We have a plan, but you know how I feel about plans. So, we also have a backup plan and a backup for that plan.
Last night was the big community meeting at Pete’s. We had nearly 100 people there. It was pretty amazing, really. I don’t think I’ve seen more than twenty people all in the same place for nearly nine months. Normally, when you get 100 people together, someone is sick. There are sniffles, coughs, sneezes. We tried to avoid that with this meeting. We asked anyone showing signs of illness to stay home. It seemed to work. I can’t recall a cough, sneeze or sniffle the entire time we were together.
We made a day of it. Most people showed up between 9:00 and 10:00 in the morning. Once again, traditional roles seemed to be the order of the day. The women, for the most part, prepared and cooked the food. The men made plans to defend the community.
We brought our injured guest with us. It was a risk. We’re still not sure about her and she’s not sure about us. Ultimately, the family came to the conclusion that the risk was relatively small and the potential benefit outweighed the risk. By bringing her into our plans and showing her that we trust her, we hope to build the trust that we need to co-exist. That almost didn’t work out the way we hoped it would.
She’s been getting stronger much more quickly than any of us would have thought. She’s been up walking around since the 18th. I’ve seen very few people more determined to get better than she is. Every day, since the 18th, she’s walked farther and farther around the farm. The fresh air and exercise must be doing their thing. I also saw her do a few push-ups and sit-ups and do some curls with some canned fruit. She has grit, I’ll give her that.
We had a little incident – she and I – and I’m not sure what its impact will be. Yesterday, I came back from pulling guard duty out at the observation post on the hill and walked into our cabin to find her up and around with a gun in her hands. As it turns out, she had lifted Laura’s side-arm from her holster while Laura was helping her with some physical therapy just minutes before.
As I walked in the door, I came face-to-face with the business end of Laura’s .38 revolver. My instincts nearly took over but then, for some reason, I hesitated. The woman was no more than ten feet from me. Our eyes locked – OK, my eyes locked with her eye. You get what I mean. I couldn’t quite tell what she was thinking but I figured she could have shot me as I was coming through the door if she had really wanted to do so. Instead of taking evasive action or attacking her, I asked her a question.
“What’re you thinking?”
She was quiet for a few moments. Initially, her hands were rock steady. The gun was trained on my chest. I kept looking directly into her … eye. Her hands began to tremble ever so slightly.
“What’s your plan?” I asked. “You might get me, but there are ten more heavily-armed people outside that door. If they hear a shot in here and you walk out there … you’ll be cut to ribbons”
I could see her hands trembling more. Her finger began to tighten on the trigger.
“No plan,” she replied.
Some sort of inner battle seemed to be raging inside her mutilated skull. The trembling was getting worse – like someone performing an isometric exercise as their muscles begin to fatigue.
“No plan?” I asked.
She shook her head and looked down briefly and then quickly back up into my eyes. We were both trying to size each other up. I held steady just looking directly at her.
She blinked slowly. The barrel of the pistol tipped downward. I tensed, waiting for her inner battle to resolve itself.
Her left hand released its grip on the pistol. I noticed that her grip technique had been quite good. No tea-cupping. No thumbs or fingers in the wrong place. Her right arm sagged and dropped to her side. Her gaze never once wavered from my face.
Then, she reversed the pistol in her hand and raised it toward me grip-first. I stepped closer to her and took the pistol from her hand. Our fingers touched briefly. I swear I felt a tingling sensation. The look on her face suggested that she felt something strange as well.
She looked away for the first time during the encounter, “I’m not sure what I was thinking.”
“You weren’t,” I replied.
“Probably not,” she agreed. “Things are still pretty scrambled inside here.” She tapped the injured side of her skull lightly.
“Look,” I said searching for the right words, “we decided to help you. As far as I’m concerned, that was a permanent choice until you prove to us that it was a bad decision.”
“The moment you prove to us that it was a bad decision,” I continued, “will be a bad day for one of us … maybe more.”
“I get it.” There was tension in her voice. Her lips barely parted as she responded.
“For now, I’m just going to file this little incident away in the negative column and put an asterisk next to it,” I informed her.
“One asterisk,” she mumbled smiling a little.
“What did you say?” I gave her a look.
