Editor’s Note: The following story is an excerpt from the novel, The Men of Honor of Unity House, and is based upon my experiences working with foster kids.
Day One, 9:58 a.m.
First came The Flash, a luminous glow so powerful it filled Unity’s staff lounge like the arrival of an ascended master. So strong it penetrated everywhere without shadows and lasted long enough for me to pause and wonder: Where the hell is that light coming from? A short circuit in the ceiling lights or the coffee maker that I just switched on? Two seconds later I knew.
The explosion rocked everything. First the walls bulged and the floor skipped, throwing me against a chair and then to the floor. A second later a roar bigger than a hurricane tore past the building, so loud it hurt my ear drums worse than my nieces’ screams at Britney Spears’ concert.
My first thought was, well, I didn’t have one. It was all too big, too loud and too not right. I clamped the palms of my hands hard over my ears to block the noise and opened and closed my mouth to see if I could neutralize the pressure on my ear drums. I was unsuccessful, but gradually the shriek of 300-mph wind subsided and my brain began asking questions.
Is this an earthquake? Or another tornado, like the one in ’53 that blew away my aunt and uncle’s house in Shrewsbury?
I steadied myself against the chair and tilted my head to see if anything was about to fall on top of me. Everything looked okay, so I pulled myself up.
My brain analyzed again. Did one of my guys blow something up? One of the staff’s cars? Mine? The month before, one of our residents had slashed his social worker’s tires. Oh, he’s back in juvy and…this feels bigger… I breathed a split second of relief knowing I didn’t have to write a treatment plan that included behavioral consequences for car bombing.
Terry, the Program Director of Unity House, the guys’ Royal Goddess of Motherhood and my boss, ran past the doorway on her way to the south side entrance. I was right behind her.
Terry crashed through it in full stride, triggering the intruder alarm, and stepped outside. Looking west up Union Hill she took a bead on where the blast had come from.
“What the hell is that, Terr-” I shouted, seeing a black churning cloud at the top of the hill.
“Get back Dave!” she screamed.
She threw her 103 pounds into me like a Patriots cornerback on a goal-line stand and knocked me to the floor. Over her shoulder I saw bad news coming down the hill like dragon’s breath bent on roasting villagers.
This second wave struck our building as my butt hit the floor, and the percussion knocked Terry hard into me, her noggin slamming into my nose and her shoulder grinding my Adam’s apple. Clunk, crunch, Owww….
Grit and fist-sized pieces of concrete followed, pouring through the doorway and covering us in dust. Unity House groaned and the floor heaved, throwing Terry further across my face. I tried to hold her next to me, but Terry keep on rolling. After a 360 she stopped.
We slithered on our bellies further back into Unity for safety, but five seconds later a third wave hit us coming from the opposite direction and was accompanied by a thunderclap. It pushed me further into the carpet and my face froze in fear. Gawd, what’s next!?
Mother Nature screamed in primal anger for several more seconds, then calmed.
Is it over?
Sitting up I searched Terry’s face to intuit her thoughts, but I couldn’t get a read. Her eyes darted back and forth and I knew she was thinking fast, but she didn’t say anything. Then we heard a moan down the hallway and went back into motion.
Crawling like spiders toward the staff office we saw our cook, Angie, lying prone on the floor outside the kitchen, face down.
“Angie,” shouted Terry, “are you all right?”
“Yeah, I’m okay,” she said, unwilling or unable to turn her head toward us.
“Talk to me, Ange,” Terry commanded, moving next to her.
With effort, Angie rolled onto her side and turned her head to speak, but nothing came out.
“C’mon girl,” Terry said. She bent over Angie and pulled her up, propping her against the hallway wall. Angie looked dazed.
“I’m okay, Terry, really. I just fell… I think,” Angie said.
“Yeah, right. C’mon, let me take a look at you.” Terry moved a finger from side to side in front of Angie’s face, and her eyes instinctively followed. Her pupils seemed okay, not too big or too small.
“Shock?” I whispered.
“Anything hurt? Your head?” asked Terry.
“Okay, it’s probably not a concussion. You probably just got shook-up like the rest of us.”
“What was that?’ shouted Jeannie, the Community Outreach Therapist coming out of her office on the opposite side of the building. Theoretically, Jeannie was supposed to counsel my lads once they had left me and were in a regular foster placement, except my guys rarely made it that far. The Call of the Wild Street was too hard to resist. Plus, many of them were Sexual Offenders, SOs, or Sexually Aggressive Youth, SAYs, and they stayed in Unity House because there was no legal place in the county to put them.
