The Men of Honor of Unity House, 2nd Edition, Chapter 1 and 2 – A novel for our times

By Bruce A. Smith

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Prologue

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 sexual 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 of Unity House.

Chapter 1

Day One, 9:58 a.m.

The Flash came first.

A burst of light so powerful it filled the staff lounge of Unity House as if the sun had exploded. It penetrated everywhere without shadows. A few moments later, the light faded and my eyes struggled to regain focus. Everything seemed faded, gray, indistinct.

What the hell was that? I thought. Two seconds later I had a better understanding.

The explosion rocked everything. First the walls bulged and the floor heaved, 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.

I struggled to think. The shriek of 300-mph winds screaming above Unity House stabbed at my ears, and I clamped the palms of my hands hard over my them to block the noise. I opened my mouth and gulped to see if I could neutralize the intense pressure on my ear drums. I was unsuccessful, but gradually 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 continued to analyze. Did one of the residents of Unity House blow something up? One of the staff’s cars? Mine? The month before one of our darlings had slashed the tires of his social worker’s car.  Couldn’t be – he’s back in juvy, and this feels bigger than what I imagined a car bomb would feel like. 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 me on her way to the south side entrance.  I followed behind her.

Terry slammed it open, 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 was that, Terry,” 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, knocking 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….

Dirt, grit, and fist-sized pieces of concrete followed, pouring through the doorway and covering us in dust. Unity House groaned and the floor rose up and then flopped back down, throwing Terry further across my face. I tried to hold her next to me, but Terry keep on rolling, taking me with her. After a 360, we stopped.

We slithered on our bellies further back into Unity for safety, but five seconds later a third wave hit, 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 moaning down the hallway, and we 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 murmured.

“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 – but her gaze was fixed and glassy.

“Shock?” I whispered.

Terry nodded.

“Anything hurt?  Your head?” asked Terry.

“Nah….”

“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 from them to resist. Plus, many of them were Sexual Offenders, SOs, or Sexually Aggressive Youth, S.A.Y.s, and they stayed at Unity because there wasn’t any legal place in the county to put them.

As I pondered, Gina, our case manager, was crawling her way into the Commons room. She was covered in dust and bleeding head to foot from numerous lacerations.

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, Gina answered. “I think it was a bomb, maybe a nuke. I saw a mushroom 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. Anything above us on the top of Dorchester Hill seemed to have been obliterated by the ferocious winds. What appeared to be the remains of hundreds of three-story homes – the fabled “triple deckers of Worcester – were scattered across Unity House and its environs. Parts of walls, roofing, appliances and furniture, 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 Dorchester Hill, I could only imagine the degree of destruction above. It must have been catastrophic. I wasn’t going to take a chance and walk outside, though, to take a closer look.

I wondered if our guys were safe at school – or if they were actually there and not playing hooky. 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 I 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.

These two clinical modalities actually worked very well together. Instead of trying to get the guys to talk about their anger, we just repaired their punched-out sheetrock walls, 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, 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 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?

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….

Chapter 2

Day One, 12:15 p.m.

Unity House had survived, relatively. Our propane tank and its connections to our stoves and hot water heater had not ruptured, nor our in-ground utility lines. In gratitude, I kissed the light switch in my office. I guess years of watching my wife’s Bube kiss the mezuzah on our front door in LA had left its mark. Frankly, being located in a working-class neighborhood close to the public utility plants was a life-saver.

Further, we were built rock-solid, literally, deep into the southeast side of Dorchester Hill to protect it from the wintry winds from the north, as Unity House had been constructed atop the original foundation one of the buildings of the old McAllister farm, which dated back to 1859. In effect, Unity House was half earth-bermed, and it was to prove to be a total life-saver.

But, in its farming heyday, the house had a beautiful view of the sloping corn fields to the east and south, and the old-timers say that before the farms of the Eastside filled with triple-deckers – those rickety, wooden working-class condos that are Worcester’s architectural signature – they could see Lake Quinsigamond lying beyond the Eastside flats. On a clear autumnal day like our Day One, the apple orchards and dairy farms of Shrewsbury would have been visible fifteen miles further east.

Unity House was built like an “E,” with the three prongs facing eastward away from the blast. The windows on the long, back side of the “E” facing west toward the blast were totally blown-in, but we suffered only a minimal amount of dust blown inside due to their small size and the sheltering effects of the hill.

The rooms along the top and bottom of the “E” – the south and north perimeters – had the most problematic damage because this was where the guys lived, one to a room in accordance with state regulations and clinical prudence. Most of these windows were blown-in or severely cracked, and a coating of dust blanketed beds, clothes and desk tops.

