Massachusetts 2011: The Abstract State

by Jessanne Collins

I can’t think of a better place to spend the apocalypse than Massachusetts, where the air is tinged with woodsmoke, survivalism, and the sneaking suspicion that, whatever it is we’ve got coming, we probably deserve it. This is what I remember from last time, anyway. It was this time of year in 1999, and we were holed up in one of those punk-cum-frat houses out by the railroad tracks, stocked with bottled water, vintage Metallica bootlegs and André. On New Year’s Eve there was a bonfire. At midnight, when the lights didn’t go out, we burned broken furniture and cardboard boxes, so it would at least feel like the end was near.

Carefully considered symbolic acts like these are common in Massachusetts, which should also explain why the only pact I’ve made in my adult life was rendered there. This was a few years later, 2003 or so, a time that felt so much like the future it was hard to imagine the future. In keeping with local (read: khaki) custom, this pact erred on the side of casual. No blood was drawn. It wasn’t even a secret. In fact, in the intervening years I’ve referenced it frequently, when cocktail conversation with an acquaintance old or new revealed a kindred nostalgia. “Listen,” I’d say, with the conspiratorial tone demanded of even the least cinematic pact. “There’s this thing you might be interested in. It’s called Massachusetts 2011.”

There’s no irony or complexity to Massachusetts 2011, probably because there’s not a whole lot of irony or complexity to Massachusetts, period. It was a sort of commonly stated intention, forged individually with several disparate friends, who in turn forged a similar one with some of their own disparate friends. We all loved Massachusetts. Not enough to stay, but enough to feel homesick for it when we left. Enough to design to return to, after we had attempted New York City, dallied about the West Coast, dissertated across the Midwest. We’d give ourselves the better part of a decade to drink and date and do whatever it was one does to pass the days. And then in 2011, we’d come home and pick up where we left off.

Never mind that where we left off was a place of Budweiser and bookstore-clerking, confusion and crushing possibility, a place that would feel cartoonishly distant sooner rather than later. We didn’t know how real life, abhorring geometry, prefers the form of a textbook molecule with its awkward antennas. It seemed reasonable to surmise that by 2011, a date chosen mostly for how far off it felt (that outlandish double digit!), having outgrown our disdain for subpar public transportation and charmless bro bars, we’d be world-weary and ready to rest, like dust in a drafty triple-decker.

Upon leaving New England I learned just how New Englandy I was: kinda frosty, puritanical about painkillers. But when I started thawing out, over New York City’s proverbial overactive steam radiator, I became prone to striving and spinning and other things that used to seem indulgent and alpha and strange. So that’s where I’m at and, for the forseeable future, where I’m staying. Which is to say that — whatever else it will be — 2011 will be the year I break the only pact I’ve ever made.

It won’t matter. Everyone else, ensconced and in love everywhere else, will break it too. So, [insert German word that connotes nostalgia for something that hasn’t happened and may not ever]. There’s that. But there’s also this: my newfound devotion to the metaphysics of Massachusetts 2011. At some point, probably on a pensive drive on the Mass Pike, I figured out that my Bay State is mostly an ethos, and a glossy one at that. You may have already started to suspect as much. In my head, Massachusetts is a place of earnest industry and thoughtful gestures, like a mixtape with a liberalish government and a rustic seashore. And pond hockey!

The less likely it becomes that I’ll go back in body, the more I attempt, to varying degrees of success, to live like I already have. Here is what life in “Massachusetts,” the abstract state, entails. Cooking dinner. Tending potted herbs. Reading Russian novels. Knitting wool sweaters. Making art out of last week’s magazines. Rearing rescued kittens. Conversing enthusiastically about important ideas. Weathering winter, even if it means saran-wrapping the windows. Wearing sensible shoes. Proposing a toast to the end of the world.

Jessanne Collins does in general however keep all her other agreements.