My Apocalyptic Journey

By Zoe Sorenson


Watching dystopian movies as a kid, I never really worried about what would happen if my family were separated in the event of an apocalypse—it wasn’t necessary. Let’s be real, I’m from a well-off, white Australian family from the suburbs of Melbourne. I was reasonably confident we would stick together regardless of the hypothetical disaster, considering that we lived together, and school, work, and home were all in close proximity.

Then, my dad moved to the US for a job in 2015, and my sister and I followed him the next year to study abroad for twelve months. Logically, I knew that with social media and video calls I would still be able to contact my mum and my brother back in Australia, and there were plans for the five of us to travel between the two countries in varying combinations. Nonetheless, I was fifteen years old and irrationally paranoid that now we were scattered across the globe, this would be when every dystopian cliché would come to life. I imagined I would be left stranded and alone, unable to visit my family, call them, or even know if they were alive as a zombie-horde-meets-alien-invasion-meets-natural-disaster apocalypse ravaged the world. Fun thoughts to have when moving to another country for the first time!

Fortunately, I didn’t experience anything like this while my family was residing in America. Dad finished his contract and came home at the end of 2019, and all of us were living together once again. Even while we were apart, this fear could mostly be ignored and eventually forgotten. It turns out that, in reality, the main difficulty in contacting my loved ones was the difference in time zones rather than worldwide communications going down. Just when you’d figured out the right number of hours, you’d find out you’d reversed the direction and added time when you were meant to subtract it. Good thing there was a bit of leeway. With a reasonable window of about eight hours to chat across the Pacific from Victoria to California, depending on daylight savings, the hardest part beyond the maths was having the patience to wait for people to wake up. As a workaround, we set up “SoGlo”, the global Sorensons’ Facebook group to keep everyone in the loop about the incredible, and incredibly mundane, comings and goings of our lives. It was almost like a collective travel blog except we were living there at the same time. To be fair, our time overseas could be seen as just an extended holiday, combined with some studying and work.

Until travelling to the US, I’d stayed in the same house with the same people my whole life. Moving for just the one year, then, was an odd experience for me. I was aware that my living situation was temporary, so it always remained a little bit novel, never quite ‘home’—this title was reserved for our house in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne.

My sister and I lived with our dad in his Californian apartment for America’s school year of 2016—2017, where I was a ‘junior’ and she a ‘freshman’. Mum joined us after New Year’s for the latter six months, and our brother popped in for a two-week holiday in February. This original apartment only lasted a couple of months before the hiked-up costs of living in Silicon Valley forced us to find a smaller, cheaper place. I went from never having moved, to doing it twice in as many months. Both apartment complexes had a pool and a gym in common, seeming similar to the motels I’d stayed in for family trips, rather than the suburban housing I associated with homes. This comparison was only emphasised whenever we returned specifically for short vacations.

Despite the strangeness of living somewhere I was also visiting; it definitely had its perks! Before this, I’d only gotten as far south as Tasmania and as north as the border of New South Wales, so I’d always wanted to travel outside the country just to go somewhere. Anxieties about potential apocalypses didn’t even cross my mind amid all my excitement. Now that I’d made it, I was able to see what had only ever abstractly existed to me in movies, like Disneyland and Los Angeles, but also ordinary things like squirrels, fire hydrants, and yellow school buses. In the time that we had between Dad’s work and our studying, we managed to pack in so many experiences, from riding our bikes over the Golden Gate Bridge on Christmas Day, to seeing snow for the first time at Yosemite National Park in the spring. Ticket stubs, wristbands, and nametags that have lost their stickiness fill a box in my cupboard as tangible memories of the last few years.

Honestly, once that plane had landed at San Francisco Airport (without crashing), I didn’t really have the time, nor the emotional capacity to spare, for dreading the days following Doomsday. I could, however, worry about the possibilities of gun violence and the fact that earthquakes were apparently a thing in California. It’s eye-opening to realise that, until now, I’d been lucky enough that I’d only had to find things to fear from fiction, whereas other families had faced the very real threat of their own personal apocalypses. Especially right now.

Just as all the Sorensons had reunited in Melbourne, the next month, January 2020, I headed to England on exchange for a semester of uni. Unlike my last international move, I had no parents, no siblings, no family with me at all—just a few acquaintances who were doing the same exchange with me (and, thankfully, became fully-fledged friends by the end of our first week together). This was a lot more nerve-wracking because this time everything came down to me.

The night I arrived—following over twenty-four hours of travel, mind you—I checked the time as I was going to bed and immediately burst into inconsolable sobs. I was distraught by the thought that I wouldn’t be able to tell my mum about my day like I normally could. I was relieved to discover that this was totally unfounded, despite the eleven-hour time-difference, we still had the chance to catch up each day during Birmingham’s morning and Melbourne’s evening. For all my previous paranoia over separation, that first night in England was the closest I’d ever been to homesick.

My ‘semester’ of exchange (originally planned to be six months of European travel before it was cut short mid-March) felt just as surreal as staying in America had—it wasn’t really my uni I was attending, this wasn’t my home. Stranger still, I had roommates! I was living out the college experience of every Hollywood movie ever, shifted slightly to the right. My friends and I shared the milk in the fridge and watched Disney movies on the TV; we went grocery shopping every Sunday and saw tourist attractions every Saturday. It quickly became the new normal.

Over the course of the two months I was there, COVID-19 started to pick up, which slowly then very, very quickly became a global disaster. I hadn’t been reminded of my imagined dystopias in years—I had never considered a regular pandemic before—but airlines cancelling flights and movements being restricted was definitely a wake-up call to the end of the world. If I got stuck in England, I’d be stranded on my own.

Thankfully, I was lucky and it didn’t personally play out quite like any of my disaster scenarios—I could still talk to my family, and I was able to fly back pretty quickly once the government sent out the travel warning that essentially boiled down to RETURN HOME IMMEDIATELY. All the same, the situation brought me right back to when I was fifteen and the concern I felt when first contemplating the implications of my family splitting up across the world.

Years ago, I used to be worried about my family’s separation during a disaster. It’s ironic, then, that this pandemic brought us all together under the one roof for the longest period of time in half a decade. I know that not everyone is fortunate enough to be in the same position as I, but speaking on behalf on my family, I can reassure my fifteen-year-old self that we’re surviving our own version of a dystopia, and I’m not doing it on my own.