I continue to be amazed (should I be?) by the diversity of reactions to American streets in turmoil since the death of George Floyd and others. Anger, fear, hope, despair, resignation, inspiration. Faith in our future battling nihilism. All of us at A Word with You Press believe catharsis cannot occur until the full spectrum of emotions are bled into the open. We see the disruption in our streets as painful though necessary national therapy. Healing is not an event; it is a process. Our invitation to submit your stories for our anthology: Essential Americans: the Stories that can no longer be Ignored is your opportunity to be part of that endeavor. Many of you who read this never took part of the drill in your elementary school to curl up in a ball under your desk, and whatever you do, don’t look at the yellow ball lighting up the sky outside the window. But I remember…so does Wendy Joseph.
by Wendy Joseph
I could see it coming, a roil of horrible flame far down the street, so far away it looked small, but it grew like those spongy things you get in a little plastic capsule and add water to, and then they burst out into a seahorse or a mushroom or Santa Claus; it got big the way the moon suddenly gets big when you look at it through a telescope, and that is scary, the moon suddenly the size of a baseball instead of a dime, so huge, so different, so threatening. The heat scorched worse than opening the oven at 500 degrees, hotter than sitting too close to the fireplace or the Fourth of July bonfire, hot enough to roast cats alive and vaporize mice. I held my schoolbooks to my chest and put my head on them.
The images of bomb victims were x-rayed into the pavement at Hiroshima. I wondered how big mine would be, if there would be anything left to image. I was under four feet and scrawny. And the whole world was going up in flames, not just my street; a giant purple-white bubble flashed above the roof across from us, melting our trees, and behind it were more, and something else shrieking from the other direction, metal when it rips and screams and twists like tinfoil, more flames, the weird kind, and a roar that took my eardrums out, beyond which was silence and that was worse, not hearing anyone scream, not knowing half the destruction but knowing it all the same. And there was nothing you could do about it.
Fear fastened itself high inside my ribs, trying to get out, and didn’t go away. I woke up, had breakfast, and went to school in near shell shock. It is difficult to describe a state of living terror. Nobody knew when the first bomb would fall. And nobody knew where. Daddy drove his truck to work and back with a grim, set face. Mom hunched in a chair, another cigarette lit before the first one was done. Dinners were silent, the TV always on.
Instructions came from the authorities that everyone needed to bring home a two week supply of food, canned and dry goods preferred, plus plenty of water. My folks brought home eleven bags of groceries. We had a Sparkletts dispenser stand, so the bottles were pretty big. Nobody said anything about radiation poisoning the food. Maybe shoving it deep into the back of the cupboards would help. They got shoved so far back they disappeared, and we were digging out cans of corn five years later.
Was it a bunch of madmen who had done this? No. It was the adults, our leaders. The responsible adults were getting ready to blow up the world. There would be nothing left but waste and bleakness and misery. I didn’t want any part of responsible adulthood. Join them? What for?
Adulthood is a myth. Nobody ever really grows up. They want to have the biggest pile of toys in the sandbox, and throw everybody else out of their part of the box. Adults, the big people, only pretended to be confident, civilized and wise. Underneath they were all greedy little kids throwing tantrums, wanting to get their own way, and pushing other people around, being mean all the time.
Our government has suffered too long under a delusional madman who evilly and disgustingly embodies the above, encourages racism, and has made efficient use of Hitler’s propaganda minister Josef Goebbels’ favorite tool, The Big Lie. Minorities have been treated as badly or worse than Blacks were under the Jim Crow laws. Irresponsibility can have far reaching effects, comparable to long term radiation poisoning. Not all bombs are nuclear.
But there are a few responsible adults. If it hadn’t been for President Kennedy’s blockade of Cuba and Khrushchev blinking, the missiles would have flown in October of 1962 and most of us would not be here. Of the survivors, the whites would have had access to the best medical treatment, and the hit minorities took would have decimated and marginalized them even more.
I want to see us rebound today. I want to see the white supremacists prosecuted, Blacks given justice, and the disgrace in the White House in an orange jump suit. I want to see some decent human beings, some real adults, end others’ derision of us and recover the world’s respect for America.
But as a kid, I never wanted to be an adult, and I never trusted them again.
I kept seeing everything blowing up.