The Men of Honor of Unity House – Chapter 7

A novel.


 My name is Dave Stein.  At the time of the nuclear bomb attack on Worcester, Massachusetts I was a psychotherapist for the Unified Alliance of Worcester and assigned to Unity House, their foster care residence for juvenile male offenders.

 This story is my account of how my clients and I survived the destruction of our home and city, and formed the rescue group known as The Men of Honor.

To read prior chapters:

   Day Two, 11:15 am

Love, radiation, and an idea

 Critical to our survival was learning about the “seven-ten rule,” which decreed that for every multiple of seven hours radiation decreased by a factor of ten.  The danger from the dust was one-tenth after the first seven hours, and then one-hundredth after forty-nine hours. 

 I had an educational opportunity with the guys on this one. 

 “Seven times seven hours is how many days, guys?  Hint: what is seven hours, times seven hours?”

 “Forty-nine hours.”

 “Okay, good.  Now, forty-nine hours is how many days?” 

 No one replied.

 “Two days plus one hour,” I answered.  “C’mon guys, each day has twenty-four hours, so, two days is forty-eight hours.  We have to wait two days before we lose another tenth, or at 1 p.m. two days after the bomb went off.  Tomorrow, the radiation will be one-hundredth of the original danger.  At that level, according to the experts we just heard, we can go outside for ten to fifteen minutes, total, without suffering any health effects.”

 But, we learned sadly that for us to be outside for any significant periods of time – like the hour or two we would need to walk to safety – the radiation would have to be one-thousandth of current levels, which would take two days times another seven, or fourteen days.  And lastly, we would have to stay indoors for twenty-eight days until the levels reach the point where we could be out in the dust without any worries.

 “One month?  I’ll go crazy!” said Kevin P when I spelled out the math.

 “I’ll kill myself, instead,” said Willy.  “I ain’t gonna live in this place for a whole month.”

 “One month with Dave?” said Trey.  “Forget it.  I’ll take my chances.”  He said it just loud enough to make sure I heard it.

 “Yeah, but one month without school?” I offered.  That neutralized their anger a bit.

 “Yeah, but what about our friends?” asked Kevin P.  “We aren’t gonna see ‘em for a month?”

 “Yeah, what about Trish?”…

 “and Samantha?”…

 “and Joey D?” 

 The names of girl friends, crushes, fantasies, and buddies just poured out.  I was impressed they had so many social connections.

 I had given all these guys diagnoses of Reactive Attachment Disorder, which meant that they had trouble making real relationships.  I told them that young men who have real relationships don’t need rules and consequences.  Men who care about others know the right thing to do. 

 My job, as I saw it, was to help them evolve into “loving and loveable young men.”  It wasn’t my idea, it was T. J. Doyle’s, who said he got it from a “professional mother” named Nancy Thomas in Colorado who worked with kids just like my guys. 

 In that simple moment the Men of Honor Society was born:

 “We gotta help them,” Trey announced.

 “Who?” Kevin A asked.

 “Everyone?” Willy said, sounding worried that he was going to have to save the whole world if he wanted to keep up with Trey.

 “No, I mean Trish, and…,” then pointing at Kevin P, “Samantha,” who was Kevin P’s date for the upcoming Halloween dance, “…and Joey D,” pointing at Willy. 

 Joey D was Willy’s ‘homie,’ or ‘bro.’  I was never sure what Joey’s official designation was, but it meant “really good friend at school.”

 “And everyone in the neighborhood,” Trey continued.  “I saw two girls playing out in their front yard this morning.  They don’t know anything about the radiation, the alpha waves and all that.  We gotta tell them.”

 “Wait a minute, Trey,” said Terry.  “How do you know two girls were playing in their yard this morning?”

 “I saw them.”

 “I know, but how?  How were you able to see them?  Your room is at the end of south hallway.  There are trees outside your window, and the rest of Union Hill is in the way.  You can’t see anyone from your room.  In fact, no one can see any rooms of the Unity House from the neighborhood.  That’s why we picked this place.  You couldn’t have seen anyone unless you were outside and went for a walk.  An unauthorized walk, Trey.”

 “I, …ah, saw them.”  That was all he could say.

 “BUSTED, hey, hey, hey…” teased Willy.  “You were on a smoke break and you got caught.”  Willy poked Trey in the ribs.

