By Bruce A. Smith
The Men of Honor of Unity House is a novel based upon my experiences as a therapist at a foster care facility for young men coping with sexual assault charges. In 2001, during the Anthrax scare that followed 9-11, my agency’s director and I mapped out a plan for how we would deal with our men, aged 12-18, if we had to go into lockdown in the event of a local terrorist attack. The following pages are based upon those discussions.
The plot so far: A 2-kiloton suitcase nuke has exploded in Worcester, Massachusetts, and the staff of Unity House are about to form the Men of Honor Society for two purposes: One, to keep the twelve teen-aged boys of Unity House busy and not fighting each other, and two, to act as a rescue group to the local neighborhood. Due to the destruction and radiation, the police and army can not get into this section of Worcester. The people living on Marion Avenue and Plantation Street only have the Men of Honor aiding them.
To read more of the Men of Honor:
Chapter 5 – It gets real
Day Two – 9:07 am
I woke up around nine o’clock, pretty late for my guys, but I’m addicted to my sleep. I have to get eight good ones, which isn’t always easy since I have frequent nocturnal sweats and nightmares. My first night in Unity House was no exception, so I slept-in a bit.
Not hearing a lot of commotion when I awoke, I figured I had twenty minutes for my power-breath meditation. Moving my kundalini energy really gets me going in the morning, and keeps me balanced during the day. I’ve come to consider a session of power-breathing vital every day, and especially during nuclear war.
Bill, an early riser, was my benefactor for keeping the guys busy. He had Willy and Kevin A. helping with the bacon and eggs, and as an extra blessing a pot of fresh coffee was waiting for me.
“There’s three-hundred pounds of bacon on the truck that was scheduled for St. Vincent’s, so I figured they could spare a pound or two,” Bill said with a wink, nodding to his plastic garbage bag radiation suit hanging outside the pantry door.
Kevin A. seemed to enjoy turning a full grill, something that didn’t happen too often in Unity House.
“Where’s Terry?” I asked, pouring a cup of coffee. “Is she up?”
“And where’s the honey?” I continued. “Willy, you know where the honey is?”
Willy opened the cabinet to the right of the grease hood and wordlessly flipped me a Honey Bear container, sticky as hell.
“She’s in her office,” Bill said, “trying to get the phone to work, or get an Internet connection.”
“You get through to your wife and kid, yet, or dispatch?” I asked.
“Nope,” replied Bill.
“Do ya think your family’s okay?”
“I dunno, but I’m more worried about them worrying about me. Dispatch said yesterday they’d try to get them a message that I was okay here, but I don’t know if the message got through. This morning, there was nothing but static, so….”
“Communication’s been weird,” I said. “Terry got a phone call right after the nuke, but minutes later she couldn’t get through at all. We can’t even get an Internet connection and we’re supposed to be the ‘Most Wired City in America.’”
I walked to Terry’s office. The hallways seemed quiet. I guess Trey and KP enjoyed sleeping in as much as I did. I was grateful they were in their rooms; at least I hoped they were in their rooms. I didn’t want to check and see anyone gone.
The house felt calm and I was relieved. I was definitely not ready to be “on” for the guys, answering all the attention-seeking questions of the day: ‘Dave, can I watch TV?’ ‘When’s breakfast?’ ‘Can we go out today,’ ‘Somebody stole my CDs,’ etc. I needed to get squared away with Terry first, and sip a slow cup of coffee. Then, I’d be ready for the guys.
“Hey, morning, Dave. How are you?” Terry actually looked happy to see me. When things were good with Terry, my job was sweet. When they weren’t, no amount of money the Alliance paid me seemed enough.
“Sleep okay?” she asked.
“Yeah, not bad. It took awhile to get to sleep, though. Part of me was scared of being here.”
“Ya mean of the guys?”
“Yeah. I’ve never slept next door to a convicted felon before. It takes a little getting used to. Ya know what I mean?”
“I know exactly what you mean. Try being a woman in a house full of raging male hormones. It definitely takes a little getting used to.”
“But I locked the window,” she continued, “and jammed a chair under the door knob, and I’ve got my little protector, here,” she said, reaching down to pick up her purse from the floor. She raised the purse up and showed me the fold in the middle, then slipped her hand inside and drew out a small, black semi-automatic .380 hand gun.
“Whoa,” I exclaimed, spitting a mouthful of coffee back into my mug. “Terry! You’re kidding me. No shit, you’re not kidding. That’s real isn’t it?”
“It doesn’t get any realer, Dave.”
“God, Terry. That’s gotta be against regs.”
