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 see prior chapters, click on “categories,” scroll down to “The Men of Honor of Unity House,” click that selection and then choose what chapter.
Day Two, 4:30 pm
First fight, honor restored, and a surprise bottle of wine
Our discussion was broken with the sudden “thrump!” of a body slamming against a wall, and the screaming of bloody anger.
“Give me my fucking Walkman back, you fucking little freak, or I’ll kill ya. I can’t fucking believe you stole my music… you’re just fucking listening to it, right here?!”
We ran out in time to see Kevin P throw Deon across the Commons after he had just bounced him off the kitchen wall.
“Fucking A!” KP screamed. “This little piece of shit went into my room and stole my Walkman and my P Diddy CD. I just caught him listening to it… I’m gonna kill him if you people don’t do something about him… He’s going into everybody’s stuff. You can ask anybody.” Kevin P stared at Terry and me.
TT went over to check on our human cannon ball, Deon.
“Take a time-out Kevin,” Terry commanded. “No violence in this house, ever. You are on restrictions, and no privileges. Got it?”
Kevin P looked away and shrugged.
“You got it, Kevin?”
“We’ll need him to help unload the truck tomorrow,” I whispered to Terry.
“You’re on restrictions, Kevin, but that does not exclude you from helping with us with chores, like unloading the food truck tomorrow.”
“What else of yours is missing?”
“Nothing, now. I got it all back from that freak.”
“Next time, you tell us that your possessions are missing before you fly off the handle. Got it?”
Then, Terry marched over to Deon and TT.
“He seems to be okay, Terry,” TT said. “I don’t see any bruises or broken bones.”
“Well, that’s a relief.”
“You sure know how to take a hit, Little Brother.”
“But, you’re going to have to learn how to keep your hands off other people’s possessions,” he continued.
Deon lost his smile. Not even a smirk remained on Deon’s face after ‘God-TT’ withdrew his admiration.
“And you’s gonna have to earn everybody’s trust again. That’s not easy, Little Brother. Will you give me your word that you will try?
“Yeah,” Deon squeaked out softly.
“I didn’t hear you, Deon.
“Yes, sir. I’ll try.
“That’s better; I can hear you now, Little Brother…Terry, Dave, and I will help you earn everyone’s trust again. It’ll be in little ways probably over the next couple of days. We’ll let you know when opportunities come. Okay?
“In the meantime, you need to take a time-out for ten minutes, and you too, lose privileges.
“Now, go to your room, and we’ll tell you when you can come out.”
“Yes sir.” Deon slinked toward his room.
“You’ll also have to recommit to the Code of Honor before you can wear your colors, Deon,” I called out. He didn’t respond.
No acknowledgment – a fight for another time, I thought.
“Nice intervention, TT,” I said.
“Thanks,” he replied.
Day Two, 7:30 p.m.
For dinner we had fish cakes, and Kevin A surprised us all with whipping-up the most wonderful salsa .
“I had a foster mother show me how to do it in a placement up in Medway,” he said. “She was a cool lady, and she was going to adopt me, but she was Mexican and my social worker wouldn’t let her since the state said we had to be the same kind of people.” KA’s voice trailed off as he finished his story. I think he told us a little more than he wanted to, but the joy of cooking had taken him past the sentries of his fear.
After dinner, Karen proved herself remarkable in another way. She was a great storyteller, really sassy, and the guys loved it. She knew her Annanzi stories cold.
Annanzi is a trickster spider from West African culture and is like coyote to southwestern tales. Of course, the guys loved Annanzi, the cleverest creature in all of God’s creation. He always overcame adversity, and more importantly did it with style.
The Men of Honor could do worse than have a spider as their emblem, I thought. At least it’s not a skull.
In a lull between stories, I told Kevin P and Deon to give me their scarves back and to prepare for a re-initiation into the Men of Honor due to their behavior earlier in the day. Deon balked, but when TT gave him the “look” he changed his mind.
I had Kevin first, then Deon, re-read the Code of Honor. Then, I spoke.
“Men of Honor, Terry and Karen. We all know what happened today. Kevin P lost his temper, and even though he was certainly provoked, he broke the Code of Honor by being violent. That is a violation of our Code.
“And Deon stole. Kevin caught him with his music and that, too, is a very serious violation of our Code.
“Nevertheless, they have stood before you and recommitted themselves to our Code. I say that they honored us and honored themselves by doing so, and thus should be allowed to wear their colors. What say you, Men and Women of Honor?”
“Oh, let them wear their scarves if they want to, dude,” Willy said.