 “Oh, shut up fool,” responded Trey.

 “You gonna make me?”

 “Oh, fool, you don’t know how I’m gonna make you.”  Trey flailed at Willy with a head slap.

 “Hold it!” Terry and I said in one voice.  “Hold it, you two.”

 “Trey’s right,” I interjected.  “We know a lot about what’s going on.  The radiation is hanging in the atmosphere and is blocking all the TV and radio signals.  We know what others don’t because of this fluky Internet link, and it can save their lives.  We can help.”

 “Did you go out your window?” asked Terry.


 “Well, nobody opens a window anymore,” said Terry.  “It endangers the whole house.”

 “I’m gonna talk with Terry,” I said to everyone.  “We’ll see about modifying the “No Smoking” rule so that you don’t have to sneak out to smoke.”

 State regs had forced us to forbid smoking, yet I was totally against them.  First, it was unenforceable and put us into all sorts of compromises.  The primary one was supervising personal walks.

 To skirt the rules on ‘No Smoking” the guys would stash their cigarettes and lighters in the bushes along the drive up the hill.  Then, they would have to maintain alpha privileges in order to be eligible for an unsupervised walk during which they could catch a smoke.  Alpha status walks were a big privilege because it was tantamount to being allowed to smoke. 

 But, half of our guys were never on alpha.  They were always being knocked back on status so they had to sneak out of their rooms to get a smoke.  That meant jumping through their windows when we weren’t looking, and our windows and screens were a total shambles.

 Plus, I knew that smoking was good for our guys; it calmed them and made them more alert mentally. 

 “Studies have shown,” I would argue at staff meetings, “that, lung issues aside, smoking is beneficial.  The nitrous oxides in tobacco smoke make the neurons of the brain more neuroplastic – or more flexible – which is a good thing.  The trauma of their lives has made their brains more rigid, literally.  Tobacco changes that, and helps our guys to be calmer and more alert.” 

 I fought the system continuously over this issue, but I lost every time.  Actually, I wanted my guys to smoke pipes because pipe tobacco has significantly less harmful additives, such as souped-up nicotine, or the arsenic which is added to slow down the burn of cigarette paper.  But everyone, including Terry, thought I was nuts.

 All this confused the guys because I wouldn’t let them smoke in sessions even though I encouraged their smoking outside.  I told them that I would be criminally liable if I let them smoke with me, but that was too much of an abstraction for them to comprehend. 

 Nevertheless, I promised that when they turned eighteen I would buy them the biggest, best cigar of their choosing and at the stroke of midnight, when we were freed of legal responsibilities to the state we would light up stogies together. 

 The few I did that with were outstanding moments, times that I remember to this day.  Sometimes great therapy is easy.

 “We gotta do something,” Trey said.  “My people are gone. Worcester is gone.  My Granny May is gone I guess, since it looks like South Valley is toast.  My sister’s kids Rhahnayna and Bethshalllah, too.  They were about the same age as the two little girls I saw playing just down the street.  I can’t do anything for my nieces, but I can do something for those two kids.”

 I had never heard Trey talk like this before.  I had heard of his Granny May, with whom he lived for a few months in between juvy time on a pot bust a few years ago, but I never even knew he had a sister or that she had kids. 

 Nor that he cared so deeply and would be able to talk about it

 And here he was in public, in front of the guys, opening his heart and sharing his feelings. Whew.

 “Trey, you’re right,” I said.  “We gotta do something.  But we gotta be smart.  We gotta make sure that we don’t make things worse for ourselves.  We just can’t be running around Worcester telling everyone what’s up.  But, you’re right, and we will do something, soon.  But let’s eat first and come up with a plan.  One that we can put into motion today.  I’m not saying we’re gonna put this off.  I’m saying we’re gonna do something in the next few hours, or tomorrow at the latest.  I just want us to be safe.” 

I put my hands on Trey’s shoulders.  “We are going to do something, Trey.  Please, trust me.  So, let’s go eat and then we’ll make a plan.”  I pushed him out the door. 

 After he was gone I turned to Terry.

 “Boss,” I said, “talk to me.  How far are you willing to stretch here?  Are you willing to let our guys be scouts?  Go into the neighborhood?”

