Long before the end of the world several prominent scientists had suggested ways in which the end might come; none of them had come anywhere near the truth. The end did not come when the asteroid destroyed half the earth’s atmosphere. When one third of the earth’s population died in a plague that no cure was ever found for the earth continued; re-population turned out to be the number one skill of humans. The greatest of wars in which all the weapons conceived by man took part did not bring an end; in fact the clean up of the planet made necessary by the contamination of the bombs lead to a period of great health throughout the surviving, prosperous, population. No, the end did not come with a great flash, there was nothing for the talking heads on the television sets to proclaim with great intensity, no film of women screaming or babies crying, no the end came on a peaceful quiet day. I remember the pale blue sky, just a few wisps of white cloud placed here and there for accent, and sweetness in the early morning breeze, the last morning was one of the best mornings the earth had ever produced. The end came from one small, seemingly insignificant, action, the action of one small insignificant man.
This man, the man who would eventually bring about the end of all humanity, was born to a simple man who was married to a simple woman living in a simple wood frame redwood sided home, next to simple wood frame redwood sided homes in a neighborhood of simple wood framed redwood sided homes. The homes were newly painted (having been newly built) in different colors so the inhabitants could tell which home was theirs without looking at the brass numbers on the posts next to each entryway. The father of the man who would bring about the end drove his new fifty-four Chevy Bel-Air power glide four door family car down the average street of track homes and turned up the driveway and parked in the carport of the fourth house on the left side, the chocolate brown one. The man had only recently become a father; he and his wife had waited until the promotion at work had come through. When the size of his monthly check increased they sat down together and made sure their extrapolated future would justify bringing another life into being. The numbers added up. A college education was all but assured. Their love was strong. Toby, a twenty-inch long, eight-pound baby boy was given the second bedroom of the two-bedroom house all to himself. At first he spent much of his time either within the barred walls of a wooden baby crib or in the arms of his mother Sally. Sally baby talked and rocked the small infant, encouraged him to coo and smile, when he giggled her whole world sparkled, when he cried her whole being was devoted to finding a cure. This afternoon he nestled in her arms sound asleep, Toby’s breathing was so relaxed Sally watched the rise and fall of his tiny chest to insure he still possessed the life he had recently been given.
Ralph, the man who had fathered the person who would one day bring an end to life as we know it, set the car door into place and walked on the four foot wide walkway to the front of the brown house, opened the unlocked solid wooden door and stepped through the doorway. “Honey, I’m home,” he shouted to the inside of his home. Toby did not wake but smiled in his sleep at the sound that had already become a familiar part of his day. Sally placed him into his crib and made sure his blanket was in the proper position. She closed the bedroom’s door almost all the way, leaving a four-inch gap between the door and the doorframe so Toby could be heard if he had a need.
Going to Ralph at the door Sally put her index finger to her lips and whispered, “he’s sleeping,” and then she stood on tip-toes and welcomed Ralph home with a kiss that was a good deal more then the minimum expected. Ralph held her at shoulder’s length and took a long look at his beautiful bride. Her blonde hair had been cut short after the birth of his son and covered her head with natural curls, her blue eyes sparkled, he sighed at his good fortune and, bending down, Ralph returned her kiss with another that was more than was the basic required kiss. Together they walked, hand in hand, to their new son’s bedroom and watched silently as the joy of their lives slept. Toby would grow up in a home filled with love. His care would be complete. He would not lack those things a young boy needed but he would not be raised without proper discipline; the boy who would one day bring about the end of all mankind would be taught right and wrong. As he grew he was often complimented on his good manners and the way he cared for others.
The first sign of trouble in Toby’s life came at the age of twelve. He was attending a very well respected middle school at the time. The school had all the extras needed to guide young minds. The school had a very successful athletics department, the football team not only possessed shiny new uniforms but almost every year won at least one playoff game. The school had an arts program that sent students traveling in buses all over the county and sometimes even to other parts of the state for special events. The school, and this was the part Toby enjoyed even though he did show some signs of trouble in his life, had a very adept chef and produced lunches that were as good as lunches anywhere, at least anywhere that had to present one thousand two hundred lunches to crazy children in less than twenty minutes. But with every advantage Toby still felt out of place attending this fine school. He complained to his parents once, during a slightly heated discussion with primarily his father, he was heard to remark, “I didn’t ask to be born.” Toby tried to share his problems with his friends at school, of which he had several, but they each felt their problems should be attended to and did not spend as much of their time felling sorry for Toby as he felt would be right. As luck would have it a couple of years passed and at the age of fourteen Toby decided maybe life was not so bad after all and he found a comfortable place in a very respectable high school not a long walk from his very respectable home.