TT jumped right in.
“No, wearing the Scarf of Honor is not something that anyone can do if they feel like it. They have to earn the right to wear it, and they lose the right by not living up to the Code. I say they have paid their penance, and by standing before us and reciting the Code, they have earned the right to wear their scarf once again.”
“I agree with Tiny T,” said Trey. “Wearing the scarf has to mean something, otherwise, why wear it? It just becomes one more stupid thing, otherwise. I think they should shake hands, too, to really prove that they are honorable.”
“Yeah,” Kevin A chimed in. They should shake hands.”
Kevin P looked at me. He looked like he never ever wanted to get close to Deon again, let alone shake hands with him.
Regardless, I motioned toward Deon.
“Kevin P took a step toward Deon, but Deon didn’t move. He didn’t even look up at Kevin P.
“C’mon, Deon, shake his hand,” I said.
Deon didn’t move.
“C’mon Deon, shake his hand, c’mon,” Kevin A encouraged, almost ordering Deon to do so.
“Deon,” TT said, to no response. “Deon, look at me.”
Still no response.
TT walked over to Deon and placed his hand on Deon’s chin, lifting his face towards his. “Deon, can you look at me?”
“Yeah, I can look at you.”
“Don’t be disrespectful, Deon. You’re bigger than that. I’m just asking you to look me in the eye and listen to me.”
“Do you want to be a Man of Honor? Do you want to be respected and honored by me, and Terry, and your house brothers? Wouldn’t you want your mother to honor you?”
“Well, just do what I ask; shake Kevin P’s hand to seal the deal on your stealing earlier today. It makes up for it, and makes you a Man of Honor in my eyes, and I know it will make you a Man of Honor in your mother’s eyes, too.”
Deon stuck out his hand toward Kevin. All eyes went towards KP who hesitated, then realized it was his moment to act, and he did.
We all sat down and breathed a sigh of relief, that the righteousness of the Code had been upheld. Then, Karen broke the lull.
“Hey, TT, why don’t you lead us in a prayer? It’s getting late, but I’m sure you know a prayer that would finish up this fine night of fellowship and honor.
The idea made me a little squirrelly, since I have an aversion to Christian dogma comparable to my distain for screeching chalk on blackboards.
“Dear Lord,” TT began.
Oh shit, not Lordy-lord stuff. I turn off the radio whenever I hear a country tune with “The Lord” in it, and I love country music – I’ve even lived in Nashville.
TT continued and I endeavored to lighten up. After all, a ‘Man of Honor maintains his sense of humor.’
“Dear, Lord and Heavenly Father, this is TT talking to you with my Brothers and Sisters here at Unity House.
“We thank you Father, for protecting us, and seeing us through this time of outrageous tribulation. This time of destruction. This time of oblivion.”
God he’s a preacher.
“You have saved us dear Father from our enemies and have brought us together. We have all risked danger today to serve you by helping our neighbors here in Union Hill. But, you have stood with us Lord, and we are strong.
“We thank you Lord, Jesus…”
God, he’s gonna go on a while, isn’t he?
“Yes, we thank you for bringing into our lives the lovely and mighty Karen, our Sergeant. Jackson, who like an Angel in the Night has come to brighten our day. We hope, Dear Father, that you protect her husband John, as well.
“I thank you Jesus, for inspiring all the Men of Unity House to become Men of Honor. To open their hearts and see the greater glory of their souls.
“I thank you for letting me be with them at this time of danger. May I serve to your greater glory as we find our way though this Valley of Darkness. Amen.”
“Amen,” the guys said, a little off the beat and behind the cue.
“Sleep tight everyone,” said Terry. “Lights out in thirty minutes.”
And that was Day Two.
Oy veh. It seemed like a year, but a good year.
Day Three started a little early for me, 4:00 a.m. I was half-awake in a twilight state when I heard the south hallway door open, triggering the intruder/escape alarm. I was surprised because I was sleeping next to it and hadn’t heard anyone walk past me.
Someone’s coming in, not going out!
I jumped out of bed, ran down the hall and saw a thin, older man with a goatee slowly closing the door behind him. He flung-off a giant bed sheet over his head.
“Good Morning,” he said. “You must be Dave Stein.”
”Yes, I am. Who…” but he anticipated my question.
“I’m Adam Peronski. Nice to meet you.”
“Adam, what the hell are you doing here?” exclaimed Terry, jogging down the hall, her voice rising first with surprise but then lowering in order to not attract the guys. If they heard her voice, they’d know something dramatic was taking place and worthy of getting out of bed.
