Doomsday

Amber Lapp, Institute for American Values, 12/21/2012

And “something” will probably happen, because anything can happen, and you should always expect the worse. That’s a common motto of those who have suffered family breakdowns and relationship breakups. And it sometimes seems to affect their entire worldview. Because even if the world hasn’t ended yet, marriages face their apocalypses regularly. And in a world in which no one can be trusted–in a world in which the only life a child knows can be pulled out from him like a rug–the end of little “worlds” happens all the time.

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Subjects: Family, Family structure, Marriage

More by: Amber Lapp

Today Cheyenne, a twenty-five year old mom who lives with her boyfriend a couple streets over from me, and I shared a couple hour car ride. We were going to Cheyenne's six year old son's aunt's house – located in a small town of modest hundred year old homes, dirty and sagging but potentially full of charm and character – to drop him off for the weekend so that he could see his dad and join in that side of the family's Christmas festivities. "I HATE how he does that,"Cheyenne said, talking about Chance's dad. "He just drops in his life when it's convenient for him. Chance knows Mike's his dad, but Mike doesn't really know him. Chance just knows he's his dad from other people saying, 'That's your dad.'"

Chance and Cheyenne both overslept today. Cheyenne couldn't fall asleep the night before, and had stayed up watching a movie. As the first snow fall of winter fell outside, and Cheyenne's boyfriend went off to his first day at work doing hospitality at a local resort, Cheyenne and her kids slept until almost noon. In the car, Chance told me that he missed the bus, so he couldn't go to school. He was very excited to go to Aunt Patty's house instead.

On the way,Cheyenne commented, "Well, I guess the world isn't going to end after all." She and her boyfriend had been a little bit concerned about the end of the Mayan calendar, and have been talking about it for months. Lately,Cheyenne's been building a 72 hour emergency kit with extra clothes and trash bags that could be used as ponchos and Sternos and emergency candles, and maybe some cans of food. She can't decide if that would make the bag too heavy in case she has to evacuate quickly. "I'd have to put the backpack on, and then grab my two year old, and then hold Chance's hand. If it were a flood, I'd be booking it up the hill to my mom's, so I don't want it to be too heavy."

About this time we crossed a large bridge over top a brown rippling river, not quite frozen. "I'm afraid we're going to get frozen in an iceberg!" Chance screamed, genuinely frightened. "We've been watching Iceberg Hunters," Cheyenne explains. She then goes on to talk about how there was a tornado in one of the Dakotas, and a 25 car pile-up inI owa. "And do you know how many tornadoes and earthquakes there were in March of this year?" she asks. The implication is that the end of the world may be near, even if it wasn't today.

In other news, Cheyenne's doomsday view of the world is not that out of line with the relational doomsdays that she has experienced: with her parents' marriage, with her relationship with her dad and step-mom, with her many boyfriends, with the fathers of her children.

Because she lives in a community with very little social trust and a lot of instability, Cheyenne tells me that she used to say that marriage is "just a piece of paper" because that's kind of all it seems to be when you see more divorces than successful marriages. But she adds that when people say that it's just a piece of paper, she isn't so sure that they actually mean it. She thinks it might have more to do with a fear of the bad things that can happen if you get married: "I think it's just because they don't want to make that commitment. Well, they want that commitment, but they don't want to be legally bound. If something happens, they don't want to lose half their stuff, and have to go through a divorce and all that."

And "something" will probably happen, because anything can happen, and you should always expect the worse. That's a common motto of those who have suffered family breakdowns and relationship breakups. And it sometimes seems to affect their entire worldview. Because even if the world hasn't ended yet, marriages face their apocalypses regularly. And in a world in which no one can be trusted – in a world in which the only life a child knows can be pulled out from him like a rug – the end of little "worlds" happens all the time. And if life as you know it can change in an instant, and if that has been proven to you over and over throughout childhood and young adulthood, the thought that the entire world might end at any moment doesn't really seem all that farfetched. At least not for Cheyenne, as she packs up her emergency kit and braces for the worst.

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