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Stranger Than Fiction

Devastation and the Dead

by MISSY COMLEY BEATTIE

Laura and Erma had a solution for my anxiety. “We’re calling a moratorium on reading news articles after dinner. Start The Walking Dead.”

Pillow-propped in bed, I’ve watched the series on my laptop, via Netflix.

In two frenzied installments, I zipped through Season 1, saying, “Just a little more,” and I’d click another episode as soon as the previous ended, seduced by each cliffhanger ending. I finished Season 2 and then 3, ahead of Laura and Erma.

I had a couple of panic attack symptoms, racing heart for one, and had to talk myself down with, “This isn’t real.” I was without discretion. Because this horror story is frightfully entertaining. Plus, it is plump with metaphors. If you’ve seen The Walking Dead, now in its 4th season, you know this—all those existential questions of morality.

At first I thought the walkers were the cannibalistic zombies, infected with some unknown virus. Wrong. The walking dead are the survivors. And we learn that everyone has the virus. It just doesn’t manifest until someone’s been bitten, scratched by a zombie, or dies.

The military and militarized police napalm cities, obliterating survivors, as well as the zombies. On seeing this, I thought, “Maybe the virus was created in a Big Pharma laboratory, contaminating vaccines, or it was intro’d into the food supply, courtesy of Monsanto.”

Meanwhile, survivors band together, dependent on each other. The goal is to avoid a zombie bite or attack while a cure’s developed and to find food, water, shelter, and medication.

What’s a group without its resident menace, the bully who wants to beat the shit out of someone? You know, resentment, a struggle over leadership, jealousy that a particular woman is the wife/lover of a particular man, the perception that some person is more deserving than another, better able to protect—it’s familiar behavior.

Rick, the hero, struggles to follow his conscience, to do what’s right even when this puts his family at risk. Shane, the antihero, is a man who could be president of an empire, have a kill list.

Most episodes are necessarily gory. (You thought I was going to say gratuitously.) When Sophia, a child, is missing, and the search is on, a zombie’s gutted to see if the stomach and intestines contain anything resembling the little girl. Thank you, Laura and Erma. During the loooonnnggg search for Sophia, I was so agitated I detoured to Google. Typed for info about Sophia and then watched a YouTube. Cheated.

Now, I’m almost current. Decided to view the rest as a Sisterhood when I’m at Laura and Erma’s house. This means I’ve resumed reading op-eds and the news at bedtime though, and mornings.

It’s agonizing:

Typhoon Haiyan, unprecedented in magnitude, assaulted the Philippines. President Benigno Aquino declared a state of national calamity and the government urged other governments, in Poland at the U.N. climate summit, to “take emergency action” on climate change. The lead negotiator of the Philippines said a bold step is necessary, asking countries to make commitments to reduce emissions and pleading for an end to the madness. He said, “Can humanity rise to this occasion? I still believe we can.”

Humanity may deliver the $301 million the U.N. has requested to provide food, water, shelter, medicine, and cleanup, but “emergency action on climate change”? No. Wall Street polluters are the “deciders”, the profit-frenzied fossil fuel burners directing complicit lawmakers in DC.

When I read about the devastation, children ripped from their parents’ arms by water and wind, the hungry, the injured, the desperate, my gastritis raged. Wednesday morning, I saw that eight people died in a stampede for food when “thousands stormed” a government-owned rice warehouse. Later in the day, more information, this time of putrefying flesh and trucks loaded with bodies—like images from The Walking Dead.

Receiving less coverage is the disaster in Somalia where as many as 300 people are feared dead after a cyclonhit the Puntland region. Entire villages were destroyed, hundreds are missing, countless livestock were lost, and fishing boats were swept away.

I don’t remember when I began to wonder why anyone would want to bring a child into this world. And I’ve learned recently that I’m going to be a grandmother. After the phone call from my son, I cried—not tears of joy but instead sadness and longing. Charles wanted a grandchild. ”You’re not here to do this with me,” I thought. And then, “Another person to love with all my heart and worry about.” I had to leave my apartment, to sit and talk with Laura and Erma.

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: missybeat@gmail.com.