Rather than go straight to the next passage after our last Storytime from Fait Accompli, I have opted to skip the horrific wrongness for now and instead show you the roughly technical explanation for what caused the Broken Generation to happen. In this excerpt, Claudia and her older brother Alex are meeting their younger brother, Sam and his new girlfriend, Katerina. She is all curious and full of questions.
Vocabulary recap: BG means Broken Generation. DO is Dual Opportunities, the meaning of which will be made clearer in the following passage.
On Tuesday evening, Alex arrived at Social Services as I got off work and I drove us to the neighborhood of our favorite bistro near Union Station.
“Now what’s this business about Moldovan dentistry?” I demanded after parking the car.
“The girl is here for dental school,” Alex answered with excessive relish. “Or maybe she’s finished dental school already and now she’s looking for a job, but anyway, she came here originally for dental school. And then not too long ago, she met Sam!”
“Lucky girl,” I remarked. “Now I take it Sam is confident enough in the relationship that he’s willing to risk bringing her in front of us?”
“He sure is! And you know what that means, Claudia?” he said in this ridiculously stern tone.
“Oh, get over yourself with that attitude,” I scoffed. “I promise not to terrorize the poor girl unless she’s really unsuitable.”
Alex stopped in his tracks and grabbed me by the upper arms, as if I couldn’t beat the shit out of him at a moment’s notice. “Do you want Sam to find love, or not?” he demanded.
“Of course I want him to find love! Like I said, unless she’s really unsuitable–”
“You will not be the one to decide if she is suitable,” he interrupted. “Only Sam can do that.”
“Sam is way too close to his own desperation to be an objective decision-maker,” I retorted. “And he can’t very well find love if this DO doesn’t appreciate him, and I understand the difference in ways that you don’t, so bite my ass.”
“Ways that I don’t? What exactly is that supposed to mean?”
“It means you’ve never gotten to know any women except me and Mom, so you probably don’t understand how we are not a representative sample, and you don’t really know what Sam is up against,” I explained. “Now why don’t you let go of me and let us meet our brother and his DO before I give you abnormal posture?”
Alex let go of me and we continued toward the bistro. “All I’m saying is, the purpose of this date is so the girl can meet Sam’s family, not so we can screen her.”
“I promise not to pass judgment until at least three meetings with her,” I offered.
“We’re right here!” a familiar voice called out to us as we passed the terrace.
“Yes, there you are!” I answered. There sat my little brother with a very pretty, delicate brunette at his side. She stood up and held out her hand to us.
“This is my sister Claudia,” he introduced, “and my brother Alex. This is Katerina.”
“It is good to meet you, Claudia,” she said upon shaking my hand, “and Alex.”
I snuck a peek at her feet under the table; stacked heels, about three inches. There were no gadgets displayed on the table; any electronics she carried were tucked sensibly into her bag, an admirably quirky felt messenger.
“So, Katerina, Sam tells me you’re from Moldova?” Alex began.
“Yes. I’ve been in America for five years now,” she said.
“And what are you up to these days?”
“I have school, and this spring I expect to graduate.”
“So, did you first come here, what, half-way through university?” I volunteered.
“Yes, and then I started dental school.”
“Your English is really good,” said Alex. It was true; her speech was heavily accented but perfectly clear and fluent, but that didn’t signify much.
“Thank you. Sam tells me you work in theater?”
“Yeah, I design sets for shows in the smallest playhouse you will probably ever see in America.”
Katerina laughed at that, not sure whether to see Alex’s description as pitiable or colorful. She looked to Sam, who smiled reassuringly.
“Claudia, Sam tells me you are a social worker?”
“That’s right. I provide counseling to victims of sexual violence.” Sam looked mildly chagrined at my answer. He could hardly blame me if hearing my job description around his girlfriend made him uncomfortable, but I didn’t really want to tell Katerina about my vocation, either. I was more interested in her clothes. Not that I ever claimed to be a fashion expert–I didn’t know Louis Vuitton from Louis Armstrong–but I was not above judging a woman by how she dressed. Katerina had outfitted herself in a colorful, lightweight blouse under a simple, coordinating blazer, with a knee-length cotton circle skirt. Her make-up was bright but not too heavy, her hair color was either natural or close to it. She was wearing peacock-feather earrings which were impractical but not dangerously so. “I really like your bag,” I said. “Where did you get it?”
“A friend made it for my birthday. Isn’t it pretty?” She showed me the other side of the bag.
“Your friend is talented,” I said. What I could see of her thus far was reassuring. She was neither trying too hard to look sexy in the way that many East European women were given to do, nor trying too hard to look American. It was the fashion sense of a woman who knew how she wanted to look and didn’t expect to blend in.
“Tell us where you two met, li’l bro,” Alex suggested.
“We went to the same Caribou for a while before I asked her out,” Sam answered.
“I came with my friends to study, and Sam came with his friends after work,” said Katerina.
“And it took a while before I could find her there when we were both alone.”
“But even then you did not talk to me right away,” Katerina teased.
“You seemed busy, and I was intimidated,” Sam defended himself.