“Good Morning, Teresa,” said Adam.
Teresa? I didn’t know Terry was a Teresa.
Terry came smoothly right up to Adam and gave him a hug. Even wearing a good-sized backpack he was able to give her a big one in return.
Teresa? Hugs? 4:00 a.m.? What was going on here?
“How the hell did you get here?” Terry asked.
“Oh, I’ve had quite an adventure.”
“I bet you did,” Terry replied impishly.
“Yes, and I look forward to telling you about it. I even brought a bottle of wine to help me do it. Should we invite this therapist of yours to join us?”
“Hmmmm,” she smirked, “I don’t know, Adam. He likes red wine, as we all know, but his behavior at the Christmas Party was disgraceful, so I’m not sure.”
“Yes, I’ve heard all about that.”
Oh, my Gawd. Peronski heard about my inebriation?
Adam put a warm hand on my shoulder and whispered sotto voce, “Don’t worry, Dave, my lips are sealed. I haven’t told a soul, at least none that I can remember.” He chuckled.
I didn’t know quite what to think. Was I being put on, or just being played with? Adam resolved my questioning.
“C’mon, Dave – let’s have a glass of Cabernet and figure out how we’re going to survive nuclear war.”
Terry led us off toward her office where we were met by Karen, Bill and TT, who were awake, alert, and watching for who else might be coming into, or out of the house.
“You must be Sergeant Jackson,” Adam said. “Glad you’re here with our boys. I’m Adam Peronski. I’m on the Executive Board of the Worcester Alliance. Do you drink red wine before dawn?”
“Sure, whaddaya got?” she asked.
“Cabernet Sauvignon,” Adam said. “Berenger’s Estate; best ten-dollar bottle of wine on the shelf of the state store in Meredith, New Hampshire.”
“Sounds good to me,” Karen replied.
“And TT, always good to see you, even at 4 a.m.”
“And you too, sir.”
“And… you must be Bill Sowards,” Adam continued.
“Yes, I am.”
“Well, thank you for rolling into our lives and bringing your truck loaded with food, too.” Adam grinned.
Bill smiled back.
“Well, Teresa,” Adam continued, “do we have any vino glasses, or do circumstances only permit coffee mugs?”
Terry slapped a coffee mug into Adam’s hand and extended her own.
“At least it’s a clean mug, Buster, so shut up and start pouring.”
After filling our mugs, Adam motioned for a toast.
“I want to salute those of you who have stayed behind here at Unity House to take care of our boys, and I want to especially thank TT, Bill, and Sergeant Jackson for joining our ranks. I thank God for your working Internet connection, and I want to thank the United States Air Force for not shooting me down.”
He smiled knowing we didn’t have a clue about what he meant by his last comment. Adam was a trickster. ‘Adam Annanzi.’
“Air Force, Adam?” asked Terry playfully. “Exactly how did you get here, and what aren’t you telling us?”
Terry seemed to know Adam well, and was keeping right up with him as he played his little mind games.
“A sea plane that belongs to my next door neighbor delivered me. When the bomb went off, I knew there was going to be trouble getting coverage here at Unity, so I asked my neighbor Anthony Viselli for help. Anthony has lots of friends in both high and low places, plus he has lots of large toys with big motors. Tony V got me here.”
“And the Air Force?” I asked.
“Well, Anthony made some phone calls and got us clearance to fly down in his float plane from Squam Lake to Lake Quinsigamond, where he unloaded me and his motocross bike. Getting the bike out of the plane was the hardest part of the trip.”
“But the Air Force,” I insisted.
“Well, the Army and police forces have all the roads blocked off, so flying in was the only way. The Air Force has the entire sky locked-down over New England. No take-offs and no landings. The Air Force has F-One-Something-Somethings flying at sixty thousand feet with orders to shoot down anything in the air. But, Tony has a plane that can fly pretty quietly at tree-top levels – he has several, actually, from his former line of work – so we were able to make the forty-five minute jump from his dock on Squam down to Quinsigamond without incident. Plus, Tony has a friend, a very good friend at the FAA who was able to scramble the radar screens at Westover that were scanning the central New England sector just before we took off. Nostro Amigo Mysterioso covered our ass, and Tony did the rest.”
“Where’s Tony, now?” asked TT. “Is he with you?”
“Oh no, he’s eating prime rib – or at least left-overs at this time of night – with the rest of the hoi-polloi stranded at the Lake Quinsigamond Country Club. Apparently they’re living like there’s no tomorrow, which for some of them there may not be since they got dusted pretty severely. He’ll be flying out of there tomorrow with as many folks as he can carry needing medical treatment, if he can get clearance. The aerial lockdown is supposedly still in place for at least another 24 hours.”
