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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Nuclear War

When I was in grade school--young; younger than 10 or 11--it would have been the Reagan era. The Cold War. Fear of nuclear destruction. I didn’t know the specifics of anything, just tail ends of overheard conversations between my parents and their friends about the dire state of the world.

That whole period of my life--what I only remember of it was a nagging, unknown, unarticulated fear. I didn't believe I'd live to be an adult.

--I knew the effects of nuclear war. I knew the story of Sadako and the thousand paper cranes. It wasn't a far reach for my imagination to picture myself running through the fields of a Hiroshima-like Kansas, damaged flesh peeling away in the wind. There was something brutal and poetic about the way the dry wheatfields around my house figured into the nightmare.--

The sky was yellow in the summer. While I knew the color actually heralded tornados, I still likened it to the end of the world. I would lay in the front yard looking up into the sky, absolutely terrified of its vastness and my tiny existence my comparison. I clutched at the grass, certain that gravity would suddenly not apply and the universe would pluck me off the dirt and suck me into the sky.

The cloudless sky would moan and wail back at me. Those ominous, animalistic noises . . . I have never been able to articulate them to others. The closest explanation would be to liken them to the whine of a far-off plane coursing across the sky. Yet the horizons were empty. But the sounds still echoed through my head.

And then, at times, only when I was still quite young, the planes would appear. Fighter planes, streaking across the prairie and somehow honing in above the only house on the section: ours. The moans of an empty sky would be rifted by shrieks as the planes narrowly avoided our chimney and the windows shook and cracked.

Each time, crouched on the floor, fingers in our ears, praying that this was not the one time they'd really drop the bomb.

Eventually, the planes stopped. And tornados were more frequent so the yellow sky became a harbinger only of a different type of destruction, one that--oddly enough--seemed far less immediate and dangerous.

And then I left Kansas, and the wails of the sky became planes instead of phantom shrieks. And the sky did not yellow as often.

But sometimes, the memories of despair can return in late summer, in the heat-soaked city, when it is too hot still to wrap my bare skin up in a semblance of protection against the softly menacing whispers.


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