Once upon a time, a long time ago, in a land far, far away… That’s how these things are supposed to start, right? Well, this one actually began a long time ago. For me. Perspective and all, right? I was just a young kid when this all started, so it seems like it was fuckin’ forever ago for me. I was just a kid so I didn’t get it then like I suppose I do now – but then again, no one ever really gets it, right? All we do is see what we think we see and know what we think we know. Deep, right? So here it goes.
It was a long time ago. 46 years ago, I think. I was wanderin’ around the neighborhood and whatnot – doin’ kid stuff, right? And then, BOOM, next thing I know I’m on the ground. Some old sod is on top of me and he’s weighing me down so I can barely breathe. My ears are ringin’ somethin’ fierce; this high-pitched bell and my heart is all I can hear. I guess I was trying to push the guy off me, he turned to me and yelled at me to calm down. I wanted to hit the guy, I’ve never liked people getting mouthy with me – although that’s another story, ain’t it? So, instead of trying to pop him one – which would’ve been a dumb thing for a kid to do – I just settle and started to look around. Mr. McKree’s house was gone. There was just smoke and dust and fire and nothing where it had been a minute before. All the crap in the air stung my eyes. I had to blink a whole lot, I didn’t want the guy who had jumped on top of me to think I was crying. God, the smell was even worse. Like someone had struck a million matches while cleaning rotten stuff out of their fridge. I gagged and choked a little. The guy holding me down told me to put my shirt over my mouth and cover my eyes.
The ringing started to go away and I could hear things again. I didn’t want to hear these things, though – kids crying, some woman screaming, people running and shouting. The guy who was guarding me pulled me up and grabbed me by the collar. I guess I didn’t hear him the first time he asked me something because he started to shake me and get angry.
“Dammit, kid, do you have a basement or cellar at home?”
“Yeah,” I coughed.
“Then run home and get everyone down there. Clear?”
I wanted to add “asshole” but I didn’t. I just ran the two blocks home. Mom and grandma were in the sitting room. Grandpa was on the back porch smoking his pipe. I ran through the house, ignoring my mom and ran straight to grandpa. I told him in that we were in danger, we had to get in the storm cellar. He took a long draw from his pipe and kept his eyes on the horizon.
“Strange times.” He said softly. He was never one to rush his words, no matter the urgency. “Strange, evil times.” Slowly his gaze moved to me. “Go tell your mother and grandmother to get to the cellar. I’ll be there when I’ve finished here.” I wanted to argue with him, but nobody argued with the man except grandma. I ran back in the house and told the other two what grandpa had said and what I had seen. They checked me for bruises and scrapes, even though I kept yelling that I was fine and we had to run. Finally they listened to me and we went downstairs and waited. Mom worried out loud; who could be bombing us, are we being invaded, all the stuff. Grandma was calm, like grandpa. She just got comfortable sitting on the pile of blankets we had set aside to donate to the needy. Her face was calm, she just looked from mom to me to the door. Mom to me to the door. It felt like hours had passed before grandpa came through the door at the top of the stairs. He looked at his wife; she gave him a little smile and a little nod. He looked at me and I tried to mimic the cool acknowledgement – he smiled at that. I think he liked it. Then he looked at my mom. She was pacing and still quietly questioning the doom of our little world. His smile shrunk and he casually made his way down the stairs. When he went down the stairs he kept one hand barely above the banister, not touching it – almost like he was saying “I don’t need any help, but if I fall…”
You know, he was graceful for a tall man. He was four inches above me as I am now. For a tall guy he was smooth. He didn’t lumber around or lurch with his shoulders, he didn’t march, he didn’t stomp. He walked evenly. Aside from the smell of the pipe, that’s what I remember the most about him; that walk. Almost like the earth would form to meet his feet instead of letting him come down on it. I’m sure everyone says this, but I fuckin’ miss my grandpa. I’m glad he didn’t have to see what I turned into, but I miss him. I hated losing the rest of my family, but I miss him the most. We weren’t closer than I was with anyone else – but maybe it’s just me.
It was eight months and three days before the second bomb fell. It gave everyone – even mom – time to calm down, to worry but only hypothetically. The houses were rebuilt, except Mr. McKree’s. That was alright, they built a fence around his lot and we all told ghost stories about it. Parents started using the bomb as a way to threaten their children; “You tell me the truth or I’ll have them bomb your room next time!” I didn’t like talking about it. I wasn’t scared, I was just uncomfortable with it – ya know? Another thing, I never saw that guy again, the one who hopped on my back after the first bomb dropped. I dreamed about him sometimes, but I never saw him for real again.
I guess grandpa thought somethin’ changed. Instead of calling me “Buddy” like he used to – he started calling me “Little Man” or “Capt’n.” I liked that. Made me feel like a grown-up and such. For months Mom and Dad had us run drills to get to the cellar. Middle of the night, middle of the day, didn’t matter – we had to get to the cellar. They even started keepin’ canned foods down there. Mom made preserves and stored them. She even hid them in case we had people break in to the house and ransack the place. Dad was actually home more – and when he went out he would tell us that if he wasn’t back by twenty-two past the hour he wasn’t coming at all. He was sober when he said it, so we all believed it. He would stay sober until he got home, after eating dinner and not speaking a word. Only then would he fill his glass and talk in whispers to Grandpa. Dad was a worrier, Grandpa was not. Neither was Grandma. I think that’s why they had happy lives and Dad died miserable. But that was long after the second bomb dropped.
That’s how it all started. I was there, I saw it. I had the ringin’ in my ears and the bruisin’ on my body – that’s how fuckin’ close I was, see? But I guess it doesn’t matter anymore – it happened, and it started, and it’s not even close to being over. I had nothing’ to do with what happened, really. I was just there when that first bomb dropped. It wasn’t the worst of it, and it wasn’t the most damage or casualty that we suffered. It was just the first bomb. And I was there for that.