SURVIVING THE APOCALYPSE IN HEELS
by BRYANNA WYNN
There is a strange thing that happens to a woman when she becomes a wife and a mother. Flagrant trysts and exploits of spontaneity become things of the past and a woman becomes the rock, the foundation upon which a house is built. At times it is a house of love, and other times it is a house of chaos. But at the heart of this house is the woman who makes the dwelling a home. A mother must make sure tummies are full, shoes are tied, lunches are packed, and boo-boos are mended: from a scraped knee, to a broken heart. A wife must make sure shoulders are rubbed, clothes are clean, and bills are paid on time. This was a task that I took to studiously. There were moments of great joy in my undertaking, moments of sorrow, and moments of unbearable longing for life to be about me again, even for a moment. And this was when life was normal. What was my position now?
At first it was easy to treat our situation with plausible deniability, as if we were preparing for a hurricane or tornado. Board the windows, gather the blankets, get toys for our daughter, and ration the food. We tried to pretend that there was no reason to be concerned about longevity outside of a few days, but from the first reports of high fevers, increased aggression, and ultimately cannibalism, my husband and I could not deny the gravity of what was occurring outside our home. Still I smiled, and read the voice of Winnie the Pooh with same measure of devotion I always had. I tucked in blankets and kissed foreheads. I said “I love you”s and “See you in the morning”s. And when I was certain my daughter was sleeping, I would go to the attic and perform the change of guard with my husband, taking my place behind the rifle for watch duty.
The caveat of plausible deniability, however, is the hushed knowledge, the underlying reality that lies, waiting. And when it rears its head, like a serpent rising from the grass to strike, the fear is no less poignant, or devastating. The food was gone, our child was restless, communications had ceased, as had the electricity and water. There was no choice. It was time to leave our home. I was thankful for the diligence and patience of my husband as I, with tears, had to prioritize what could fit in the back of my Honda. Our daughter’s First Easter Dress hardly added to our survivability. And what of the family pets? Would they be a help? Or a hindrance? What would our daughter see beyond the comforting walls of our home? How could I ever make her feel like it would be okay again?
I’d like to tell you that her innocence came through unscathed. I’d like to tell you I was able to shield her from the grotesque, cruel reality in which we now have to live. But I can’t, not with any level of certainty. We did the best we could. We gave her Benadryl, strapped her in the baby backpack and covered her with blankets. Then we picked up the weapons we felt most comfortable with, maintained situational awareness, and moved. Moved quickly, moved quietly, and stayed together. As we reached the car, I could hardly deny the centrifugal tug to strap her correctly into her car seat instead of thrusting her in as diligently and hastily as possible; even as my husband continued to fire shots behind me. Nevertheless, I placed her in the back and moved across the center console as my husband pushed into the passenger seat.
It is uncanny, the force of habit: checking the side mirrors for cops as I haphazardly ran red lights and stop signs; dodging debris, cars, and bodies on the road; pressing the scan button on the radio to find something to listen to; adjusting the rearview mirror to see my daughter sleeping in the back seat; taking my hand from the gear shift to place it on my husband’s knee for comfort and reassurance. I couldn’t stifle a laugh as I realized I was still using my turn signal and obeying one way streets. It was good to laugh, however short lived, as I surveyed the utter devastation of my home town. A town I had called home my entire life; streets at one time so recognizable now looked unfamiliar, desolate, and frightening.
It had been discussed in the past among family and friends that should a disaster ever occur, we would meet at the local juvenile detention center. My husband had previously worked there and knew the facility was secure and well stocked with food, medical supplies, and a generator. We drove the ten minutes through town, fairly uneventfully, and approached the juvenile center with much trepidation. Who would we find there? Who had made it to our rally point, and who had not? The lingering question in my mind that I desperately wanted to push away was: Would they ever?
We stayed in the car a moment, scanning our surroundings for any impending dangers, and for any breaches to the stronghold. The generator outside was running, a promising sign. Everything seemed secure, save for a small group of dead, drawn by the noise to the generator. As long as we could get in quickly, there was no reason to consider them a threat. We pulled the car next to the sally port and pressed the intercom button. A trembling voice of an older woman answered and the wave of emotion and recognition that swept over my husband told me we would be okay. The doors to the sally port opened and we quickly pulled the car inside, embracing each other once the doors closed in a moment of security and relief.