On a second go-round, Terry, Jeannie, and I duct-taped the bejeesus out of the cracked windows, or improvised coverings from cardboard if the glass was gone.

 Thank God, it’s not winter, I thought. And we’ve got to vacuum this dust up before the guys return from school.

In the front of the house we had been even more fortunate. Located in the middle of the “E” was a big, bay window of the Commons room, and it had multiple cracks, including one long one that ran the entire horizontal length near the top. Nevertheless, it was intact, and I secured it with a grid-like pattern of bed slats and Liquid Nails from my carpentry shop downstairs. As a squeezed the sticky stuff onto the glass, I blessed the expertise of the old-time craftsmen for installing that big pane “right and tight” – fully balanced, plumb and level.

We weren’t sure we had been hit by a nuke like Beijing the year before, but we didn’t want to take any chances. Most of the rooms seemed readily salvageable, so after fixing the windows we removed the dust. Wearing aprons, dust masks and gloves, we swept and vacuumed the rooms to near-perfection, then parked the vacuum and half-a-dozen collection bags filled to bulging on the rear loading dock, far away from life inside the house.

Angie, still lying on the floor, and Gina on a bench in the staff office, watched our efforts without saying a word. After another round of showers, we propped Angie in one of Terry’s over-stuffed chairs while Gina stayed put.  Finally, we all gathered around them to discuss our next course of action.

“How’s everybody doing, eh?”  Terry asked.

I shrugged and looked at Gina. Gauze-wrapped bandages wound around her forehead, right temple and cheek, both arms, and her left leg and knee. She smiled weakly.

“We made it, Terry,” Gina whispered. “Thank God, we made it.”

“Yes, thank God we all made it,” Terry exclaimed. “And thank God, all the boys are at school. It gives us a chance to think without them going nuts around us.  I sure wish my cell phone worked though, or these land-lines.  I’d sure like to know what happened.”

“I agree, and I hope the guys are okay,” I replied. “Sixty teachers at the high school and twelve-hundred teenagers, oy vey.”

“Who do you think set off the bomb?  Al Qaeda?  Do you really think it was a nuke?” Jeannie asked.

“Who knows,” Terry said. But it’s got to be a nuke. I can’t imagine what else could have caused such an explosion.

“How about some chemical plant in the South Valley, like in ‘05?  Something really ugly that’s going to get a Congressional inquiry, as if that ever changes anything,” Jeannie continued. “But, if it was a nuclear bomb, it could have been the Army’s. I read in the Gazette last year that the Army stores nuclear devices in urban armories when transporting them across the country.”

“You’re kidding me,” Gina said.

“No, I couldn’t’ believe it either, when I read it,” Jeannie answered.

“That’s a screwed-up scenario, Jeannie. Gawd… if some dumb shit at the Armory blew us up,” I gasped. “But, maybe you’re right, because, why Worcester?  If it was a terrorist attack, you’d think they’d go for Boston.”

“You’ve right on that point, Dav-ila,” Terry said, using the diminutive Hebrew nickname that my family uses. “But I fear for this country regardless of whatever exploded, and whoever is responsible. I hope this doesn’t bring out the crazies, or start another war.”

We all nodded.

“Anyway, who wants coffee?” I asked, laughing, seeing our staff coffee pot still brewing away. “We’re lucky to still have electricity. The hill really saved our butts.”

“Yeah, but we need a phone, or a working radio,” Jeannie countered. “I’ve tried my cell over and over, and I even turned on my boom box, too, to see if anything was coming over the radio. There’s nothing but static, AM or FM.”

“Me, too,” replied Terry. “I’ve gotten nothing.”

We turned on the TV to double-check. The screen came to life but only offered a blur of white snow.

A few minutes later, after a round of coffee, we heard a cell phone ring in an adjoining room.

“Now, my cell phone works!” shouted Terry, running into her office to retrieve it from her purse.

“It’s Jim. My husband Jim,” she shouted, seeing the caller ID. “He’s down at Hansom Air Base!” She paused.

“It was a nuke!” she shouted out to us. “They’re putting us into lockdown – all of Massachusetts and the air base – but he was able to get this call out. He says the military has officially confirmed it was a nuke.” Terry turned her head back into the semi-privacy of her office.

“Bye, Hon,” she whispered into the phone. “You, too … love ya.” She clicked it closed and rejoined us.

“Since you have the only phone that seems to be working,” Jeannie asked, “can I borrow it to call home?”