“One asterisk,” she repeated a little louder this time.
“Why did you say that?” I wanted to know.
“I’m not sure,” she admitted. “It just came to me for some reason.”
“Were you ever in the military?” I asked.
“I can’t recall …” her voice trailed off.
The way she had said it reminded me of something from my own military career thirty-plus years before. There was a Master Sergeant, when I was stationed at Ft. Riley, who used to use the phrase “one asterisk” – as in, “Son, you only have one asterisk, be careful.” Every now and then, he would have one of the little Korean tailor shops in Junction City embroider an asterisk onto a 1st Infantry Division patch and present it to someone who had gone out of their way, risking life, limb and … posterior, to aid their comrades in arms. The meaning was something along the lines of what Nathan Hale said before he was hanged by the British, “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country,” but with more attitude. I know the phrase came into somewhat common use across the U.S. military and police SWAT teams. I’d even seen “morale” patches with the 1* symbol on them before the crash. But, I hadn’t heard anyone say it since the crash.
“There aren’t a lot of people who use that phrase … at least not that way, who don’t have military or law enforcement backgrounds,” I said.
She looked at me a little puzzled and then I think the double-entendre dawned on her.
“Oh, I get it,” she said smiling a little more.
“Maybe it’ll bring back more memories for you,” I tried to sound encouraging.
“Yeah, maybe …” her voice trailed off again.
With that we faced an awkward silence.
“Uh, I’m going to go for a walk,” she broke the uncomfortable pause.
“Good,” I replied. “The fresh air and exercise should help your healing. No more surprises like this one, though. Agreed?”
“Agreed,” she nodded and then brushed past me and out the door.
I still haven’t quite processed all of that. It doesn’t seem like she could have been a part of Hernandez’s gang. Usually, I’m a very good judge of character. Although, I haven’t interacted a lot with this woman, I can usually get a good read on people within the first few minutes of meeting them. I’m not getting a rape, murder, pillage, burn vibe of off this gal. She was involved in some way, to be sure, but I can’t yet put a finger on how.
I also haven’t quite decided how I feel about involving her in our plans. She’s here … there’s no way around that. Could she be helpful? Would she do more harm than good? She seems capable enough. Just based on how she handled Laura’s .38 I’m guessing she has a good bit of firearms experience. Based on the “one asterisk” comment, she most likely has a military or law enforcement background. But, does she remember enough to be of any value? Can she be trusted enough to be of any value?
As if we didn’t have enough to deal with already.
Speaking of which, I’m not 100% comfortable with our defensive plans but I think we’re better off as a community, looking out for one another, than we were as isolated families. Then again, loose lips sink ships and we just laid our souls bare to several dozen more pairs of lips. Of course, we impressed upon everyone the need for security and the risks associated with breaching security but, in my experience, some people just aren’t programmed to maintain the kind of security we will need. Either they don’t understand the risks or they simply cannot make the connection between opening their mouths and people dying. If you haven’t seen it first-hand, I suppose it can be something of a foreign concept.
It’s not all that dissimilar from the people who refused to recognize the warning signs of our collapsing economy and, as a result, failed to make any real preparations for the potential collapse. If you’ve never been through something as terrible as what we’ve seen; if you haven’t experienced it personally … it’s much easier to ignore it and hope it will go away or convince yourself that it could never happen.
People who survived the Great Depression had a frame of reference. People who had been to war-torn, Third World countries or countries that had suffered similar, micro-collapses … for them it was real. It was tangible. We humans seem to need something tangible. If we can’t see it, touch it, personally experience it with our senses … we struggle to believe it.
What is it that the Bible says about faith in Hebrews … “Being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see?” I’m pretty sure that’s it.
I think it took faith to make sacrifices and prepare for a potential collapse. I think it took faith to set aside some immediate gratification from things that we could see, touch, taste, hear and smell and save up for a rainy day, so to speak.
Back to my entry from a few days ago … without faith, we lose hope. Without hope, we lose our grasp on reality and reason. Perhaps faith plays a larger part in survival than we realize. Not just faith in God – although that certainly has helped sustain us – but also faith in … humanity, faith in our own purpose here on earth, faith in one’s decisions, faith that one is making the right choices.
Maybe … without faith survival is impossible.