stop and imagine how funny it would be to be chased by a zombie from the tuba section of the marching band.
No really, at least once I game, I ask myself if I’d really make it out of the stadium alive. I’m still not totally sure.
It has become a game, of sorts. Every new corner of campus I find myself in, every classroom or parking structure or campus garden, I ask, “How would I escape?”
And there are a lot of new places in my life right now.
In fact, I haven’t had such a massive change of scenery since I moved to Prague. SDSU is hugely new to me. Not just the campus, but the people, the pace, the lifestyle. To be honest, I’m not sure I like it.
I don’t mean to sound like a whiney older person here, but being surrounded by 19-year-olds all day is exhausting. Granted, they’re not all bad, but some of these kids have no concept of real life — jobs, rent, taxes, family responsibilities — they’re basically glorified high schoolers who still think they’re the center of the universe. Did you know sorority girls don’t even wash their own dishes?
No, I can’t. Don’t get me started on sorority girls. My only hope is that the zombie that finally gets me is not one of the 10,000 vapid, clueless bottle-blondes on this campus.
“They’re actually very practical,” Cami was trying to explain to me. At some point in mid-September, following one of my sorority girl rants (which are becoming more vitriolic) as we trekked down the winding staircase outside of the Education and Business Administration building to the newsroom basement, she had taken it upon herself to defend the basic girls on campus. “I mean, the shorts and the tank-top are a staple. What else are you going to wear when it’s this hot? And the flannel tied around the waist is for when it gets cooler later. See, practical?”
Cami would probably make my zombie apocalypse team because she’s like human sunshine, always bright and full of ideas.
“The shorts I just won’t ever understand,” I said obstinately as we neared the foot of the staircase. “Also, have you noticed how this stairwell, the footbridge to the parking lot and that little sidewalk along the slope are the only ways out from here? It’s not easy to escape in narrow spaces like this. I prefer open ground.”
I say it like I’ve been there before, like I’ve fought off zombies at some point in my life and I’m just back here at college because someone finally convinced me I needed the degree to ever get a job.
No one’s going to need degrees post-civilization.
“You just need a bargaining chip,” Tyler explained to me. “For example, if the zombie apocalypse happens, I would trade Will for gasoline.”
Will lifted his head rather quickly.
“I”m sorry, I’d rather not be bartered,” he objected.
“Too bad, I’m bigger than you are and we need gasoline.”
“You are not allowed on my zombie team, Tyler,” I said, crossing my arms. I have taken to occupying the couch in Tyler’s corner of the office — billing or ads or whatever it is he does. Tyler is a decent conversationalist, but I really do just come for the sofa. “How can I rebuild civilization if my people have no moral compass? No values?”
“We don’t need values, we need gasoline,” he reminded me with a chuckle. “You’ll see, Mary.”
It’s funny to see the warlord come out in Tyler, and the hesitant victim in Will. Normally, Tyler is the office sweetheart, the guy who makes coffee in the morning and says “aw, I’m sorry you’re having a bad day” and actually probably means it.
Will is the secret service, the armed forces and the mad scientist all in one. I mean, he’s the news editor.
Will would definitely make my team.
AJ wouldn’t. He’s one of the smartest guys on our staff and he’d be a great asset, but I don’t think he’d listen to me — he’d have too many of his own good ideas. I’m nipping insubordination in the bud and just not inviting him in the first place. He can make his own team. I’m sure they’ll do just fine. He and Tyler can hoard gasoline together.
Jasmine couldn’t be on my team because she’s also an Alpha. But I’d miss her, because she’s lovely and kind and fierce.
Justin would make the team because he does what I tell him to and because he’s a baseball player so I’m assuming he’s good with a bat.
Tristi makes the team because she’s chill when I’m not, and I need a right-hand man like that.
David and Jocelyn make the team — they’re sweet but they’re fierce.
Andrew doesn’t make the team, but only because he laughs harder than anyone whenever I mention the impending doom of mankind. One day he’ll regret that.
Ella makes the team because I just wouldn’t leave her behind. Ever.
I have surface streets mapped out for escape routes out of town, I know where we would pick up supplies and which of the school’s vans we would commandeer to get out of Dodge quickly. In every room I enter, after locating a viable means of escape, I pick a weapon to fight my way out with (Zach’s golf clubs, the whiteboard ruler, that steel-framed stool in HH 210 that looks dangerous to sit in). For the 24-hour, 48-hour, and week-long waves of realization, reaction and post-apocalypse re-establishment, I have a plan.
And it’s nice knowing that no matter how much people laugh at me for this, or say through tearful chuckles that I’d never survive a zombie attack anyway, I know what I’m doing.
I wish I had that confidence in life, because for the last three months I’ve been wandering around campus lost and horribly unprepared. The strong, determined, resourceful person I know I can be never seems to come out at school and I can’t figure out why.
I’ve spent a lot of time on the floor of the newsroom (or on the sofa in Tyler’s corner of the office when he lets me), staring at the ceiling wondering how to pick up and keep going. Everytime I think I’ve found the bottom of this semester, someone throws me a shovel.
I wish I could win friends into my life as easily as I can add them to my imaginary zombie-fighting team. I wish I could have prepared for the heartbreaks and disappointments of the last three months the way I seem to be able to prepare myself for the destruction of all mankind.
Like, seriously, something is out of whack with my sense of prioritization.
Maybe actual life is just harder, though.
Maybe I dream up nightmares because it’s a lot easier to be brave when you’re facing a zombie than it is to be brave when you’re facing people who don’t believe you can do what you say you can, or don’t see the value in your efforts; when you find yourself playing catch-up and missing opportunities just because life took you a different way than it took most everyone else, like when the coach of the rowing team says, “I’m sorry, but you’re too old to walk on — you’ve missed your window.”
It’s hard to see yourself as a fighter when you’re three hours into a closing shift at a gym, or when you’re dragging yourself to school the next morning for an 8 a.m. class. It’s difficult not to feel small when someone else gets credit for your work, or your scholarship application gets returned in the mail after the deadline has passed, or you come face to face with the side of you that realizes how easy it would be to cheat your way through the online class you keep forgetting you have and the coward wins.
And when someone says, “Sorry, I’m talking to someone else,” the zombie-fighter inside you just shrivels up completely and that powerful space it filled in your chest turns into a huge, aching, cavernous vacuum.
Honestly, I’d rather have the apocalypse.
But who I am now is who I’ll be in the end times, too. We don’t get to choose our own character for this. When civilization comes crashing down, the person I am in college, the person I was in Prague, the person I am in traffic on my way to school or on the campus sidewalk after a long day of let-downs, that’s the person I’ll be in the apocalypse. And I do have control over that person. Every day can be a practice round for me to be better, stronger, more determined, more hopeful.
We dream up perfect plans and perfect people to have in our lives, but the truth is that the only thing we can really control is the people we become, and there is no point in having the ideal individuals around you if you can’t give something back to the team.
So, tomorrow I start over. I plan to be ready for the apocalypse and for all the life that happens before it begins.