“Me, too,” Gina added.

Angie looked at Terry and slowly raised her hand to signal, ‘me three.’

“Sure, here ya go,” Terry said, passing off the phone.

She then turned to me and motioned with her head to follow her outside. After walking a few steps down the hallway, she asked, “Do you have any kids, Dave?”

“No,” I replied.

“Wife?”

“Technically, yes. But she’s in California. We’re separated.  I’m getting a di-…”

“That’s what I thought,” Terry interrupted, not needing to hear that I had decided to get a divorce once I had the money for a lawyer.

I had been on the job for ten months, which made me the newest clinical hire at the Alliance. I had moved back to my family’s roots in Worcester after getting laid- off twice in LA, and enduring another marital debacle. But I had been around long enough to get drunk at the Alliance’s Christmas-Chanukah party. In my inebriation I treated everyone to a “psychotherapist-goes-crazy-in-front-of-his-co-workers-as-his-marriage-goes-in-the-toilet-again” moment, including screaming at a cute social worker who refused to dance with me, and throwing a glass of wine at a MAGA-loving administrator who wanted us to sing “White Christmas” in support of our troops in Afghanistan. It wasn’t pretty, and after a formal reprimand and an apology to all concerned, none of my colleagues ever mentioned the incident again.

“Look,” Terry said, “it’s going to be just you and me here, I mean for the boys.  Everyone else here has got family. With the crapola hitting the fan, they’re all going to leave and I can’t blame them. Their first responsibility is to their own families. Me, it’s just me and Jim, and Jim’ll be down at Hanscom until the Second Coming. So, I can stay. Will you?”

“Yeah, sure,” I said.  I didn’t hesitate, and I wondered about that.  “What do you think the guys will do?”

“The ones at the high school will be back, you can count on it. What are the teachers supposed to do? They’ll try to keep the kids at school until someone gives them the authority to release them. But our guys’ll just jump out a window and get back here – no one will stop them. This is their home, their only one, even though they bitch about it every five minutes.”

Unity’s young men were all from foster care, part of the nearly one-million of America’s uncared for, or unwanted children. Most didn’t have a mother, or if they did she was in a state institution: psychiatric, rehabilitative, or correctional. And in all my time with these kids I never saw a dad.

Ten minutes later, Willy, 16, and Trey, 17, proved Terry prophetic.

“Yo, folks we got nuked, but we made it,” shouted Trey, low-fiving with Willy as they walked in the door, both of them juking, jiving and enjoying the latest adventure of their lives – nuclear war.

“Yo, Terr-ie, what IS for lunch, eh?” sang Willy. “We’s keeping to the daily schedule right, lunch at 12-noon? Remember how important Dave says schedules are? We gotta keep our lives structured, especially in times of stress. Right, Dave?”

They loved to throw my clinical jargon back in my face, and they beamed. I smiled back. I was proud of them for being able to give me crap in a nice way.

“As soon as Angie is off the phone, she’ll open up the kitchen,” said Terry.

“Yo, Terr-ie, why can’t you open up the kitchen?” teased Trey. “You got the keys. You got the keys to everything, except the keys to my heart. Oooh…”

Trey and Willy made a great pair of buds. They could go either way together:  jail or making a life – like graduating from high school and getting a job, or even going on to Worcester Technical for a trade.

“No. As you have just reminded me,” Terry replied, “schedules are important in times of stress and it’s Angie’s job to supervise lunch. So, in the interest of my stress reduction and yours, we’ll wait for Angie.” Terry turned to leave. Pivoting, she brushed Trey on the arm with the back of her hand, saying sotto voce, “You just wish I had the keys to your heart.”

“Oh, yo, mamma. No-No-No. You are toooooo old for me. I am just such a young, studly one, and I gotta find myself a young fox,” Trey cooed.

Smiling, he and Willy sauntered down the south hallway to their rooms to wait for the call from Angie.

“Wait,” I said. “Guys, you gotta take showers and wash your clothes. The dust is radioactive. Put fresh clothes on.”

“Ah, man, I took a shower already this morning,” Trey argued.

“No. You take a shower, now. You’re radioactive and I don’t want you dropping contaminated dust all over the house.”

“You gonna make us?” challenged Willy, still in total smirky, smart-ass mode.

“Two points off for every minute you delay. Yes, I’m gonna make you. My life is at stake here, too. I don’t want to breathe your radioactive dust. And I won’t.”

“Two points? That’ll drop me off alpha. It should be only one point,” demanded Willy.