“But why 4:00 am Adam? Landing on a lake in the dark is pretty risky,” I asked, settling back into one of Terry’s chairs, putting my empty wine mug on my belly like a contented Buddha.
“Army’s idea,” he replied. “They didn’t want the local citizenry getting agitated. We were only authorized to travel between 3:00 and 4: 00 am, when few people would see what was going on. Tony V’s GPS stuff is pretty remarkable and we landed without hardly making a ripple.”
“The Army knows you’re here?” Karen questioned, “but not the Air Force?”
“Of course, isn’t that the American Way? Never let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”
“Okay, but why the Army?” Karen continued with an uncomprehending nod.
“Well, the Army was all for the idea.”
“They are?” I said.
“Yes. The Army and I agree with you,” Adam continued, “that this house can be a safe harbor for this neighborhood. Unity House has power, lights, water, email, food, and all of that. Not much of Worcester has even half of those. Lights are iffy for over half of the county, along with much of greater Boston. In fact, the problems seem to be snowballing.
“Anthony put me in touch with a General Mayfield at Westover Army Base. The military thinks the gamma burst is going to generate lots of problems down the road, like causing insulation in utility cables to go brittle and break, allowing moisture to interrupt the electrical system, the phones, or even the computers and switching equipment that control the water mains, sewers and things like that. We may see, God forbid, the collapse of the entire utility infrastructure of eastern Massachusetts.
“So, General Mayfield wanted me to come into the dust zone pronto; be a liaison, and help get things organized here in order to prepare Unity House to be a base for treatment and evacuation. Unity is still functional, but we don’t know for how long. Thousands of medical personnel are on their way to Westover, and ultimately those people are coming here and about a dozen other locations in the dust zone. Surgical, radiation and medical teams – the whole magilla – so Mayfield wants to get the show on the road and I’m the first jester to appear on stage,” Adam stood and took a little bow to accent the importance of his arrival.
“Yet, his superiors, the Pentagon types, are nearly paralyzed with fear of another attack, so they are moving very slowly on the rescue operation. In fact, the whole country seems to be sleep-walking in a kind of nationwide shock from the attack. But many, including General Mayfield, can’t wait any more. It’s time to get Worcester’s rescue operation in to high gear. So, Voila; C’est moi.
“So, I salute you Sergeant, and you too, Bill, and especially you TT. You are the first of many to join our merry little band of outcasts and, ahem,” Adam looked at me with a twinkle in his eyes, ‘students of ancient mysteries.’”
Terry poked me in the ribs. Adam and Terry, or should I say Teresa, were a regular tag-team comedy act. I loved them.
“So, when are the rescue teams coming in?” Karen said, interrupting the joviality.
“Not exactly sure,” Adam replied. “Certainly not for another twenty-four hours, and probably forty-eight. Mayfield’s command is looking to get detailed information as to our situation, so they can deal with the highest priorities first. And nobody, including Mayfield, wants to launch the operation prematurely and risk making the situation worse. Large-scale operations in radioactive dust are new to everybody.
“So, our first job is to make sure we’re okay here, enough to be able to handle a lot of sick and injured. Then, we go back into the neighborhood and assess things, and begin to do what we can do to help folks. The military should be here within thirty-six to forty-eight hours, I figure. In the meantime, we’re scheduled to check in with Mayfield’s command at 8 am every morning until the military arrives.”
“Last question, Adam,” I asked. “Does the military have any idea who nuked us? Al Queda? Terrorists?”
“No. When I asked General Mayfield that same question, his answer was very revealing. He said, ‘Don’t ask. Let’s not even go there, please. Any speculation I might share with you, even if it’s the God’s honest truth, is too political to discuss, so I won’t.
“Whoever set off the nuke or why is secondary; we have a job to do here and we need to get on it.’”
“Wow,” I replied, “that’s a little scary, isn’t it.”
“Yes, it is,” Adam answered. “The scenarios are endless, and the deeper one goes into speculation the scarier it gets. I agree with Mayfield, though, and that is we need to focus exclusively on taking care of our selves. We don’t have time for anything else.”
“Well, let’s get some sleep,” said Karen, bringing us back to our present reality. “I promised Willy and Trey that I’d lead a session of calisthenics at seven.”
Two hours. Just enough to get a little shut-eye.
© 2011 Bruce A. Smith