High school presented another chance for failure. High school introduced Toby to women. Toby had always had good eyesight and the opposite sex had always been around but in high school Toby discovered they held an attraction he had not delved into before. Toby discovered women: when bumped up against not only did they not smell like boys, they did not feel like boys, or smile like boys, and they certainly did not giggle like boys. Toby discovered that his reaction to women was totally different than the way he reacted to others of his own sex, and he discovered he especially enjoyed the difference. Toby did not go mad with this new information. He did not become some sort of sex crazed manic. He took it in stride and in most cases he kept this new knowledge very much to himself. But there was one exception. The exception was named Jill. From the first time Toby saw Jill in the hallway having trouble with the combination to her book locker he knew she needed his attention. She was just a silly, giggly, girl. She looked a lot like Toby’s mother had at his age but Toby did not take the time to realize this, he did not think about much other then how pretty she was and about how her blue eyes sparkled when she laughed and about how much he would like to be near her. And so he waited for an opportunity, not like a lion waits for its prey, not with confidence and a well laid out plan. Toby waited for an opportunity to meet Jill with fear and insecurity.
After what seemed much longer than a few days he found his chance, “before you pull down the handle you need to jiggle it like this,” Toby jiggled the sliding latch on Jill’s locker and pulled it down, just like he had been doing with his own locker since the school year had begun.
Jill smiled at him and said, “Thanks.” Toby felt his heart melt. “You’re Toby. Right?” Toby’s throat went dry and he produced an expression on his face that Jill could not discern. “You’re in my Spanish class.”
“Oh,” it wasn’t much of a sentence but it did prove Toby was capable of speech.
“Thank you for your help. I will try that jiggle trick next time I need in my locker,” Jill said with another melt your heart smile.
“I could just wait here and help you,” said Toby, finding his words and even sounding a little smooth.
“Silly,” she giggled. And then the bell rang giving Toby one of the best ideas he had ever had.
“Could I walk with you to Spanish class?” he asked. It was his next class and she had just told him she was in it. He carried her books and they found they could talk to each other easily. It was almost a full week before they held hands and a few days after that before they shared a simple, quick kiss. He had no reason to create a plot to bring about the end of this world, but the first bits of an idea started to form in his young mind.
Schoolwork became a constant search for knowledge. Toby approached every subject with a strong desire to find out everything his teachers could tell him. Some of his teachers felt he demanded more of them than was proper but most were encouraged to have a student with such a strong desire to learn. When Toby entered college his need to know amplified and he plunged into any subject that professed a search for the unknown. Every major religion received his attentions. The sciences, both practical and theoretical, the mathematical or speculative captured hours of his daily life. He was respected both by his fellow students and his professors. But even with his devotion to these disciplines he found time for making friends and having fun. It became a daily concern of Toby’s to know why he had come in this existence, was he here for a reason or was he just here? He asked the question of everyone from the professor held in the highest esteem to the man on the corner with a sign that read will work for food. Many people had ready answers. Some were short and to the point. Some of the people he asked seemed very sure, without any doubt at all as to the reason for mankind. Others he asked gave long carefully thought out answers that led in circles and were the same as no answer at all. But Toby continued to search for the true meaning of life. While he searched he also found his one true love, married, had two beautiful children, provided his children with the best of educations, then spent years living in an almost empty house looking forward to visits by the grandchildren and then he stayed by his wife’s side as she quietly left this life, still in love with Toby as he was still in love with her.
Toby still had his books, he still had intelligent friends, he still watched the news for clues; it seemed impossible that in all of life he could not find the reason behind it. And then one night, while lying in a soft bed in the home of his eldest daughter’s house where he could get the additional care he needed during these days, he understood. The great grandchildren had come for a visit and he had tried to keep up with them. He had gone to bed feeling very tired and very content with the way his life had been spent. He closed his eyes and was very still. He could smell the smell of the clean sheet that he had pulled up around his chin. Then he knew. The reason for his existence was so simple he had almost missed it. He filled his lungs with the air he would need to call to his daughter and give her the news but the universe had been waiting for him to come to know the answer and now that he had it the universe no longer needed to be, and so it ceased to be.