Six terrorist attacks in Manhattan in one month changed everything.
At first, tourists were allowed entry. They felt safe. All attractions were guarded by the military. Humans and robots.
Before the terror attacks, Jane and John Parker, who’d never lived anywhere but Manhattan, went to Washington Square Park every Saturday. Then a terrorist boarded a bus near Times Square, exploding himself and the passengers a few seconds after he’d driven into a crowd.
People weren’t out in the world anymore. Out in the world was what the Parkers first called it. Then life was divided into BEFORE and AFTER.
A couple of times, early morning, they’d taken the stairs down to the lobby of their building. This was before martial law was declared. Still, they felt like subversives. Walking the sidewalks that once seemed to vibrate with energy, they saw mostly emptiness.
Soon, parents were instructed to homeschool. Textbooks were delivered by robots.
The Parkers’ only child was grown, had left the city for a quieter life. Funny, the Parkers had discussed a quieter life for years, seriously when Jane was pregnant, but they couldn’t leave. They loved Manhattan.
Now, they looked out a window, down at streets once swelling with diversity. They joked about it. About all those discussions they’d had about a quieter life. Because of terrorism, a quiet life was imposed.
“I’m ordering the usual from Fresh Direct. Can you think of anything you want?”
“Um, mixed nuts.”
“Wonder how that woman who worked at Food Emporium is doing. Remember, she said the government was spying on her. Wonder if she went off the grid.”
“Shh,” John said. Wondering could be a red flag. That woman had been right.
They talked about their friends but then realized they could socialize in person only with residents of their building. Occasionally they kept in touch with long-time friends the same way they did with their son: Skyping and Facetime.
People with school-age children received a guaranteed income, deposited into their bank account only if they taught their children a standardized education, mandated by The State. Who’d want their children out in the world anyway when some terrorist might blow up a block? Who’d want their children out in the world when they might get caught in terrorist/robot crossfire?
People without children and those, like the Parkers, whose children left prior to BEFORE still received a guaranteed income. Guaranteed if certain requirements were met. Everyone had to repledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. And to obedience. Mass surveillance unquestioned. No citizen analysis of the Terror War.
An older couple in their co-op rebelled. They said the wars were crimes against humanity, was a catastrophic failure, that the cycle of violence had to be broken. They called the U.S. government a terrorist organization. Retrieving a Bush-ism, they taunted, “If we are fighting ‘em over there so we don’t have to fight ‘em over here, then why ARE they here?”
One morning when the Parkers opened their computers, an image of the couple appeared above the word “Traitors.”
After this, the Parkers never failed to end Skype and Facetime calls with, “God Bless the United States of America.”
The Parkers are fine with their life inside AFTER. They love their freedom to order whatever they want to eat, like mixed nuts, to Skype and Facetime with their friends and son. They’re eager to have grandchildren. They can Skype and Facetime to see the expanding family. They feel nurtured, protected by a government that cares, that provides an income that covers rent, food, access to entertainment, the American News Network, and healthcare—simplified: enter symptoms into an online search, answer a few yes or no questions, and hit “Next” to receive a diagnosis. Medicine delivered robotically.
They laugh, laugh that they’re paid to be incurious. Overthinking caused anxiety. They say to each other, “Ignorance really is bliss.” And despite their belief that Hillary Clinton would have been an inspiring Commander-in-Chief (yes, they had been Liberals, protested the invasion of Iraq, and after the election, both went to D.C., wearing a pink pussy hat), they’ve come to appreciate a president who’s not only making America great again but also who’s made America safe again.
Missy Comley Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Baltimore. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.