“Probably is, but I’ve never asked, and I don’t intend to. Nor, do I expect you to, either. You keep your mouth shut about this.”
“Yeah, ah, okay.”
“No, not ‘okay,’ Dave. I want to hear you say, ‘Yes, Terry, I won’t say ever a word to anyone.’ I don’t want you processing this with your damn analyst, or one of your wacko, tree-huggin’ men’s groups. This information stays here. In this room, permanently.”
I gulped. She was serious, and this situation was serious. I realized the information needed to stay here. There was no option, for who could really understand Terry’s need for protection. I had been learning in the Wonderful World of DSHS, how information could be used against anyone.
“You got it,” I said, but I wished I didn’t have to say it. I wished I was out in the woods and away from all of this – away from nukes, teenagers and compromise. Away from Terry’s fear, her gun, and piss-poor security.
I was glad I had my teacher Ramtha and my spiritual disciplines. Each morning I focused on being the master of my life and the creator of my day.
I was glad that I had learned that I create my reality – every bit of it – and with taking that responsibility I gained all the power I needed to create my life any way I wanted to, including having a day so safe that I didn’t need a weapon.
The belief that full power follows full responsibility is absolutely liberating, for what can trump that kind of perspective? It fueled everything I told my guys in sessions. Take responsibility for everything you do in life, and you gain immeasurable power.
And it wasn’t an empty philosophy, because I had seen throughout my sixteen years in the field of psychiatry numerous people making positive changes in their life by changing how they see themselves and not waiting for a doctor or a health system to do it for them.
For myself, I had made wonderful changes in my own life. Surviving two job losses, and ending a relationship that suffocated me, rendering me unable to grow or express myself fully without ridicule or sabotage – now that took power. And it took discipline and mediation, and lots of walks along the ocean in order to negotiate the emotional landmines, like loneliness or guilt.
That didn’t mean I was fearless. I had a bit of fear the night before, but at least I didn’t bring a gun to work, nor even think about it.
“Anyway,” I said, changing the subject, “what’s new in the world? Anything?”
“Nope. No phones, radio, TV or Internet. Nada. We’re still in the dark. Except that we’re also a light to the world,” Terry said with a mischievous look on her face. “A Brother Mike Sebastiani came over to us last night after you were asleep, Dave. He’s from the Magdalene Abbey down the hill. He saw our light on and came over to see how we had made out.”
“Yeah, I know Brother Mike. He’s the guy I spoke with when I got permission to use their garden for horticultural-therapy sessions with the guys. He’s a nice guy in a stiff, ecclesiastical kind-of-way.”
“He is, isn’t he? Anyway,” Terry continued, “the Abbey lost its electricity in the blast, and from what Brother Mike was saying it sounds like most of the eastside was pretty dark last night. He said he only saw occasional, sporadic lights across our part of town, so electricity seems to a hit or miss kind of thing.
“He also told me that their water handpump is working. It’s the old one from the McAllister’s. It’s got to be at least eighty-years old, but it’s still working. Takes forever, apparently, to get any water out of the tap since the water table is something like a hundred and twenty feet down. But he has water and some food, and he and his two fellow Brothers cooked a tuna noodle casserole last night over candles from their chapel. I told him that if he needed anything that he could call on us.”
“Good idea, Terry. We all have to help each other. Are the other Brothers okay?”
“Yes and no. Brother Mike has two other Brothers in the house. He said they’re frail and old, so he’s concerned about them, but they’re basically okay.
“By the way, the two K’s did your laundry. Yeah, it was a day late, but they did it, and I put your dry clothes on your desk.”
“Thanks,” I said smiling, and headed out the door to my office. Folded nicely next to my computer were my jeans and favorite flannel shirt. Nuclear war wasn’t looking too bad. Fresh coffee, clean clothes, hell, I might be on triple overtime by now, too. Could be a sweet gig, I thought, then laughed at my delusional thinking.
Day Two – 10am
I slipped-off my Goodwill clothes to put my own jeans back on, and as I threw the old sweat pants on the desk and they hit the pc. As I reached to take the pants off the monitor, I saw the screen flicker. My email came on, loaded with fresh, unopened mail.
“Terry!” I shouted, “I got email! C’mere!” I sat down so hard I slid off the chair.
“My Gawd!” I shouted from the floor. “I … I guess I forgot to shut it down on Monday, and with all that was happening, yesterday, I…I….”
“Let me see,” Terry said, coming in and taking charge of my keyboard. “Let me get the news.”
Terry was a computer whiz and I wasn’t, so I surrendered to her command.
“OH, MY GOD,” she said, getting CNN. We saw airborne pictures of Worcester and high aerial shots straight down from a satellite.