It was an emotional reunion, rejoicing at the familiar faces and sending up thanks for their safety. As we took muster, it was hard not to feel an overwhelming sadness for those who were not present. Sadness, however, has no place in survival. And fear is a greater opponent than the dead. It was imperative that we stayed hopeful, and so I began to reassure everyone that certainly, like us, they were just able to hold out longer. Surely, we would see them all soon. As I spoke the words, I prayed for the tears in my eyes to ebb, and the tear at my heart to ease. It wasn’t the fear that I would never see them again, but fear that I would, in a less than desirable condition.
The first few days at the juvenile center were uneventful: learning the routine they had developed, taking inventory of supplies, finding our roles, and settling in. That’s not to say there wasn’t turmoil in our retreat; there had been growing dissention among the adults due to the juvenile detainees who were present at the time of the outbreak not being allowed to leave. Some thought it best that they be forced to stay and work to rebuild and defend. Others thought it best they be forced to leave in order to preserve supplies. Others considered a much crueler fate that caused even the most hardened to cringe at the idea.
A decision needed to be made. And so all of the detainees were called to the day room and given two options: they could leave and make their own way, with a parting gift of a little water and one meal each for their journey; or they could stay, and would be treated as anyone else so long as they earned their keep. Eight children sat before us, and I couldn’t stop my heart from breaking over their young faces. Five were quick to decide to leave, and two others toiled over the decision before eventually joining them. Only one stayed with us. When we asked him why, he simply stated “I didn’t have anything to go back to before all of this mess; I can’t imagine much has changed now.”
Even with seven fewer mouths to feed, supplies were dwindling quickly. We all knew that eventually, missions to find food, water, and weapons would need to be conducted. It was hard to swallow as we looked at those we loved and wondered, how many missions would it take until someone didn’t return? And what if that person were my husband? How could I risk him for one more meal?
And then I would look at the children and wonder, how could I deny them food for the assurance that he would be okay?
These thoughts were heavy on my mind as I told bed time stories. Once the children were sleeping soundly, the adults gathered in the control room and prepared to draw straws. There was no fear of waking up the children, as the room was silent save for the sound of bated breath. The result was in: neither my husband nor I would go, this time. But how long would it be?
As the group began to discuss strategy, where to go, and what to find, I took the moment to excuse myself to the restroom. I barely had the door closed before a sob escaped my chest and the tears flowed freely. They were tears of relief, tears of sadness, and tears of fear. But I could only release them in this private place. I could never allow my family to see them. A husband may be the provider, but a wife: a mother is the rock. I had to stay upright for them despite the crushing weight I felt. I had never considered that without cool water to splash on my face, my moment of weakness would quickly be given away. And so without much ado, I hurried to our sleeping area, praying I could have this one night to grieve in solitude.
In the morning, the first mission went out, and thankfully returned with no losses. It was only the first of many missions to come, and eventually my husband would go. Each time was as terrifying as the one before, and the lottery never became easier. There is nothing more reaffirming of love, however, than the sight of your husband returning when you were not sure he ever would. Much like a soldier returning from war, the comfort and assurance of one look is breathtaking.
In a way, life had not changed much for me. There were still tummies to fill, shoes to be tied, lunches to serve, and boo-boos to be mended: from scraped knees, to broken hearts. My husband still had shoulders that needed rubbed and clothes that needed cleaned. And, albeit the price tag wasn’t the same, there were still bills to be paid: sacrificing showers, meals, comforts, to ensure supplies went far enough and to make sure the children were contented.
We held classroom instruction from the textbooks that had been kept in the schoolhouse at the juvenile center. Silly as it seems, I would hang pictures the children drew on the walls. I even painted my own window, with a lush garden outside of it. I spent so much time there, staring, dreaming that if I looked hard enough and long enough it would be real.
Despite slight distresses, there was hardly any reason to complain. My family was together and safe. While there wasn’t always enough food to keep us full, we certainly were not starving. There was a roof to keep the rain off, and walls to shield us from the elements. The generator didn’t always have gas to run, but when it did we would have lights and even music occasionally. The children were still able to learn and had a gym to run and play in. My sanctuary, however, was the outdoor courtyard. It was an open area with no roof, but surrounded by the same tall brick walls of the building. Here I had been able to plant vegetables, and work the land. It was therapeutic. While they had no purpose, I still planted flowers. It was another one of those silly comforts. We were truly blessed. I could never have imagined that in an instant it could all come tumbling down.
