How I came to be the last man on earth

It’s usually in times of emotional distress (like December through March, for example) that I start thinking about what it would be like to be alone on earth. I should say it’s functioned as a fucked up escape fantasy for me for a long time, an alternative to stepping into the street and knocking men’s hats off, as it were, though I didn’t realize it until…

Once upon a time, I wanted to get my clinical license so I could be a shrink. Odd to think about now, but I was hell bent on it. I was working in a setting without the kind of supervision I needed, so I hired my own supervisor and stayed with her for two years. We’re friends now, which is a difference between supervision and therapy: you can be friends afterward. That said, in retrospect, she was basically my therapist.

One afternoon we were discussing a client who was trying to get disability* and about whose claim to same I was skeptical. Honesty about your own lousy motivations is important in clinical supervision as it is in therapy. I admitted that an ugly fantasy of mine sometimes is to use what I know about mental illness to get disability so I could drop out and never do anything again. Fantasies work how they work; I can easily see all the problems with this, but once in a while it gives me solace from that locked-in feeling life sometimes gives me.

My supervisor admitted her own version, which I think is sort of not mine to share here, though it was bizarre and compelling. Never one to quit while I’m ahead, I piled one more log on the bonfire of crazy and admitted my other escape fantasy: being the last person on earth. She looked genuinely puzzled and asked what the good part of being the last person on earth was, and I said (of course) that nobody could ever tell me what to do again.

David Markson may be largely to blame. He wrote a riveting or maybe stultifying experimental novel called Wittgenstein’s Mistress composed of fragmented observations made by a narrator you come to understand either is or believes herself to be the last person on earth. Here is a sentence chosen haphazardly to give you the flavor of her musings:

“Well, and I certainly would have found it agreeable to tell Ludwig Wittgenstein how fond I am of his sentence.”

It’s oddly matter-of-fact and occasionally funny but mostly it’s suffused with terrible loneliness…and she’s most likely just nuts, but meanwhile, she lives in the Louvre for a while, and in an abandoned house on the beach for a while, and so forth. She crosses the Bering Strait in a motor boat (the sick fantasy of any non-flyer.)

So, sometimes, as a DSM-worthy form of self-soothing, I do this, though really it just comes over me. I think about where I’d live if it were just a matter of breaking in, knowing there was no one left to stop me. Or I bring The World Without Us into the bibliography of my little nervous breakdown and try to remember how long it would be until I could drink from the Hudson. Or I think about the practicalities of keeping warm or fed. Or sometimes I just imagine the quiet, which is the very best part.

*either that or we weren’t and it came up completely some other way. Si non e vero, e ben trovato.

9 responses to “How I came to be the last man on earth”

  1. lane says:

    it sounds great, until all the meat in it’s various lockers comes unfrozen and starts to spoil. That would end the filet mignon party in the beginning.

    But all that free booze… and the pharmacies!… My god! all that Dilaudid!… and “medical grade” coke! does it really exisit?…

    But this all depends on the planet being swept clean of corpses. That stink would ruin the best 63 Cabernet.

  2. A White Bear says:

    I had “last person on earth” fantasies almost every day when I was a kid. I even tried to write a novel that started with a girl waking up and realizing everyone was gone, but then, to her dismay, she discovers that they’ve merely been taken by an evil dragon into another dimension, into which she has to follow them to rescue them. I was 9 and hadn’t entirely gotten at home with the real structure of fantasy, which is not very novelistic.

    That fantasy seems to be a product of some kind of feeling of harassment, no? When I was 9 I was relentlessly bullied and hated my family. It also seems like a natural fantasy for a New Yorker. Out here in the countryside, I’ve begun to love having people around in a rather new way for me. It feels like we gather because there’s room to enjoy it. In New York I wasn’t even really in the mood to see people I love very often.

  3. F. P. Smearcase says:

    lane, I laughed in the out loud fashion. Filet mignon party! I hadn’t even thought about pharmacies. In my version of the fantasy, the food part isn’t that great, lots of canned stuff, but at least I don’t have to work for a living to buy it, so it’s delicious.

    Bear: It is absolutely about New York. I might go so far as to say it’s about the A train.

  4. NotMe says:

    The Stand (well really, Night of the Comet) gave me my first everyone-going-away fantasies. Before those, I had my what it would be like to be a ghost fantasy. I imagined just walking all over the wold with no one noticing me. This was a supremely comforting thought. As I got older, what was a fantasy, became an expectation. Through therapy, actually, I just started seeing my future as not alone — either shuffling along, talking to myself or as a hermit in a cave somewhere.

    But if you ever want to experience what it would be like to be a ghost, I discovered something pretty great a while back: go to a movie on opening weekend by yourself. The first time I did it, I couldn’t believe how ghostly this experience is. Seriously, no one notices you because everyone is engaged with someone else. You just float through the crowd with such ease.

  5. A White Bear says:

    The “not working for a living” fantasy has never appealed to me, despite my apparent laziness. I love feeling needed, and like my skills are being put to the test all the time. I had a boyfriend in college who seemed really unhappy so I asked him what he would want to do if his life could really be a series of free choices, and he said, “Retire.” I didn’t get it. I was like, well, but let’s say you don’t have to be a computer programmer if you don’t want to (since that was his major). Let’s say you could play music, or do something with your French minor, or write about movies, or teach a class, or cook… and he says, “No, really. I’d retire.” Well, but imagine you could raise kids or keep house while a partner worked and you could have the satisfaction of… “You’re not getting it. I don’t get satisfaction from *doing* anything.” Like you’d lie completely still? “Maybe.”

    I couldn’t figure out how that wasn’t a fantasy about suicide.

  6. F. P. Smearcase says:

    Ok, the truth is I wouldn’t just lie about if I had the choice, though I like to fantasize about it because really I am terribly lazy. It’s more about what I said to my supervisor, about being told what to do. I have a remarkably flexible boss now whose only concern is that I do my job, and this should be my perfect fantasy dream job, but there are so many invisible demands of authority–I get here five minutes late every day because on some level it really destroys me that someone can tell me I have to be in a particular place for eight hours of the day. But yes, in something that was more like an realization of the ideal than a fantasy (as you or someone recently quoted at me, Zizek says fantasy realized is nightmare) I would still work.

  7. Swells says:

    but what fun would the filet mignon/pharmaceutical party be if you were all by yourself? You are not the first person I’ve heard say the ultimate fantasy is to be the last person on earth (i live with another person who feels that way) but I can only think of fear when I imagine it–fear of no one to talk to, fear of having to do everything all by myself and not get to collaborate with anyone on any decisions, ever . . . not that The Stand (or The Road, or choose your postapocalyptic everyone’s-dead scenario) doesn’t also fill me with the fear of desperate people who have lost their decency in the face of their need. Hell is other people, deeper hell is lots fewer people who will eat you to survive on a blasted moonscape, and deepest hell is maybe nobody else at all.

  8. Swells says:

    Then again, I don’t ride the A train.

  9. lane says:

    yeah, and with out doormen to run the elevators, or switchmen to electrify the elevators, what good is that penthouse at 1040 5th anyway… sure you could walk across the street and take the vermeers home with you… but then you’d have to walk up 20 flights?… in the end, a barbecue in the rockefeller sculpture garden on 53rd would be better… no stairs.