“You were intimidated by what?”
“I don’t know, you just seemed out of my league.”
“But why would I be out of your league?”
Alex shot me this ridiculous smile, like everything in his life was exactly where he wanted it.
“Well, how has America been treating you?” I asked Katerina.
“Whoa, loaded question,” Alex piped up.
“You know it had to come up eventually,” I replied.
“It has been good to me,” she answered. “Though it is more comfortable now since I have a boyfriend.”
“Yeah, how so?” It was the counselor in me coming out. I already knew what she meant, but I wanted to hear it in her words.
“There are so many men who want to…” she gestured with her hands like I should know, “and there are still so many, but now I tell them I have someone already.” She gave Sam a lovely smile.
“We do have a lot of guys swarming around here,” I confirmed, “and at least half of them want women, and most of them aren’t nearly as cute as Sam, though I suppose I might be biased.” I reached out and tried to pinch his cheek, but he dodged.
“But I’m sure you knew about our Broken Generation before you immigrated, right?” asked Alex.
“Yes, of course I knew, and at home they are all very worried about what will happen to America as there are so many women not here.”
“And the answer is, we’re coping with it,” I said.
“Yeah, lots of people around the time we were born were afraid the country was about to collapse,” said Sam, “but we’re in really good shape now, all things considered.”
“Sure, we’re on top of it,” I agreed, “like, we’re bringing in girls like Kat, here.” Alex started jabbing my foot under the table, but I plowed on. “You’re here with Dual Opportunities, right?”
“Yes, of course.”
“And the government only put that together because of us BGs,” I continued regardless of my older brother’s dawning embarrassment. “Not that you wouldn’t have been allowed in here anyway, but the State Department would have driven you crazy in the process.”
“Yes, I know it is very difficult for other people to immigrate,” said Katerina.
“So, I sure hope this country’s been good to you,” I said, “because let’s face it, they’re really hoping you’ll stick around.”
“Sam, about how long have you two been seeing each other?” Alex interrupted.
“About four months now,” said Sam.
“Are you saying, Claudia,” Katerina broke in again, “that there are some immigrants that America does not want to stay for very long?”
“Sure. Lots of folks come here and they work for…a while, and we appreciate their labor for however much time that is, but the government doesn’t want a lot more old people to support, so it doesn’t mind when some folks go back home. You, they don’t want to go back home.”
“I know, they are hoping I will marry and raise a family here.”
“They can’t make you do anything except follow our laws,” Alex pointed out, “and Claudia, what are you–”
“Kat and I are having a conversation,” I cut him off. “They’re hoping, at the very least,” I continued to her, “that you’ll leave some kids here who grow up to pay American taxes, though of course it’s preferable if you stay long enough to raise them.”
“Excuse my sister,” Sam put in, “she forgot her meds.”
“And you just love your little joke,” I retorted with a ruffle of his hair. “Seriously, Kat, if you get any of these damn Extras stalking you, I will point you to the resources to help you deal with them. And I know what I’m on about there, right, bros?”
“She acts like this with everyone,” Alex said to Katerina, “in case you’re wondering.”
“Am I allowed to ask,” she began, “why you have a Broken Generation here?”
“Change of subject, yay!” Alex rejoiced.
“You mean, what made our birthrates skew so badly?” said Sam.
“Yes, that is what I mean.”
“Shit, I assumed everyone the world over knew that,” I said.
“Where I am from, we are confused about what happened,” Katerina explained.
“I can’t say that’s surprising,” I said, “seeing as we don’t tell the story so well, either.”
“First there was a geo-engineering project,” Sam offered. “It was supposed to stop global warming by sending some chemicals into the atmosphere, which would react with the carbon dioxide already there and make it fall to the ground.”
“Yeah, and these chemicals, whose name nobody ever learned to pronounce,” I said, “were supposed to be the magic bullet that would fix everything we’d done up to that point to fill the sky with crud. If only the government had chosen a different method of delivery, it probably would’ve worked out just dandily.”
“The climate scientists did all sorts of experiments with the chemicals, and they looked really good,” said Alex. “They would not acidify the oceans or affect the growth of marine life in any way. They just passed harmlessly through the digestive tract of any animal that swallowed them. They didn’t muck up the soil, either.”
“That was the delivery system the geniuses in Congress chose,” said Sam, “was to put the chemicals in the water supply, and when farmers irrigated their crops, the chemicals would evaporate off the ground along with the water and end up in the sky with all the greenhouse gases.”
“And it was a good plan,” I said, “and the geo-engineering stuff did indeed evaporate off and neutralize greenhouse gases, except there was always a little bit of it that stayed in the soil.”
“Over several years, it built up in the soil and it got to a quantity where it got into the crops we were growing,” Sam explained.
“And that’s where it starts getting interesting,” said Alex.
“When the chemicals got into the crops.” I said, “they reacted with other compounds in the plants, and they formed new compounds, which did not pass harmlessly through the digestive system of any animal that ingested them. But even that much wasn’t a problem yet.”
