Greta Thunberg is a teenager trying to save the world. She talks about the carbon emission budget and the rate of extinction, and the picture she paints is so horrifying that Trevor Noah simply repeats what she says, stunned. In 8.5 years, our world as we know it will be ashes. In a few years, it will be too late to stop that from happening. And no one is listening.
I am listening. I am sitting on my bed with papers scattered around me and quotes from my favorite artists on the walls, listening. I think about how I can sign more petitions. I promise myself to find protests even though I know I won’t, that I’ll spend the weekend watching old movies and writing instead. I think about Twitter threads and public service announcements. I think about all the memes I’ve retweeted and the way most of my conversations involve fandom or friends, the plastic bottles I don’t bother to recycle, and I feel my insides shrivel with shame.
It gets worse. As Greta is speaking, I’m staring at my phone.
Trying to pluck up the courage to call you and tell you that I want more.
The world is ending, and I am staring at my phone.
I still want love more than I want anything else in the world.
Last night, you got out of your car to get gas. The fluorescent lighting illuminated your face, glancing off your cheekbones. As you fiddled with the gas pump, I really allowed myself to take you in. You had stubble on your cheeks, and your jaw was thick and angular, and your t-shirt was tight and blue across your chest, and I almost started crying. You were so beautiful, and so far gone already. My throat closed up.
By the time you noticed, I’d managed to push back the tears. The conversation resumed. We spent two hours saying everything imaginable. And I told you everything except the truth.
“I miss you.”
“I miss you, too.”
Greta Thunberg would be so disappointed with me. At 25, I am just another adult who let her down.
Who am I to want more? Who am I to miss you? The world is on the brink of disaster. We are in a mass extinction event. There is a white supremacist in the White House, and my friends and I won’t survive if he stays there.
So why do I care if you love me? Why do I want you? Why do I feel like you’re going to be the thing that kills me, before the floods and the lightning and the brimstone?
My eyes are heavy and sunken in. Even when you don’t call, I dream of you. Like two nights ago, when I dreamed that one of our friends told me you had sex with her, and I woke up at 3am nearly crying, sadness coating the inside of my throat and settling in my stomach like cough medicine.
You tell me about your dreams, but I never tell you mine. I know you don’t want to hear them.
We FaceTimed until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore, my voice cracking from exhaustion, hair a disaster from lying back against the pillows, my mouth an inch from the phone. I could still hear your smile, though. It made me want to cry.
Greta Thunberg has the cause inside her, the fire that burns from the inside out. She counts the signs at rallies and faces down the most powerful people in the world. She has a mission greater than the distance between Houston and Austin and braver than being in a love triangle.
I want you. More than my writing to be published, more than money, more than the body that would look good from every angle.
I want you to love me more than I want the world to stop ending.
I have always counted myself among the Gretas. Too smart to get caught up over some boy. Too beautiful to need the confidence boost. Too strong to belong to anyone. I live in the real world, and it’s in need of saving.
And I want love so much, part of me is dying.
“What are you thinking about?”
“You, mostly. Have you changed your mind about me and her?”
“My feelings for you haven’t changed. But she lied to me again. And I don’t care. I mean—”
We are in a mass extinction event. Hundreds of species wink out of existence every day, never to grace the Earth again. There is a rhinoceros that can only be seen in pictures, as elusive and fantastical as a T-Rex. Plastic chokes the oceans, turning them into sludge swamps populated by the floating dead.
And you are beneath the rising Sun, hoping to get a tan. Saying, “What a shame,” while sipping a margarita. When the tidal wave overtakes you, you’ll say you never saw it coming.
I used to believe that soul mates were our atoms finding the parts of a star we used to be when the universe began. That over the centuries and millennia, we would always find our way back to each other. That we would feel it, and know.
Now the only thing I believe in is entropy. The universe’s trend toward disorder.
I believe in half-lives and rates of decay.
I believe in natural disasters and global crises.
So I press Send, ready to set off the chain reaction.
I begin our mass extinction event.
Jasmina Kuenzli is an author of poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys running, weightlifting, and dancing. Her life goals include landing a back flip, getting legally adopted by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and winning a swordfight. She would like to thank Brenna and Sarah, who hear all these stories first, and Harry Styles, who is sunshine distilled in a human being.
Artwork by: Teodor Bjerrang