It was hard to tell morning from night with the limited windows in the facility, but I assumed it was nearly daybreak as I lay half awake. My husband had the final guard duty of the evening, so I wasn’t alarmed to find he was not beside me. If only that peaceful repose would have sustained. The quiet was broken by the rushed sound of his footsteps and his voice shouting, “Grab the weapons! Barricade the damn doors, now! It’s a hoard and they are already breaching the other side of the building!”
The ensuing panic was a blur. I instinctively shook my daughter awake and pushed her towards a cell. My husband took the time to kiss me and say I love you before he locked us in and put the key in my hand. I tried to remember the feeling of his lips on mine. As his fingers slipped through, I tried to memorize every bump on his hand, the feel of his skin. I looked into his eyes and my heart warmed in the deep blue green hue, the very thing that swept me away the first night we had met. I tried to smile as I told him I loved him too and had to restrain myself from gripping his hand and making him stay. I studied the lines of his face as he turned away from me. I knew in my heart, this was different from the dozens of missions he’d been on.
I shepherded my child against the wall, far from the open bars of the cells and the reach of any of the dead should they make it that far. Thankfully I was well armed, and could defend us if they did.
Much like the first days of the outbreak, I began to treat the gravity of the situation with plausible deniability, even as I heard the flurry of bullets in the building. There was no amount of grounding that could have stopped my dread as the stampede pushed into our side of the building, barreling through our friends, standing as our last defense. Their screams were only drowned out by the sounds of the dead’s hungry gnashing.
My fingers felt large and clumsy as I tried to secure the rifle in the crook of my shoulder, obtain my target, and fire. There were so many, I just began to shoot. It kept them staved off at first. But each time I would stop to reload, they would get closer. My ears were ringing and my hands shaking as I continued to fire into the hoard. Eventually, however, there was nothing at which to fire. The bodies had built up around us like a partition. My daughter cowered by the wall, sobbing although I couldn’t hear it for the ringing. I pulled her close to me and tried to stroke her hair to calm her tears, though I’m sure she could hear as little of what I was saying as well.
While I wasn’t certain what was on the other side of those bodies, I knew we couldn’t stay in a cell. Taking the keys, I forced my hand through the mess to unlock the door. It was a struggle to get the keys into the lock, but I felt as it sank into place and I was able to turn the key. As I released the keys to push the door open, however, I felt it.
I knew the bumps of his hands as he grabbed my arms. I knew the feel of his lips as they met my skin. I knew the deep blue ocean hue that filled his eyes as I turned to meet them.
But the familiarity, the comfort was pierced as his teeth sank into my arm, tearing away my flesh. I pulled my arm free and reached for the rifle, gazing one last time into his eyes before firing a round between them.
Shaking, I turned to my daughter, praying she couldn’t tell it was him. I grabbed her and held her tightly, thankful she was alright. As I held her, her sweet, innocent voice spoke against my ear, “Mommy, you got a boo-boo.”
As I looked at my arm, the open wound, the tears ran down.
There is a strange thing that happens to a woman when she becomes a wife and a mother. Decisions you never dreamed of making become a daily reality and you can’t afford to be unreliable. And a woman becomes the rock, the foundation upon which a house is built. At times it is a house of love, and other times it is a house of chaos. But at the heart of this house is the woman who makes the dwelling a home. A mother must make sure innocence is intact, pain is spared, and boo-boos are mended: from a scraped knee, to a broken heart. This was a task that I took to fretfully. There were moments of great joy in my undertaking, moments of sorrow, and moments of unbearable longing for life again, even for a moment as I raised the rifle against my daughter’s head, fired, and then turned it on my own.
As a 25-year old wife, mother, soldier, and lover of ‘The Walking Dead,’ Bryanna Wynn finds her life to be a juxtaposition of conflicting roles: Loving Wife, Hardened Soldier, Keeper of Teddy Bears, and Future Bad Ass Zombie Killer.
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