“There we are,” I said from my knees, pointing to the right of the screen. “See that line running from top to bottom right here? That’s gotta be 290 or what’s left of it, and we’re just to the right of it. See? Up there in the north it connects to 495.
“Oh, my God, Terry… There’s nothing left of Worcester, nothing downtown… Look! Terry, everything west of us, from the top of Dorchester Hill and Providence Street to just about the airport, it’s all gone…. Dorchester Hill saved us… We all bitch about it in the winter, but we’re alive because of it right now.
“Get the guys in here, Dave,” said Terry. “Bill, too. Everyone needs to see this.”
I stepped outside and shouted, “Yo, guys – every one up. We got pictures of Worcester on the Internet. Come into my office right away.” I didn’t have to say anything more; doors started slamming and feet were running past me.
“Go into my office. Terry’s there. We’ve got pictures of what’s going on out there.”
I headed past the bodies streaming in my direction and sought out Bill.
“Bill, we got an Internet connection…. Bill, it’s all gone… All of Worcester. All of the downtown to the westside and the Tatnuck Hills… Westwood… Christ Almighty, Bill, it’s all gone!”
Bill scooped a dozen fried eggs off the grill and put them on a large platter next to a pile of muffins and bacon. He threw a white towel on top of them.
“C’mon, Bill. We’ll eat this later.”
The seven of us huddled in my eight-by-ten office, Terry in front of the screen, Trey and Willy squeezed in tight on each side of her, poking keys to see more of what they wanted, and Terry using the mouse to control the chaos. A&P stood behind Trey, and Bill and I were behind them. We all leaned over and watched video clips on the screen. Fortunately, Terry knew how to get some audio, so we had an intermittent flow of twenty-four second web stream commentary as well.
“…Newton Hill was the perfect place,” intoned the voice over from CNN, “to detonate a two-kiloton suitcase nuke, one-sixth of the Hiroshima bomb, because the elevation of the hill provided an aerial burst effect, which then optimized the destructive effects. As we can see from the Air Force’s unmanned drones, total destruction has been rendered to downtown Worcester for one-mile in all directions….”
“…experts concluded the blast wave roared east down along the slopes of the western hills into the downtown basin and thundered back up and through the Green Hill area and the Route 9 corridor…. in the east, Dorchester Hill blocked the most destructive elements of the explosion, sparing much of Worcester’s eastside from the destruction that we are seeing in South Valley and Burncoat, and throughout the Tatnuck and Westwood area in the west…. gone is U-Mass- Worcester and its acclaimed stem cell research laboratories….”
“.. just south of Highland Street is Worcester’s ‘Ground Zero.’… and on a warm, New England Indian summer day the gentle breezes from the Berkshires in the west send the radioactive dust to Boston a few dozen miles down wind…. utter chaos in the Route 128 corridor, the Silicon Valley of New England…. while the whole downtown of Worcester, and the financial, business, and political infrastructure of central Massachusetts is gone…”
“… the basin of downtown Worcester shaped a secondary shock wave that scoured the hilltops and ridges in a 360-degree arc around…
“…one of the seven hills surrounding Worcester, Newton Hill… a secondary wave coming up from the basin, a less powerful wave to be sure, but one now nicknamed a ‘shotgun wave’… rubble acting like shotgun pellets and plastering whatever survived the initial wave…. Then a third wave – a reverse, shock-wave from the air pushed away from Worcester in the initial blast – raced back into its vacuum. This third wave insured that Worcester’s hilltops were obliterated….
“…for those who have survived the initial blast, radiation is now the biggest concern… gamma radiation flew to all points of the compass, and for one-mile it turned all organic life to vapor. Less deadly, but now more problematic for survivors and rescuers are the alpha and beta particles that clings to every single bit of dust cloaking Worcester and eastern Massachusetts all the way to Boston….
“…for the last punch to the gut, Worcester’s nuke went off less than a mile from three city reservoirs, busting the dams. The downtown core was flooded moments after it was leveled, receiving death and burial all in one package….”
In the next hour, we learned a lot about nuclear radiation, wind atmospherics, and Massachusetts topography. The guys were glad, I think, that I had made them wash. Unlike Silkwood, it wasn’t plutonium in the dust that was most dangerous; it was the alpha and beta wave contamination. Fortunately, the experts said you could wash it off. The important thing was not to breathe it in, but that was a warning too late for many of us.
We learned that gamma rays are the big killers, but they are not around for very long. They flash out at the time of detonation and that’s about it. If you’re in direct line-of-sight, you’re toast. It wasn’t clear to me what degree of protection our hill had afforded us in that regard, because gamma rays go through everything. But nature and brick seem to help some. I crossed my fingers. We were a little less than two-miles from ground zero, and from the look of things, we were the closest to Ground Zero to survive.