“Two points starting once I count to three.  One… Two… I don’t see anybody moving to take a shower. If I get to three, you both lose two points…”

I took a breath and was about to utter, “Three,” when they turned just in time.

“Jeez, two points,” Trey said, walking down the hallway, loud enough for me to hear clearly. “That’s not fair. I hate this place. Rules, rules, rules. I can’t breathe here, even if it’s NOT RADIOACTIVE.”

I gave you a break, buster. Angie would have taken three points away and not have counted to three. You’re still getting full privileges because of me, thank-you-very-much.

Seeing them track dust down the hallway, I made a mental note to lay down strips of newspaper as carpet runners that we could roll up and discard, keeping the dust to a minimum.

Terry was back in the office, talking with the staff. I knew she was discussing the question of whether they would stay or go, and when. First, we had to know if it was safe to be out in the fallout, and if not, when. A powdery mist was still falling, and the clear, blue sky of our October morning had turned a hazy, grayish-brown.

I started to walk toward the rest of the crew when I heard pounding on the outer kitchen door.

Hunh? I went over and unlocked the door to find our SYSCO driver, Bill. He was sweaty, bloody and covered in dust. He was also in shock and spoke in torrents.

“The bomb flipped me over just as I was coming up Shannon to make a delivery at St. Vincent’s. I got rolled down into the ravine next to ya. My radio’s still working and dispatch says to get off the roads and stay indoors. I think I might have been conked-out, too, for a bit, because I’ve been in the truck for a while.  But they say on the radio that it was a nuke and the dust is radioactive. Can I come in? I know I’m not due here until tomorrow but I figured you might need what I got on the truck. There’s no telling what’s gonna happen but we’re all gonna get hungry and I’ve got the food and you got the kitchen and a bed downstairs if I gotta spend the night. ‘Any port in a storm,’ my father used to say and you’re my port even if you got all these wacky kids.”

“Take a breath, will you, Bill. Please,” I pleaded. “And come in, but first shake off all that dust, and Bill you’re bleeding.” On his upper lip a big blotch of blood had dried, and a wound on the side of his head still dripped fluid onto his shoulder.

“Bill,” I said as I looked at his head wound. “You might have a concussion. You feel okay? Nauseous?”

“Yeah…no…sure…I mean…” Bill stomped his feet and shook off his dust, but he wasn’t making sense. Once inside however, his speech cleared. “I banged my head I guess, when I rolled. And bloodied my nose, but I was wearing my seat belt.” Putting his hand to his head and ear he felt his blood.

“Oooh… ouch, yeah, it hurts when I touch it. I guess I cut myself… must have passed out for a bit, too…. Got any band-aids or something? What time is it?”

“Sure, Bill right here, but how about a glass of water, first” I said, motioning to the sink and then our first aid kit mounted on the kitchen wall. I gave my arm to Bill, who grabbed it and steadied himself as we took a couple steps into the kitchen.

“Jeez, it was big. Do ya think it was a nuke? Hunh? Whaddaya think?”

“I do. Terry’s husband is in the Air Force and he called us to say it was a nuke.  The shock waves sure felt like it was a nuke. You sure you’re okay? Is your vision okay? Dizzy?”

”No… yeah, I can see okay. My head’s just a little tender here on the side, and my nose ain’t broken or nothin.’ Dizzy? Well, I sure don’t feel like dancing,’ but I’m okay. How’d your guys make out here? The kids all right? How’s Terry?  Angie?”

Bill wasn’t one-hundred percent, but he seemed to have avoided any broken limbs, internal injuries or serious head trauma.  I hoped his pressured speech was a combination of shock, laceration and anxiety – and not serious brain injury. One thing was certain, he sure wanted to talk and I took that as a good sign.

“We’re pretty good here, Bill.”

“Me and my good ol’ International made it through a nuke. Cool, eh? Even rolling down a hill. It’s in the ravine just next to your building. On its side.” He laughed, and that continued to reassure me.

“I’m really glad you made it Bill, and I’m doubly glad you’re here,” I said. I poured him a glass of water, and then as he drank, I pushed aside the hair above his left ear and applied the first of three extra-large band aids, even if they stuck to his thinning hair.

“Oooh… take it easy, doc, will ya?” He laughed again. I felt more reassured by the minute. The cut didn’t look too bad, more long than deep, and the bruising was minimal. That confirmed for me that Bill didn’t have a serious head injury.

“I’m sure we’ll need all the food you’ve got,” I continued. “Our pantry’s got food for about two weeks usually, but you never know how long we’re gonna be holed-up here. You got a wife, kids?”

