What does it mean to be on the brink of collapse? What does that collapse look like? How is it different from that verge, that moving toward collapse? How do you know when you have arrived at the terminus: collapse?
Both words are motion words. The moving towards and the destination, they run together in an arc that angles down, turning vertical. The collapse is the legs giving out; the brink is the wobble. But, where is the floor?
August 2018, the last time you were there, the windows in your old neighbourhood were still shattered, evidence of rocks thrown during a surge of violent demonstration in the street over a sudden, monstrously-planned spike in fuel prices. Your friends were tired, worried, morose. They didn’t want to leave, they said, but so much daily precariousness was exhausting, and it was slowly breaking them. The ones who couldn’t leave, no papers and no paper, they were swimming on as best they could in the volatile currents because that is what you do when there is no land in sight and sinking is not an option you’ll give yourself. You keep swimming, keep the aches of your muscles quiet and speak aloud in gratitude that you can still feel the sun on your face and thank you God it is nice to have air to breathe.
The last time you saw R was over a year ago, August 2018, and it had been over a year since the time before that. You asked after his family (his wife died) and after his best friend (his wife died, too). The little boy you used to go with him to pick up from his special needs school was now taller than both of you, he said, pulling a hand out of his jeans pocket to hover a flattened palm just above his head. His mustache had gone grey and his voice seemed thicker. You passed him a couple hundred dollars to help with school fees, with rent, with whatever he needed. Your family had always done this: childhood memories of hiding cash in envelopes, cash that was set aside bill by thin bill week after month, and then sent off with some traveling relative or acquaintance to deliver to your peoples Back Home to help with doctors, with plumbing, with whatever they needed. This was not Back Home, but it had been home, graciously, at one time. You had been grateful when you landed back, a visitor, and he answered your call, that he still had the same beatup Nokia with the same phone number, but cursed yourself for not trying to call him months before, before his wife died, before she got so sick, before he had to pull his son out of school, because maybe you could have sent him some money, maybe they could have done something different, maybe things would be different.
After you left in August 2018, so much changed. The protests nonstop. The massacre. The murder.
You delete twitter, but even still your instagram and your whatsapp fill with photos, videos, screenshots of these massive strikes and marches. You message with friends during their lock downs. Three days, seven days, ten days without being able to step outside to work, to school, to market. Nearly out of water, nearly out of cooking oil, the stores shut down and emptied, the market women’s bellies twisted with anxiety over not being able to sell, the growers’ bellies twisted with anxiety over not being able to sell, businesses burned, roads blocked with barricades, rocks flying, too much of the air blackened with tire smoke and live ammunition.
Three thousand miles away on the other side of the island, your friend has surgery to remove bullet fragments from his face. A week later, or, I don’t know, two weeks maybe, you get a message that another friend has been shot and you’re caught off guard by how quickly all of the breath leaves your body. You slump, deflated, but it turns out to be a rumour. Just a rumour. Just a rumour.
Three thousand miles away in the desert, you can’t stop buying groceries. Your fridge and freezer and cupboards have never been so full. You can’t afford this shit, can’t afford yet another bag of rice, or the frozen cauliflower, or the smoked fish, or all this dried mango, or these multiple bottles of wine. You look through your kitchen, your first kitchen that is yours and not a sublet and not a housesit but yours by name with your first lease in over ten years, you look through your kitchen and assess how many days you could survive without going outside. How many meals is this? You measure and divide with your eyes. Is there enough fresh water? For how many days? And for bathing and dishes? I should fill more containers.
And power? Do I have enough batteries? What if I lose electricity? When your phone drops below 70% you reach immediately for a charger. You have many muscles, and one of the strongest is the one that remembers blackouts, remembers lockdowns, remembers that anything and everything can simply run out: water, energy, safety, goodwill, time.
Three thousand miles away, you try calling R and are grateful to find that he still has the same beatup phone number, but a woman answers. R isn’t there right now. Try him again later. So, you try. And you try. Over two weeks, or, I don’t know, three weeks by now? you try and you try, try because there is a Western Union to pick up, and sometimes the phone is off and sometimes the call doesn’t go through and one time the woman answers again, and her voice takes on a familiar honey when she calls you chérie, but 30 seconds in the audio starts to loop in a strange glitch you don’t understand, you cannot explain, and the ghostliness impeding your conversation starts to feel unbearable and mocking. You hang up.
You stopped writing in this space in 2015 because you were on the brink of collapse. You suspected this at the time, of course: that you were on the downward side of an arc, in the act of collapsing, but had no concept that there might be an end point, a finality, a static position that looked like collapse, the act of collapse at completion. You know it now. Back up off the floor, and many miles away, you know it now.