Adapt Or Die
I frowned. It had taken me days to source strawberry-pink china beer mugs and George’s revolutionary zeal was putting them at risk already. He was talking nonsense anyway. ‘Our parents didn’t work all their lives. They had nice long retirements. We’re the ones who have to work until we’re seventy-five. ‘
George tutted at me. ‘At least your folks left you something.’ He gestured at the Victorian bar. ‘You’ve got a pub on a hill with a large garden. You’ve got a job for life now there are so few pubs left and no more licences. You’re sitting pretty, you are.’
‘Look around you, George. I’ve got an empty pub it took a small fortune to make habitable. I’m only three miles from the sea and it’s getting closer by the hour. The Moon Under Water’s not the only water-logged thing. The village where my customers used to live is submerged. There’s no one left round here. The whole thing is doomed.’
He bent his head to one side and his huge brown eyes reminded me of my childhood Labrador, who used to sit exactly where George was now. ‘So why did you do it Elaine? Why have you given up a city career to come to the back of beyond. What’s all this fantasy George Orwell pub stuff? No music, no live sports, liver-sausage sandwiches for god’s sake. ‘
‘It’s not the back of beyond. We’re only thirty-five miles from London. We’re in the London area.’
‘I know that was one of Orwell’s bizarre criteria but you’ve stretched it a bit too far. We’re not in the London area. We’re not even in the Southend area now it’s gone under. It may have escaped your notice but there’s no large town left here now Leigh’s drowned too.’
The expression on George’s face when he knows he’s right is just so unattractive. He must know I’m worried I’ve made a terrible choice. Why is he rubbing it in? I want him gone. I had imagined us getting stuck in together, making a little utopia on what’s now the end of the earth, building something solid together. Sadly what George is good at is picking holes in what’s been done rather than doing anything himself. What George is good at is making himself feel better by trashing me.
‘Fine.’ I pick his jug up and pour it down the sink behind the bar. It’s a waste but such a little thing in comparison with a desolated country, a planet with a precarious future. ‘I think you should go back to London.’
‘Fine.’ He slides off the bar stool so quickly I know that was what he hoped I’d say. He’s been prodding me to push him away. Five minutes later he’s back downstairs with his bags. ‘Could you give me a lift to the station?’
I hesitate. It’s lunch-time there could be customers. A guy came through yesterday. He seemed to like it here. I can’t really leave the pub but I know it isn’t safe to be out there on your own. Certainly not on foot when you can’t get away from whatever’s roaming near you. Can I really care so little for someone I’ve spent five years with? ‘OK but let’s be quick.’ I find an old chalkboard and write back in twenty minutes before propping it against the door.
George looks relieved. We get in the van in silence but he’s watching me as I drive. ‘Tell me why you really came here, Elaine.’
It can’t hurt now. I don’t have to protect myself against his scorn anymore. ‘I thought I could save a bit of the old world, you know, the one where people looked out for each other. I mean I know any property near water is a nightmare now but I can’t shake off how looking at water makes me feel better.’
He snorts and shakes his head. ‘And the Moon Under Water was your childhood home.’
I nod. ‘Yes but I don’t have a romantic notion of it. I know only too well how hard it was running a pub even back when they were profitable. You had to put up with other people’s vices as much as their warmth. Mum and Dad ran it like a club, they had their rules and it didn’t matter what you did or were outside. You stuck to the rules you were part of the place.’
‘Vices yes. Remember the smoking? But why all this George Orwell stuff?’
‘The Moon Under Water was his vision of the perfect pub. Old-fashioned yes but there was something about his set of rules made me feel I could create that kind of place. I had this silly idea that people would come on daytrips for the charm of it.’
‘But we only get five litres of petrol a week. It’s not like the blokes could come on their own now it’s one car between two families.’
That rule is very precious to George. His job is coordinating the car shares. So many people had to be rehomed that he was forever recalculating who could be matched. He was right though, I hadn’t factored that in. I was running at a breath-taking loss forever coming up with silly promotions that were as much good as Canute raving at the tide. The freezer was packed with the meals I’d made but hadn’t sold.
I stop the car in the station car park. It’s almost empty. ‘Bye then. I guess you won't be coming down for the weekend again’ I get out of the car as he does and hold out my hand. He clutches me to him, his bag swinging into my leg. We stand there, wavering in each other’s arms. I’m tempted to hold on, to undo the last hour, maybe even the last six months. He kisses the top of my head and lets me go.
‘Good luck to you Elaine. You're an idiot but I admire you, I really do. I just can’t make myself believe it’s going to be OK.’
It isn’t going to be OK. I know that. I drive back to the pub trying to accept that nothing I do – wasting beer or trying to make a sanctuary – will make the slightest difference. There’s something bigger than us we’ve tormented too long. Now it wants to get rid of us irritants, it wants its world back.
I’m going to keep on fighting back, plant vegetables and get chickens. I can't go back to my old lifestyle, head buried in the sand of submerged beaches. I pull into the stupidly large car park scattering a group of people huddled around the door. I tense until I recognise my only customer yesterday.
‘Are you open? Are you doing food? I brought my friends.’
Ultimately, I received a permanent victim’s protective order and a divorce. I was diagnosed with Complex PTSD. Despite the fact that I tried to move on with life, I felt like I was spinning my wheels. I had to adapt to a normal life…otherwise, I would die. Maybe I wouldn’t die by my own hands, but I’d be dead inside.
