Under the Black Blanket


My Chernobyl

Official Portrait of President Ronald Reagan

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Ma-Ma-Ma-My Chernobyl!

With apologies to The Knack, that's the song that's been going through my head ever since the night, about two weeks ago now, when a dinner guest informed me that the fumes emanating from the Japanese reactors are produced by some substance so deadly that "a golfball size chunk of it could wipe out the East Coast."

Is it true? Who knows?

But if and when invisible death starts falling on us, here, half  a world away from the source but under the same jet stream, I will mark the beginning of my own sickness to that moment, as a surge of panic ripped through my stomach.

Afterward, I couldn't eat for three days. I couldn't chew up my food, much less could I swallow it. My family and friends thought I was over-reacting, but I couldn't help it.I'm better now, but while thus afflicted, I tried to remember how I had survived the last big meltdown.

It was 1985. I was a 25-year-old nihilist marooned in Central Illinois, in my first job as a journalist, covering the shenanigans of the Illinois Statehouse.
I don't remember panicking at all.

What I do remember was that fallout billowing from the USSR just seemed like further confirmation of  the end of the world that I would surely witness during the era of doddering cowboy actor Ronald Reagan's hand on the red nuclear button.

Did fallout fall on me then? Who cared? I had a bad boyfriend and I smoked like a chimney and drank too much. And signs of the end were all around us.

One sultry afternoon that in my memory coincides with Chernobyl's meltdown,  I was lying in the sun alongside some dingy apartment I then rented, and thinking, the sun's rays seemed unusually hot, and the sky a sicklier yellow than was even normal in sickly summer Midwest. Suddenly, I heard a little thud and saw, not far from my head, a tiny dead squirrel fetus, and then another. And another. They were falling out of a nearby tree.

I'm not making this up.  Probably they just died of natural causes, or the squirrel mother was aborting for other good reasons (bad boyfriend, Ronnie, nihilism).

The same reasons I had not to bear children.
I went inside, sunburned, and tried to forget about it.

Twenty-five years on, Fukushima 1,2,3,4,5,and 6 terrify me.

Somewhere between Chernobyl and now, I cast off my nihilism, probably around the cradles of my children, my precious investment in the human race and the un-despoiled planet's future.

Sometime in the last 25 years, I succumbed to an illusion of safety that I now share with my fat and happy generation.

The "me" of half a lifetime ago would never believe it, but it was a lot easier to give up nihilism then, than it is to welcome it back now.

3 Comments | Leave a comment

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