I saw Tamara the other day. The first time I met her, which was only a few months ago, she talked nearly the whole time about her partner, Colin. He had left her. I’d supposed recently but later learned it had been years ago, to live in a bunker at a decades old commune northwest of Taos. He accompanied the small, dusty group living there as they searched the high desert for precious water sources or an alternate route besides the one road leading out of the canyon where they’d nestled their huts and dugouts. Colin gathered rice and beans, dried meat and a gun with plenty of ammunition as they awaited the end of days.
In my first meeting with Tamara in her southside home in Santa Fe, over a cup of tea and homemade apple cinnamon muffins, I could taste that she was someone who took her baking seriously. She explained repeatedly of her faith that somehow she and Colin were coming to an understanding. After all she was a counselor, and also a ballroom dance instructor and an artist who painted in oils, serpentine portraits often of herself in dark colors. The paintings covered the walls of her two bedroom house along with southwest artifacts and plaques and philodendron vines trailing along the edges of the ceiling.
On that singular visit, when I parked outside her house and saw the tangled, full yard unlike the spacious and pebbled yards seen in her neighborhood, I was taken back to Berkeley houses I’d been in, with their ethnic clutter. I was delighted. But Tamara was not complimented by that, and we sat at her large, wooden dining table with tea and muffins soon talking of Colin. I felt awkward and unsure of myself, holding to good form, polite and shy by her fascination with Colin who she did not seem to ever forget. I was also charmed by her practical knowledge, even her detailed information about the chaos from climate change and the collapse of civilization.
She told me she and Colin visited the home of a controversial scientist who saw the end coming easily within 10 years. They had the intention of buying it and hiding out there. But the homestead near the Gila wilderness was a mess, she said, cobwebbed and moldy with rotting food in the cellar and shrinking gardens surrounding the house. He was brilliant she said, but an emotional wreck who didn’t know anything about food storage or homesteading.
Later in the conversation, after a short respite from the topic of Colin when we spoke about recipes and the dogs we’d adopted, she told me that she was collecting the opioid, oxycontin. I spontaneously let out a short high laugh. My experience with the drug in the previous year after surgery for a broken elbow and healing broken shoulder had been painful and disorienting. I’d suffered nightmares from it and never wanted to take it again.
She fixed me hotly with a stare. I realized that she not only wanted to be with Colin and stockpile rice and beans and dried meat to live, but also narcotics to die. Especially when the oxygen was sucked out of the atmosphere by methane release from the Arctic, and the abrupt feedback loops from the environmental damage humans had caused took effect. She softened her gaze and offered to pick me up in her old Toyota on her way to the commune when the time came.
Seeing Tamara again I understood that living alone in a relationship with a man gone to a survivalist community, was most likely not what she had planned for. Nor the end of the world as she saw it coming. She told me she loved to walk but I imagined that walking in the mountains or on high desert trails or on Santa Fe’s city streets as a woman alone was not what she’d bargained for. I could understand because I too had experienced that clutch in the stomach living alone, walking alone.
However, even as she lived independent in her Santa Fe house with her aging tabby cat, there was a possibility somewhere of not being alone, of a man with resources, a man whose fear took a bigger form, of food stored and a gun ready, who lived buried in the ground with low narrow windows peering out at a dangerous world. And with her belief in imminent doom and long faith in her relationship she continued to bake perfect muffins, never forgetting Colin. Never forgetting that in death too, if she were lucky, she would not die alone. Never forgetting that when the time came she had enough oxycontin to share with him in a bunker on a high desert plain.