We were exceptionally fortunate, or maybe the ghosts of the McAllister’s and their Pilgrim forebearers were watching out for us. Anyway, the hill saved our lives and those of our immediate neighbors.
But, St. Vincent’s – exposed at the top of Union Hill – was razed. The four-foot brass “V” of the hospital’s nameplate, which had hung on the gleaming white brick of the main hospital tower for fifty years, was found four-miles away in the top of an oak tree, dangling around the trunk like a boomerang. It became an instant shrine commemorating what Worcesterites had gone through, and it remains in the tree to this day.
Neighborhoods in South Worcester did not fare well. The industrial area of South Valley where my grandfather had worked in the American Steel and Wire mill was totally cooked, and so too, everything along Millbury St. and over to Holy Cross College. Only the barest outline of the Fitten Field oval was visible in the aerial photographs.
East of us, most of the eastside flats all the way to Lake Quinsigamond remained intact. The northside was rubble all the way, it seemed, to Burncoat.
West from Newton Hill was my Tanta Teddy’s alma mater, Clark University, was gone in toto. So too, my mentor and psychoanalyst T. J. Doyle, on June St.
I felt a new kind of alone in the world. Losing TJ made me some kind of psychological orphan because I had lost the guy I talked to when I was most alone. I felt “aloneness squared;” yet, I felt strong, too. I heard a quiet voice say inside, Well, you’re sure gonna grow up now, Steinzie.
But I didn’t feel scared. Coping with nuclear war was too demanding of self-discipline and resourcefulness to really have any emotions about it. It’s like I had a job to do and that was staying alive. I think the guys also felt that way as well.
But, now, looking back, it was also enlivening. To care intensely about others, and to feel cared about by everyone else in the country was terribly satisfying. I think it gave us the extra energy to do what we did.
Our primary job was simple – stay alive and wait for help to arrive. But our most important task was staying away from the dust. Attached to the fallout, alpha and beta particles didn’t radiate very far – only an inch or so – so, if you washed the dust off, you’d lose the radiation as well.
We made a rule on the spot. No more than a minute in the bathrooms because there was no way to tell how much radiation was in the plumbing. Willy, who liked half-hour steaming showers, had to undergo a life-style change.
Falling like warm snow throughout that first day, the fallout now coated everything outside. Over two inches of fallout carpeted the ground around Unity, but further south it got heavier due to topography, particularly through South Valley. Millbury Junction, where Jeannie was going, had three inches on the ground. Way to the southeast, Otis Air Base, where the rescue efforts for Boston were assembling, barely had a dusting, as did my sister’s home in Fitchburg, forty miles northeast.
In the calm atmosphere of a warm October day, the mushroom cloud did not ascend quickly, spreading instead at very low levels in a pancaked haze north and east toward Boston. The whole metropolitan area received a coating and put Bean Town into a total lockdown. Yes, Worcester’s Newton Hill was a perfect spot to set off a nuke.
It was weird watching others recoil from Worcester’s dust. Boston was in total chaos, and so, too, the rest of the eastern seaboard. The Down East coast of Maine, and Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island in Canada were in total pandemonium. Even Europe was preparing to receive our fallout in the next few days. Numb, yet fascinated, we watched the mostly silent screen fill with news.
However, the experts on TV did not talk about the most important issue to us, rescue. In fact, the general tone of the broadcast indicated that the military was still assessing the threat of another nuke going off, and that their priority was the rest of the country, not Worcester. National Security was the priority of the White House.
The best we could make out was that our major rescue center would be located at the old SAC facility of Westover Air Base, fifty miles due west of us in Chicopee, Mass. Mammoth round-the-clock operations were underway there, which was good to hear. Fortunately, the Massachusetts National Guard had kept the old air field operational when SAC left in the1980s. Therefore, the basic infrastructure of runways, control tower, power, lights, water, and sewage were still functional. Nevertheless, a lot of Air Force and Army personnel were destined to sleep in beds that had thirty years of mildew, and eat MREs left over from Iraqi Freedom.
Besides the base hospital at Westover, massive medical evacuation centers were being created at U-Mass-Amherst and the Springfield VA Medical Center. But the getting the radiation suits, food and water, medical supplies, personnel and transport into the dust zone was going to take days to organize. So, we were on our own for at least forty-eight hours, and maybe longer, before any help arrived. How much and what kind of aid, and what would we do with the kids after rescue got here – those kinds of questions simply did not have any answers.