 She looked at me with steely eyes.

 “Let’s take it one step further,” I continued.  “We and everyone else in this neighborhood are grounded for at least another day or two.  In reality, we’re here for two weeks, or up to a month.  Radiation has got everything locked down.  The best the military can do right now is fly drones over us and take god-damned pictures.  What are we supposed to do?  Wave to the cameras?  The news isn’t even talking specifics yet about rescue efforts.  For food and medical help to get to us it’s gonna take days before we’ll see anything.  Can we turn this place into an emergency shelter for the Union Hill district?”

She gasped and turned away.  I was pushing her limits of acceptance, but I knew we had to do this.

 ”Jeez, Terry,” I said, getting excited.  “We’ve got a lot here; a SYSCO truck outside filled with food, the propane stoves and running water.  If our neighbors do need help we might be able to provide valuable assistance until real help gets here.”

 She turned back and I could tell she was thinking hard.  Her heart was saying one thing and her head was shouting something else.

 “C’mon, Terry, you know that Worcester always gets everything last.  Help is gonna go to Boston and Cambridge and Hyannis, and … and places like that.  We’re gonna be last.  We’re friggin’Worcester, for Christ’s sake, Terry.  You know that joke about Worcester?  Worcester is Worst-er?  We gotta help ourselves and whoever is around us.  Terry, c’mon.  You know we’re on our own.”

 “Dave, please, one thing at a time.  How are we going to take care of our guys for up to a month?  We have to think of the long haul.”

 “True, but we’ve gotta think of ways to keep our guys occupied.  We can keep them busy and out of each other’s hair by turning them into real Boy Scouts.”

 “Boy Scouts?!”

 “Well, like Boy Scouts.  Boy Scouts in the truest sense of the word.  They go out into the neighborhood and keep tabs on people.  They’ll be our eyes and ears.  I’ll be out there with them.  Hell, we’ll only be out there for fifteen minutes starting tomorrow, for a least a couple of days, maybe a week.  We can’t cause too much trouble in fifteen minutes.  We won’t be able to walk more than a block and get back in that amount of time.  Hell, Terry, we can help our guys best by keeping them busy helping others.”

 “Maybe we should call them Men of Honor, not Boy Scouts,” said Terry, always thinking further down the road.

 “Yes, Men of Honor, that’s perfect.”

 The Men of Honor was a program that I had written a proposal on several months earlier.  We had heard of a similar program from a social worker who worked in Roxbury, deep in the ‘hood.  They had a Men of Honor Program to help their guys identify with gentlemanly ideals like honoring women, being respectful and loving nature. 

 I had even drawn up a code for the Men of Honor.  It started with: “Men of Honor always tell the truth.”  On paper it had looked great.

 Terry really liked the idea and had asked me for a full proposal.

 “It sounds a lot like TT’s ‘Unity Pride’ program,” she had said at the time. “You two should get together on this.  TT was talking to me a couple of months ago about us hooking up with the ‘Worcester Pride’ movement that the African-American Coalition of Worcester is organizing.  It’s a plan to get young men doing good things in the community, keeping them busy and out of trouble.”

 “That’s exactly it, Terry,” I said.  “That’s what I’m saying here.  We should do the same thing now.  Yeah, I remember TT saying something about Unity Pride and wanting to get “tee” shirts and red berets and yellow scarves and stuff like that.  Like the Guardian Angels do back in New York City.  That’s the Curtis Sliwa group that patrols the subways and provides escort security for folks traveling late at night.  It’s the same thing here.  Whaddya say?”

 “I say, let’s eat and let me think about it.  But, I like the idea.  We just have to figure out how to do it without the kids causing a ruckus, or getting more radiation on themselves.  That’s my first priority here, to protect them.”

 As miracles happen and I’m not making this up, while Terry and I walked to the kitchen to eat cold bacon and eggs we heard the thumpa-da-dumpa, thumpa-da-dumpa, thumpa-da-dumpa of an old-school rap tune coming out of a quadraphonic sound system heading toward our parking lot.

 “It’s Tiny T!” screamed Willy, running to the window and then out the door, followed by everyone else.

 “Wait!” I screamed.  It’s radioactive out there!”

 But no one listened.

 ©  2011  Bruce A. Smith

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