“So when Americans ate foods made from those crops, the new chemicals built up in their bodies,” said Alex, “but even that much wasn’t the problem by itself.
“See, the chemicals in the plants reacted with the preservatives in the food, once we digested it,” I explained, “and that stuff built up in people’s bodies for several years, and then it started causing problems.”
“And it didn’t have any noticeable effects in anyone except for pregnant women,” Alex concluded.
“Just the ones carrying female fetuses,” Sam clarified.
“Right, and the effect was that it caused most of the female fetuses to spontaneously abort,” I said, “which didn’t really register until a lot of L&D nurses noticed most of the babies in their nurseries were boys.”
“But how did that chemical kill the girl babies?” asked Katerina.
“We’re sort of confused about that, too,” Sam replied, “but I think the embryologists at the time found that the third-stage compounds attacked the female fetuses when the sex-differentiating hormones started flowing.”
“Androgens, fine. Estrogens, that baby’s toast,” Alex pronounced.
“Then how did some of the girl babies survive?”
That one caught us all off-guard. “Nobody ever really explained that part,” I answered. “All the scientists researching the matter were more concerned about the girls that were miscarried than the ones who weren’t,” Sam recalled.
“When the grown-ups notice that only 12% of the new babies are girls, that tends to monopolize their attention,” Alex pointed out.
“But by the time the Broken Generation started appearing,” I said, “the geo-engineering project had been going on for years, and no one really knew what was going on.”
“Is that why it took so long before the girls stopped dying?” asked Katerina.
“That was part of it,” I answered.
“There were several competing theories,” said Alex. “The usual suspects said it was God’s way of punishing America for too many abortions, or maybe it was because we were too accepting of the gays.”
“Which turned out to be really funny, given how many BG men are gay,” Sam pointed out.
“Woo-hoo!” Alex hooted with a little fist pump in the air.
“Right, and some eco-warriors guessed right at the beginning,” I began, “but they were no more coherent than the eco-warriors who said it was because of new formulations in birth control pills, so most of the country didn’t listen to them.”
“Or maybe it was new antibiotics given to livestock,” Sam recalled.
“Or you had the anti-eco-warriors who said this was what happened for eating too much organic food,” said Alex. “They turned out to be wrong!”
“I think there were some woo-mongering Fifth Wave feminists who said expectant mothers subconsciously wanted to lose their daughters because the culture devalued femininity,” I said. “And that would have explained why there were still some baby girls who came out okay, but they were wrong!”
“Anyway,” Sam brought us back, “it took several years of a bunch of caffeine-addled biologists driving themselves to alcoholism to reverse-engineer the origin of the problem back to the shit the government was pumping into the water supply.”
“And once the verdict was in, sure, the government halted the geo-engineering project,” said Alex, “but even then, it took a while before the original chemicals were worked out of the water supply.”
“Then we had to wait several years for the chemicals to dissipate out of the soil,” said Sam.
“Then it was some more years before the third-stage compounds dissipated out of everyone’s bodies,” said Alex.
“So all in all,” I concluded, “our country had eighteen years of fucked-up birthrates before we got back to the normal ratio.”
“My siblings and I were born right in the middle of that period,” Sam told Katerina.
“Roughly the middle,” I agreed. It was more that Sam was dead middle and Alex and I were late in the first half. “So we were just kids when the oldest BGs reached voting age, and then it really got interesting, remember that, bros?”
“Those guys were pissed,” Alex recalled. “It’s like they overthrew the old two-party system with the force of their rage.”
“From what I recall, that’s pretty much what happened,” I said. I was just about to point out that the girls were also pissed as hell, but then the waiter–finally–deigned to appear at our table.
Katerina inquired midway through our entrees, “Just how many of the BG men are gay?”
“At last Census, we were split right around half and half,” said Alex.
“It’s not an either/or proposition, though,” Sam pointed out.
“Well, there were around 48% of men of our generation who marked that they want what their grandparents say they should, and another 48% or thereabouts want what’s in front of them, and about 4%-ish say they’ll take whatever they can get,” Alex explained.
“That’s one way to parse it,” I remarked.
“I’m surprised there aren’t more bisexuals,” Sam put in.
“Well, there probably are more, technically, but they don’t like to label themselves as such,” I suggested, “because they have so many people telling them they’re just using men to fill in for women.”
“It’s a distinct possibility, Claudia,” Alex replied, “and I argue along with you, the stigma is unhelpful, but those are the numbers we have.”
“So, as you can see, Kat,” I pronounced, “our family ended up with the perfect BG picture. One daughter between two sons, Alex swings one way, Sam goes the other.”
“What about you, then, Claudia?” she asked. “Which way do you swing?”
I gaped at her for a second and then burst out laughing. “Hello, I’m a BG female! It doesn’t matter which way I swing! They don’t even count our answers to that question on the Census. When they report the Census results, there are no data available for sexual orientation in women between certain ages. Just as long as we don’t get our pussies sewn shut, they figure we’re swinging appropriately.”
By this point, my brothers were staring at me in open-mouthed uneasiness, but Katerina seemed perfectly satisfied with my answer. “That is a good point.”