Coordinates : Grizzly Peak Make Out Spot, Listening : to David Bowie Alone With Soup Cooking on The Stove Watching : Tourists take selfies with San Francisco illuminated in a golden circle behind. Golden light raining down on a city of movement and future.
There was a girl who had a button to turn all the lights off. She lived a ceramic bowl about twenty yards from the South Berkeley Border and as a child she would turn streetlights off from her bedroom window. She liked to watch the lights fade out in patterns down her street, pressing the button at different directions and velocities she could could darken an entire neighborhood.
She was scared of making it completely dark. It seemed permanent - so she would keep swaths of Oakland alit, triangles of light. She would turn off the Lake Merritt strung pearls, and then the Oakland port, never at the same time.
She sometimes thought about the people in her darkness: warm black refrigerators, medical machines deflating, bedside table lamps, the cold.
She started to climb to the ridgeline above the East Bay, covered in Eukalyptus oils. She would lean towards the lights, dangling her button over the cliff towards the city.
Everyday she would walk to the top of the ridge and decide whether to turn it all off. Everyday she came back down – into the light – past the bright white Claremont hotel, along the curbs. Walking home with the button between her fingers.
She couldn’t decide if she hated it all. The liquor stores and bagel shops, the sulphur orange lights, the parking lots with new cars, the warmly lit homes, the container ships collecting in the bay, the steady pulse of cars across the Bay Bridge.
She couldn’t tell if it was healthy. She imagined a dark black ink bay– and the stars! All the hard work of a century slamming to a halt in darkness.
Wouldn’t it feel so good to experience magic in her lifetime – like an earthquake or firestorm, but completely unexplainable. Outside of science. Outside of concrete. Outside of employment. She thought about whether people really liked this. Whether if we all stood from a ridge above the San Francisco Bay Area we agree in unison, marvel with the car lots, and scrapers, and billboards, the movement and twinkle of people traveling home across the water. Would everyone take a picture in front of the lights or just the tourists?
She thought about what people would do in the dark. Would they keep trying to turn their phones on for hours. Would they gather in the streets with candles. Would they be scared?
She wondered if she had a responsibility to anyone? Anything? She thought about how her generation was going to be the one to change it all – stop the environmental degradation and inequity in the world. She considered solving climate change – how did it measure up, what part of her family would be greatful? What part of the world would cheer?
She realized she was saddened by it all – by this great responsibility and privilege she held in her hand. She couldn’t figure out how to be in the world without doing what she wanted. How could she know anything else?
She wondered how much worse it would have to get – how much taller the lights would have to rise – into the clouds – beneath the bay – glowing, How many more people would be in the city then? In the world? She wondered about people who had finally found a place to live – who could finally afford heating. Would she turn their lights off.
Every day she would lean towards a neighborhood. She tried to pick the ones with the big lights - the most industry. She would lean and aim and never shoot. Maybe I’ll press the button right before I die and not have to know the rest of the story. But she was old enough to know that death was difficult to predict. She thought about killing herself. She thought about pressing the button and killing herself. Like a flash. Like an explosive ending. Like a fly exploding the bulb of a hot lamp.
Eventually she stopped leaning towards the lights on her ridge. She would visit the ridge when she was nervous or frustrated with the world – sometimes she didn’t even bring the button, left at home in a box.
She can’t remember saying she wanted children, but she had them. And they were entertained and fattened on the lights. First squares of light and rectangles of light – held to the face – then glasses and helmets – then chips and codex.
She heard herself worried for the world, complaining about our creations, complaining about the loss of things. She was sure her children could fix it – they cared – they could write a new narrative, start a new story. She felt herself passing a weight – passing it to the innocence of her children, wrapping it in hope and encouragement and passing it them during dinner. Before school. Before bed.
In the decades before her death she felt age and death mixing in her skin. She felt more pain. She watched the world lighten – light harvested and reflected and for anyone. Limitless, weightless, gold arcs of light in every direction, in any eye. A great quiet – A great hum – A great Calm. Reached collectively – beaming – perfect.
She started to move her bones. Pulled on her shoes. She walked towards the ridge in the blinding light. Seeing nothing. Using her hands to feel the stones, and dirt and rubble. She was 80 years old. She brought the button. Beams of light knocked her down to her feet as she climbed the hill, ripping off her folded skin. Winds of light stood up all the hair on her body.
She leaned from the top of the ridge towards the light that blinded her. Pillars, columns, spheres of light filling the sky.
She thought she believed in change. She believed in new beginnings, she believed in the earth, she believed in humans. Leaning farther out from the edge of the cliff, button in hand, poised.
She thought about her children - surrounded by the light - living in it - off it.
The button was heavy and round. She wondered if it would still work.
And now she felt the the full power of her opportunity. A giant eraser. A many armed shiva leaning towards progress and hope and story. She felt the creativity in darkness, in halting, in option. She felt the freedom in pacing and fear. She let the button’s weight pull her down from the ridge. Falling towards the flats - towards the old Bay marshes - into the the creeks and redwoods. She extended her arm towards San Francisco and pressed the button and the stars exploded into the sky, she pressed the button for Oakland and columns of light darkened, she pressed the button as she fell and when she hit the ground she pointed it towards the heavens and pressed it again - everything dark. Even the stars.