It was 1981. Even reasonable people feared impending doom by a nuclear duel between the USA and the USSR. The Cold War had everybody wondering how to prevent the total extermination of humankind when the sabers stopped rattling and started their deadly slicing. Fallout shelters were born.
My 6th grade teachers came up with an aggressive plan. To teach us what to expect in the aftermath of a full-scale nuclear event, they offered: a one-night co-ed sleepover in the school library/actual fallout shelter (say it with pride). This would be the culmination of many lessons on radiation, the invisible yet deadly gift of science. Radiation is why we’d all be living in the fallout shelter for a year or two. All 30,000 of us residents. Not like there were actual fallout shelters everywhere… would it be like the Titanic, steerage on the school lawn? Even in elementary school, death sounded better than the library option.
Just so we wouldn’t inundate the school psychologist over the fears they’d implanted in our featherweight psyches, they would make it fun. From Geiger counters to astronaut food, we were going to have ourselves a little end-of-the-world role play. A one night co-ed sleepover would teach us about months of deprivation in postapocalyptic Ironton, Pennsylvania, which is sort of like learning about the marriage contract from a one night stand. But they were children of the 60’s, my teachers. This would never fly today.
I was checking radiation levels (i.e. wandering the halls with my painted tissue box) when a teacher pulled me aside and told me she had a special project. My job was to sprawl on the bathroom floor “unconscious” until someone discovered me. Then I was to remain unconscious until I received the appropriate medical care. Dutiful me, I lay on the floor with my eyes closed and waited to be rescued.
How long I lay there I don’t know, but it was all worth it to have everyone scuttling about me, concerned for my welfare, caring about me exponentially more than when I was upright and conscious. That’s the lure of being a victim. All that attention is outright intoxicating. And I, the radioactive damsel-in-distress even made the local paper. The first words in 72-point-font read, Kelly Seyer was in trouble…
A victim of radiation poisoning, I had succumbed to it while doing a routine check of the levels. How long I lay in the bathroom decided how radiated I was and underscored how inept we 6th graders were at keeping attendance. Except me, I couldn’t be at fault because I was the victim. [Note: victimhood gets you out of trouble. Lawyers know this.]
I enjoyed being a victim so much that I decided to get radiated again that night, without teacher approval. I lay down in the bathroom and waited… and you know what? I got more attention! I was carried by my classmates to the first-aid area and given a second dose of royal medical treatment. Then and there I decided that being rescued was the bomb.
I’ve since unlearned that lesson. Because strength and diligence and perseverance are the lessons of real life emergencies.
The 6th grade sleepover taught me absolutely nothing about preparing for nuclear war. In fact, I intend to situate myself as close to ground zero as possible, so I can be instantly vaporized. Anyone who’s read Hiroshima Diary: The Journal of a Japanese Physician will be there holding hands with me. Hachiya’s descriptions of his neighbors’ bloated corpses packed into any water they could find was horrifying. Everyone’s on fire on the inside and desperate for water. That’s hell if I’m not mistaken. Organic victims, the kind that bleed or bloat or scream– often don’t get a rescue. Playing at being one doesn’t deserve a rescue either. On my better days I recognize my wayward victim leanings; I remember this night and pull myself off the figurative bathroom floor before anyone sees.