On the night of the 12th of January 2007, I was violently awakened by the apocalypse. You might not remember it because, as far you can tell, the world did not end in 2007. But for me it did. For my family it did. And for hundreds of thousands of others in the Ozarks, it certainly did.
The day began like any other. I woke up, took a shower, got dressed, and went into work. There was some small talk about the weather. Apparently, a big storm was moving into the area and the TV guy was calling for some ice. But the weather guys were always wrong, so I didn’t pay attention.
By the afternoon, I knew I had messed up. What began as cold rain soon turned into freezing rain, covering everything with a sheet of ice. I went to the grocery store, like everyone else in the city, and tried to stock up on supplies. All of the milk and bread was gone because people apparently eat milk sandwiches in bad weather. On the way home, the door on my car wouldn’t close because of the ice. I had to hold onto it with all of my strength while driving and trying not to die. But I did make it home.
That night we prepared for a bad winter storm. I brought in wood from outside in case we lost power. We turned the faucets on to a drip so the pipes wouldn’t freeze. And we sat and waited.
It came as the evening became night. The freezing rain continued pouring. A tenth of an inch became a quarter, then quickly became half. All told, we got an inch and half of ice. Power lines sagged and utility poles fell. Trees groaned under the excessive weight. They eventually snapped and rained down to the world below.
The branch of an old oak tree fell and hit our house. I’ve never been through an earthquake, but that’s what it felt like to me. The whole house shook violently, and the windows rattled. Surprisingly, there was no shattered glass but a good chunk of the corner of the roof was gone. The weatherhead was ripped from the house, plunging our world into complete darkness.
In a way, we were lucky. We had a fireplace and enough wood to last a few days. We didn’t freeze. We had plenty of food. The roof was broken but we had a secure enough shelter. Plenty of other people have had it worse and did have it worse.
I knew the world was coming to an end during the night. As the ice fell, electrical transformers became overwhelmed. One by one, street by street, neighborhood by neighborhood they exploded. Shards of light shot into the sky followed quickly by a short boom. In the calm nighttime hours, with no sounds of traffic or TV or gas furnaces, we could hear the grid being destroyed.
In the morning, the extent of the damage became clear. It looked like the aftermath of a tornado. Trees and other debris covered the streets while vehicles and homes were frozen solid. Maybe more than a tornado, a war zone or the aftermath of an explosion. In Southwest Missouri we’ve been through our fair share of storms, but this was unlike anything we had ever witnessed. It really was the end of the world.
But the subsequent days didn’t play out like you would have imagined. There were no large-scale riots or roving gangs robbing everything in sight. Sure, some people did steal generators but even with the police essentially out of service, life just went on as usual. Neighbors helped each other out. Civic groups and churches handed out food and water. Shelters opened for those who had nowhere to go. Groups of men walked the streets, chainsaws in hand, looking for people to help.
The biggest crimes were those committed by businesses. Hotels tripled or quadrupled in price while grocers raised staple prices. Kerosene skyrocketed in value as people stood in lines for hours just to get a precious few gallons. In other words, capitalism operated like capitalism: maximum profit for themselves, maximum pain for the rest.
Eventually, we ran out of firewood. Early one morning I walked out to the woodshed and grabbed the last few logs. I didn’t know what I was going to do after that, but for a few hours I would have heat. Later that day a guy I knew from church came by and loaned me a kerosene heater. That night, I vividly remember warming up a bottle for our six-month-old girl.
We sat by candlelight and listened to the radio. Vince Jericho, a local right-wing talk show host, stayed on the air almost all day. He took calls from people in need and from those offering help. He was the only news we had for days, and it kept us sane during a time of local insanity. He was our lifeline to the outside world. I would never have expected a fascist to have a soul, but I guess you can’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
For twenty-three days we were without power. Twenty-three days I couldn’t sleep in my own bed or shower in my own house. We had to rely on the kindness of our friends for hot water because we had an electric hot water heater.
The day the world came back was glorious. Some guy from out of state, drawn to the area by the money disaster brings, hooked our house up to the grid and lights shone. The furnace roared to life and brought life-preserving heat. Water warmed up and I took the best lukewarm shower I have ever experienced. Our landline phone worked again and we could communicate with the outside world. Our cellphones, batteries long since dead, could now recharge.
My story isn’t any more unique than yours. We’ve all faced crises, whether collective or individual. We’ve all suffered and had to do without. We’ve all felt as if the end of the world had come. And now we’re living in the post-apocalypse, in the aftermath of an earth-shattering event. But we made it through, mostly.
Sure, we have some new scars, but we’ve seen the possibility of a better world. Not a Lord of the Flies world, where we fight in the absence of law. No, a world of solidarity and mutual aid. A world of cooperation. A world that isn’t a zero-sum game.