At the same time, Gina, our case manager, was crawling her way into the Commons room. She was covered in dust and bleeding from numerous lacerations, head to foot.
Gina had arrived at Unity’s main entrance just as Terry and I had gone outside on the south side. Protected by the hill’s back draft, Gina was able to surf to safety on the rush of air ahead of the reverse wave. Hearing Jeannie’s question, she answered.
“I think it was a bomb, maybe a nuke. I saw a really big cloud over downtown.”
Terry and I rushed to her side. “You got some nasty cuts here, girl.” Terry said. “Let me take you to the south showers and patch you up. You think you can make it?”
Gina nodded, and with Terry’s arm around her waist they stumbled off to the south hallway bathroom.
Alone, I took a moment to gaze through the miraculously still-intact Commons room window. Outside the dust was thick, hanging in the air like fake snow in a Christmas paperweight and obscuring the bottom of the hill. What I could see just below us though, didn’t look pretty. Rubble was everywhere. The houses directly beneath Unity appeared intact, but were covered with debris blown from the top of the hill. Car parts, slabs of shingling, exterior walls, and chunks of plywood flooring lay on roof tops and in back yards. Pieces of clothing dangled from those trees still sprouting branches. An odd shoe or lamp shade protruded from the two-inch thick dust all around us, as if deposited there by a psychotic blizzard.
Seeing what had blown down hill I could only imagine the degree of destruction above us on the top of Union Hill. It must have been catastrophic, but I wasn’t going to take a chance and walk outside to take a closer look.
I wondered if our guys were safe at school. North Worcester High School, twelve city blocks northeast from us, was one mile further away from downtown, and Grafton Street Middle School was deeper in the Eastside valley.
Either way, they should be better off, I thought. I mentally sent them a beam of blue healing energy.
Terry returned from attending Gina and called for my attention.
“We have to get this dust off of us,” she commanded. “If it’s a nuke we have to get rid of the radiation. Wash your hands and meet me downstairs. We’ll find new clothes and then shower.”
In the basement we first went to the carpentry shop to wash our hands in the utility sink and put on latex gloves. I also found paper dust masks so we wouldn’t breathe any contamination and passed Terry a handful for herself and the others.
“Thank God my therapist is also a carpenter,” Terry said, giving me a wink. I wore two hats at Unity – besides being a regular psychotherapist I was also the Independent Living Skills Counselor. As such, I taught the guys the basic skills of carpentry and general maintenance and tried to get them ready to live on their own.
The two modalities actually worked very well together. Instead of trying to get the guys to talk about their anger, which was losing game, we just repaired the punched-out sheetrock walls or karate-kicked bed frames and talked about why they had gotten so pissed-off the day before.
After getting the dust off of us, Terry and I rummaged through Goodwill clothes bags and found replacement clothes for everone, mostly non-descript gym suits and pull-overs. Then, I headed to the north bathroom while Terry rejoined Gina. After showering in the warm trickle and donning my new duds I joined with Jeannie in closing the windows that were still intact, or shutting the rooms that were filled with dust. After buttoning-up Unity I took a break in my office.
Why the hell did I create this in my reality? An hour ago I was breathing the luscious, sweet aromas of an Indian summer day and feeling glad to be alive. I didn’t have the slightest inkling I was minutes away from getting nuked. How could that be? I usually could remote view big events like this, or get a sense of it at least. And don’t I create my reality, all of it? Isn’t that what my teacher, Ramtha the Enlightened One, taught me? But a nuclear bomb…?
Even though these questions washed over me, persistent like an incoming tide, they were too big to contemplate for long. Crisis management pressed hard on my psyche, forcing aside all other considerations.
Are we safe? What more needs to be done? What about the guys? Should we go and pick them up somehow?
The food in the pantry, is it enough? How long will it last? Water, we gotta fill all our empty buckets and pails, and every pot in the kitchen in case we run out. Thank God there’s still pressure in the city mains and that Unity held together. God Bless industrial-strength building codes for juvenile offenders….
Ramtha™ is a registered trademark of JZ Knight, PO Box 1210 Yelm, Washington 98597. Used with permission.
© 2011 Bruce A. Smith