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Stevie Wonder Just Called To Say Everyone Else Is Dead

September 30th, 2008 by Jeff Simmermon

Grey and foggy days used to terrify me. As a small child, I’d have full-blown panic attacks when I was in the woods or even tall grass with my family on an overcast, misty day. I was sure that a rotting arm would punch its way up through the dirt and grab my ankle. Or worse, the undead would snatch my family and spare me, leaving me in the world utterly alone.

I spent a lot of time alone in the car reading X-Men comics in those years, on the grey fall days when my mom and dad would want to get out into the country as a family and get some fresh air in the country.

“Fuck togetherness, there’s zombies out there,” I’d think, huddling down onto the floor of the car after my mom got tired of pleading me to come outside.

For some reason, the zombies were out to torture me and me only. I knew my family would be safe if I wasn’t with them — the undead would just lie there and let them pass unmolested, leave them to move around like the rest of the earth’s walking meat. As the Chosen One, sworn enemy of the non-living, I had a responsibility to protect my family and sometimes it got a little lonely.

Then “The Day After” came out and the whole game changed.

Zombies were nothing in the face of nuclear holocaust, for real. Every time I shut my eyes, even just to blink, I saw flashes from cartoonish mushroom clouds. I’d see the silhouette of everyone’s skeleton against their flesh and think I had some sort of weird power like the little kid in Stephen King’s “Firestarter.”

I couldn’t tell if I could see the future or had the power to make people turn transparent with black skeletons. But either way, it seemed wise to sleep as little as possible, just to be on the safe side.

At some point I just wore out. I must have, on some level, resigned myself to my grim, post-apocalyptic future and decided to prepare. I stopped worrying about the undead, stopped seeing skeletons and mushroom clouds everywhere. When my father would take me into the woods to cut timber on grey and cloudy days I would tune the radio between AM stations so that the speakers would hiss with loud static.

I was pretending that everyone in the world was gone, and it was just me and my dad in his big blue Chevy truck, trundling up a dirt road towards an uncertain future. I’d get goose bumps sometimes from the thrill of it all, and my dad would turn the heat up, thinking I was cold.

Sometimes I’d pretend that the family was making a last stand against certain creeping death by holing up in a Home Depot or Hechinger’s, where we would live out our days building weapons against hordes of attackers much like the ones we saw on the A-Team every week.

“Put down that nailgun, Jeffrey,” my Dad would say, snapping me back to the present. “How many times do I have to tell you that it’s not a toy?”

Stevie Wonder’s hit song “I Just Called to Say I Love You” came out around that time, and it simultaneously thrilled and terrified me. I didn’t get the whole romantic-gesture part, but fixated on the initial lyrics:

No New Year’s day
To celebrate
No chocolate covered candy hearts to give away
No first of spring
No song to sing

He was describing life after nuclear war so perfectly, and over top of music that sounded kind of like an Atari Game, too! I listened to it over and over again, always turning it up on the radio — but I never explained it until now.

For some inexplicable reason I fixated on the theme song to “Saint Elmo’s Fire” after that, and the whole zombie/apocalypse thing faded away.

Now I get pretty excited about grey, misty days. It’s okay to be quieter then and spending the day behind a computer doesn’t seem like such a waste. I still have trouble sleeping, but it’s more because I just don’t want to go to bed.

There’s too much stuff to read, to write, to do. After walking in the deep forest on a foggy day, sleep is the closest thing to death I can imagine.

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