“Yeah, I got one kid; six.”

“You gonna try to make it home?”

“Yeah, as soon as I can. But dispatch said it’s pretty dangerous outside. They said it won’t be safe for a while – a day or so at least – and even then you can’t go out for more than a coupla minutes.”

“Jeez, I had no idea it was that serious. I just went through a tiff with two of my guys about washing the dust off. But days? I thought you had to be in a straight line of exposure to get really deadly radiation. Ya know, like being right in the line of fire. I thought the fallout was more like a long-term thing, like contaminating cow’s milk, y’know, through the grass that gets dusted, or leaving the dust on you and getting cancer.”

Bill shrugged.

“Why don’t you go down to the bathroom in the south hallway,” I continued, “and take a shower. I’ll go down to the basement and get some sweat suits for you, whatever looks like it’ll fit ya.”

I introduced Bill to everyone, then he left to wash and I went down to look for more adult-sized clothes. 

Radiation? How serious is it? Willy and Trey must have run the entire distance to get here as fast as they did. How much did they breathe in? If they get radiation sickness how can we tell? How can we help them…?

In the bathroom I threw Bill his new clothes, and asked him to join us in the staff office when he finished. Central to the whole house, our office had a direct view of the hallways, kitchen, dining room, and the big Commons room. It also had a heavy oak table that felt rock solid and conveyed stability as we leaned our elbows on it to chart an uncertain future.

“I’d like Bill, the SYSCO guy, to stay with us,” I announced, “if that’s okay with you all. He said his dispatch radio was telling everyone to seek shelter and get off the roads because the radiation is too strong. You can’t even think of venturing out in it for a day or so.”

“Really?” said Jeannie. “I was going to head home. I’ve got three young kids and I don’t know if they’re okay. I couldn’t reach them on Terry’s cell phone. It’s not working again, nor any of the others, even land-line phones.”

“Me, too,” Angie added. “I got two kids. I gotta check on them,”

“We’ve been talking Dave,” Terry said to me, “and I told them that you and I have spoken, and that we’re going to stay here since we don’t have any family responsibilities. They do, and they’ve got to get out of here as soon as possible regardless of what is happening with our guys.”

“I agree, absolutely,” I said. “Gina, Jeannie, Angie, go as soon as you can but it looks like you’ll be here for at least the rest of the day.”

“I can’t do that, Dave,” Jeannie said. “I have to get home and make sure my children are okay. I’ve got three young kids, two in day care. God knows what’s going on with them. We don’t know what’s going on out in the world; it could be pandemonium; the gangs could be taking over in this mess. Who knows for sure things won’t get worse before they get better, you? Even if there are dangers now it might still be our best, maybe our only time to leave. So, I’m taking off as soon as things are squared away here. I’m not even official Unity House staff. I just…”

Jeannie stopped, not wanting to cause more division by stating the obvious, that she only had her office in Unity House, and wasn’t really “one of us.” But the issue had been put in the air, and the hairs on the back of my neck rose up.

Calm down, Dave, I said to myself, this isn’t a contest to see who’s more committed.  It’s a mother wanting to do the best for her kids.

“Well, my boys are teenagers at North High,” mused Angie, breaking the tension. “So, Trey and Willy can give me a better idea of what is going on with my kids. I guess I can stay for a while.”

“One of mine is home with my husband, she’s four,” Gina countered. “My husband, Allie, has MS and he’s okay, but he can’t drive and my oldest is ten and at school. I know I’m a little banged-up, but I’m really okay. I don’t know….” Her voice trailed off.

Bill came in at that moment. “What did you hear on your radio?” the ladies clamored in one voice. “Terry’s cell phone doesn’t work anymore… We can’t reach the Air Force or the police… We’re just getting white noise…. The TV is just total static… What’s happening out there?… What should we do?”

“Stay off the roads is all I got,” replied Bill. “It was scratchy, but I got it.  Dispatch is in Springfield, so maybe they have less static out there since it looks like the cloud is moving north and east. But really, I don’t know how they got the information.”

Abruptly though, our deliberation was cut short by the sound of a motorcycle screaming into Unity’s parking lot. We rushed out of the office and over to the bay window. In horror, we watched two laughing, shouting, cursing teenage boys wheelie to our front door and dump their bike, a vintage 750 cc BMW. Slithering through the dust and debris, they smiled and walked inside.

Two more of our guys were home.

**********

To read more of The Men of Honor of Unity House:

https://themountainnewswa.net/category/the-men-of-honor-of-unity-house/

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