Therapy. Court. More therapy. Starting a business. Dealing with threats. Dealing with violations of the protective order. Living in fear. Starting a healthy relationship. I had to learn to adapt or I would die.
Therapy taught me how to adapt to life and deal with C-PTSD in healthy ways that didn’t involve self-harm.
Starting a business enabled me to support myself since he did whatever he could to get me fired when I taught and worked in law firms (it is legal in most states for domestic violence survivors to be fired because of their involvement as a victim or survivor if they have to miss work or even if the other party constantly harasses them on the job).
Getting the right legal support was key to the court system for the VPO and for the divorce.
Eventually, I remarried. I adapted to a good life. Do I still look over my shoulder? Yes. Do I still have C-PTSD? Yes. Will I let anything kill the good life I’ve created? No. I’ve learned how to adapt.
Adaptation is key to survival. That includes recovery from trauma. In order to adapt, we undergo a daily process. Each day that I wake up, I have an active decision to make. Some days that decision is harder to make than others. And that decision is how I want to live during the day. Sometimes, I have to adapt moment by moment. Yet, it continues and will always continue to be an active decision.
I made my decision to survive...to adapt. It's not an easy road, but it sure beats dying. It sure beats letting anyone else control my life.
Last known recording of Argi Mikolas Munoz (and unknown male); Beit Jamal Salesian Monastery; Beit Shemesh, Israel. Translated from the Basque(Upper Navarrese) By Fr. Ibon Garcia.
UM: What have you done with the life I have given you?
AMM: I have served.
UM: No, you are serving now - and it is too late.
AMM: I have always kept the faith; I have fought and bled for my country.
UM: Stone and earth are ambivalent my son - what faith?
AMM: That the Lord is my saviour and that...
UM: Come now Argi. Even now you would try to lie - and I am here watching you. Can you see the softening of the walls and the opening of the ceiling?
AMM: God help me, I am afraid.
UM: That's what Maria Dolores would have said - had she had time. You knew her too didn't you Argi?
AMM: I knew her.
UM: Did you know her little child?
AMM: I never met the child, I am sorry, I never wanted any of it to happen, I...
UM: But you didn't do anything to stop it, did you?
AMM: It was not my decision, I could do nothing.
UM: And if I was to say the same to you now my son; how would that be?
AMM: I will do anything, anything!
UM: Oh! They say I will, I would, I wish, I pray. They never say I have, I made, I tried, I hoped. They seek benevolence when all they have offered is ruthlessness; they plead for mercy though they have never bestowed it.
AMM: Surely it is never too late?
UM: Ah, surely it is never too early? You know that place your wife came from? Did you know that they've twinned it with Kfar Vradim? I had a chuckle at that one. It's yet another example of irony. You were supposed to learn from irony Argi. All of you are supposed to learn from it. Still, it doesn't matter much now.
AMM: Is there anything I can do?
UM: Once - there was a lot you could have done, but you played with fire didn't you? You knew that you shouldn't have - but you still did. What can I do when I'm faced with that?
AMM: I thought that if I did certain...things.. then my people would gain their freedom and...
UM: Those are the thought processes of a child; besides, they are not your people - they are mine. Freedom does not exist. There is only responsibility: to yourself; to others; to me. Those duties are the essence of self-emancipation. Have you ever seen those dogs in the country? You know - the ones that chase your motor vehicles. They wait, and wait, in anticipation - and then they charge out like lions protecting the pride - for naught. It always amuses me, and it always makes me a little sad; but bravery and intelligence have seldom been bedfellows.
AMM: So it is over then?
UM: Well, it is - and it isn't. Answers are never neat. Answers only beget further questions. So I ask you again - what have you done with the life I have given you?
AMM: I do not know what you want me to say.
UM: That is correct; but also incorrect. Do you know what these men do?
AMM: What men?
UM: These men here. The men who took you in, who fed you, gave you a bed, treated you with kindness through the worst of your illness. These men.
AMM: They are monks.
UM: They try to take care of children. They try to help the homeless ones - the little unfortunates.
AMM: And I have heard the horror stories.
UM: I'll just bet you have. I'll say this for you Argi - you've got balls. My point is that you are a little child, even though you must be seventy now. Your mind is infantile. These men looked after you like a child. And yet here you are Argi: an old man in the dark eh?
AMM: Why have you come?
UM: I have come to show compassion; to practice what I have preached. I have come before Fr. Kendrick returns. What do you see now?
AMM: The dawn, I think.
UM: Yes, well - that will suffice. I want you to walk out over this meadow. I want you to move towards the rising sun. But you must not falter, this light is not as forgiving as I. You must adapt to it.
AMM: But it is so very far - so very far. I see Castrillo on the plain and Miriam's house. I loved her you know. We got wed in, oh - I can't remember it now. They had that old dog, the one with the torn ear...
AMM: Yes - that was him, Zirta. So long ago. So long. Wait, oh Lord - I can smell the what do you call 'ems...?
UM: The red carnations?
AMM: Yes, yes, oh yes....
UM: Do not weep. Keep walking. Nice and steady; that's it.
AMM: I am so very sorry for all of it. I am so sorry. I put a frog in the milk pail and made Ines cry.
UM: Take my hand now Argi. Do not be afraid.
AMM: What is it all? What is it?
UM: Adaptation Argi; little more than that.
As per instructions, translation of final tape recording. Cassette withheld from authorities and in my possession. Pick-up at your convenience.