Beyond the End of the World

Theris Nabile. The End of the World.

Or so I thought.

In my mind two young children, a brother and sister, held hands as they spiraled through the universe, curling around the cusp of a planet, swinging themselves through a gravity well as they sail toward the center of all things–and the end of it.

Theris Nabile. The place they’re after–the place they can never reach.

And throughout their adventures, their father’s midlife crisis and the final days of their grandfather. Then at some point the children grew up, and instead of the son, the story fell into the hands of the daughter.

In ten years writing with NaNoWriMo, I have reached 50,000 words every year, but this is the first in which the story isn’t finished.

At least not entirely.

This year I wrote Evangeline’s story. But her brother Connor has his own tale to tell, and someday, somewhere, his half must be added to hers for the story to be whole.

His story, I imagine, will be a chronicle of escape–in a way, so is hers, but her escape is different than his. Connor’s escape is one of growth and becoming, a young gay man setting out into the world to find himself. Evangeline’s escape is pure desperation.

Her youth is plagued by her brother leaving home, the unequal expectations her father placed on her and her brother, the yearning to be a strong woman like her mother, all in the face of fantastic memories that seem too miraculous to be true. Maybe they are.

In her present, the moment here and now, there is only chaos: she’s no longer speaking with her brother, she’s questioning her role in life, her purpose and place, and she must come to terms with her previous divorce and longing for children she can’t have.

At first, when I started writing, I wasn’t sure what the story was meant to be: was it a coming-of-age story? a children’s fantasy? a family conflict melodrama?

In a way it was each of these, but more so it was none of them.

I like to think, or I have the pattern-finding aptitude to admit, that after every NaNo story, I can see myself in the characters as through they’ve become a time capsule of my life each November. My first year I was the writer struggling to make himself and the son yearning to be a man, an independent. In later years I was the adventurer, the hopeless romantic, the one torn between tradition and modernist revelation.

In this story I was the harbinger of failure.

In any typical child’s tale, the children always save the world. This past November, the children won one battle (in a two-page aside) and lost all the rest.

In any honest drama, there is resolution. Here, as Evangeline sets the table at Thanksgiving, readying herself for the light and happiness of the holiday season, she is greeted by death at the doorway and the story ends without reprieve.

Only in her imagined future does happiness unfold unbounded. The conflicts with her brother have been reconciled; they recite childhood memories to their children as they sit beside a snowman and their husbands prepare dinner inside. And in the end, before the final words are written, she glimpses that gateway called Theris Nabile.

But that’s the only unending happiness she has.

I realized after I wrote “THE END” that there was no happy ending. Her story begins the same as it had started: a life balanced between the good and the bad, a wannabe success story forced to recognize her own failures and inadequacies.

In a way, her story became my story–or maybe my story became hers.

There is reconciliation in the middle. She makes sense of things. She lets them go, decides for herself who and what she wants to be. The family comes together, old wounds are healed and new relationships are formed. Then, like life, it shatters.

It’s an endless cycle, construction/destruction. Most stories do it in order–break them down and build them up. Luke comes from a dessert making scraps and then saves the world. Harry has been orphaned, but finds his friends and defeats the Dark Lord. Even Frodo comes from humble beginnings only to sail away into the West in the end.

It’s an archetypal tale, but it’s not the only tale: Consider Beowulf. He starts out a hero, proves himself time and time again, and then it follows unto his end, to the dragon.

Perhaps it’s all a matter of framing: What would Beowulf teach us if instead his story ended after defeating Grendel’s mother when he’s at his highest?

Or Harry Potter, if we started with the defeat of the Dark Lord and then following him into his ailing, aging days before he passes away, his children at his bedside?

We don’t have to wonder at the possibilities if we simply adjust the source material: Recent tales like the Hunger Games and the Divergent Series build up their characters to repeatedly tear them down, and the second Star Wars trilogy is a tale of innocence turned evil, how precious and feeble purity can be in a corrupt society.

These are the kinds of stories standing alongside Evangeline’s: the good points come in the middle, and the end caps are the rock-bottom moments we try to forget but can’t ignore when placed in the light. They’re the moments our society tells us to overlook, to look past, to let go of and move on from. But these are the moments that define us, the thousand tries before the one that yields success, the points along our journey before we reach our destination, only to set out along another, more treacherous path.

On the one hand, failure hurts. It’s painful to look at our hands and the things we haven’t done that we aimed to achieve. But it’s that failure that drives us forward, that failure that shapes the next seven or six hundred steps we take to get there–or even the steps that take us down a new turn, toward a different, more satisfying destination.

If we aren’t able to face our failures, we amplify our potential to end in failure. We’ll set the controllers down and never finish the game, we’ll resign ourselves to making it by and settling because we lose our confidence to create and achieve. If instead we were honest with ourselves and each other, we’d be able to fix the mistakes that can be corrected or change our course to find a better, more fulfilling match.

This is Evangeline’s legacy: she can’t hold on, and when she does it’s only delusion, but she can witness and step forward together, with more strength than ever before, no matter all the challenges that life has presented her. I don’t know if she’ll succeed, and neither does she, but she’s unable, unwilling, to give up, and that’s what matters.

Theris Nabile. It isn’t the end of the world because it’s the last step upon our journey; it’s the end of the world because we are broken and beaten when we reach its borders, but we press onward, renewed, beyond the end of the world, to a new world.

Perhaps to a brighter world.

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