Monday, October 25, 2010

Rachael Worries

(Thanks, LGC, for trading spots with me last week!)

I was about ten years old when I became aware my writing could make a difference. I knew the written word was magical -- I was best friends with Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Jo March and I were cut of the same cloth. I wanted to BE Anne Shirley, no two ways about it.

Words meant everything to me. And I was finally beginning to learn that I could string them together in ways that made my teachers say, "Wow! What a good little writer you are!" Of course, I was ten. I'm sure they said that to all the kids, but I was precocious, and a child of California, so I believed in my own self-worth.

I was also a child of hippies, so I believed that Ronald Reagan was the devil (not that adulthood has changed my mind much, but that's another post). I'd done the simple math, and I'd put everything together -- if Russia had nukes, and we had nukes, and Russia was bad, and our president was evil, then we were poised on the brink of annihilation. It was coming. I could feel it. I'd go outside and look up into the beautiful blue sky, and instead of finding shapes in the clouds, I'd scan the skies for missiles. On the Bay Bridge, while everyone else enjoyed looking at the TransAmerica Building, I'd imagine it wreathed in a mushroom cloud.

Reagan had his finger on the button. Gorbechev was going to make a face at him, and then Reagan would push that button, and we'd all be gone in one anguished molten scream.

I had nightmares of being in a mall and being gassed. For some reason, it was always a mall even though we weren't shoppers -- it added to the horror, I think. In the dreams, I'd hold my breath while I watched everyone I loved fall to the floor, mouths open in agony. I'd try to drag one or two people out, knowing the poison gas was invisible, and I mustn't breathe, mustn't die this way.... Then I'd gasp myself awake and lie there, heart pounding, a cold sweat soaking into the sheets.

Then I figured out what I had to do. It was easy. I would solve the global crisis. Me.

I would write a letter to President Ronald Reagan. I'd tell him that I was just a kid, and that I didn't deserve to die. Moreover, the poor kids in Russia, even though they were Russian, didn't deserve to die. None of us did.

And I thought this was an original idea. The fact that children would die in a nuclear apocalypse was something I was sure hadn't occurred to him (this shows both how little faith I placed in him and how much I believed in myself).

I could actually see it, in my mind's eye. The letter would sit on the top of his stack of mail. He'd open it. Read it. Tears would fill his eyes. He'd call Nancy and tell her what he'd just learned from naught but a child in California. Then he'd phone Russia, and take the first steps toward peace. Then, finally, he'd call me and say, simply, "Rachael, from the bottom of my heart, thank you."

For reals. I wrote the letter, and Mom got the address for me to write on the envelope. I mailed it. I waited. Ron would call any day.

Days turned to weeks. Weeks to months. By the time I was eleven, the reality dawned in my dimmed eyes. He wasn't going to call me. He wasn't going to make the world a peaceful place because of my beautiful, persuasive, Grade-12 level words.

My words, weighed against the coming apocalypse, meant nothing.

You know how if you don't hear back from an agent or an editor, it means you've been rejected?

I think that was my first rejection letter. That was the start. And like all rejection letters, it just served to make me more determined. I still think the right letter, the right child's plea, could lead to the phone call that would sort it all out. Call me naive (and you'd be right), but that's what I still think.

Peace. Peace will... Peace will come. And let it begin with me!


Sophie Littlefield said...

that's just about the sweetest thing i ever heard. i can't *believe* that horrid, callous man did not write you back!! obama would have.

while you were wide awake in bed worrying about nuclear war, i was (well, several years earlier) worrying about brown recluse spiders...

Unknown said...

I love this. And just because you didn't hear back doesn't mean that it didn't make a difference.

Nowadays I believe they have a whole department who writes back. In the third grade, Princess sent a letter about the quality of food in the schools and we got a lovely letter telling her to keep coming up with new ideas and to get invovled, also enclosed was a signed picture of President Bush getting on AirForce One :)

Theresa Stevens said...

Your story is very touching. If it's any consolation, I was required to write a letter to a pol as a grade 1 school assignment -- I drew the short straw and got Spiro Agnew -- and that bastard never wrote me back, either. Though I think he might have been in jail or something.


Cassie said...

On the day after Reagan was elected, I wore a black armband to school. And made a pile of them for my friends - I was convinced that he was evil and that we were doomed. So, while you wrote, I did something with fabric.

Juliet Blackwell said...

Oooh, Rach. *I* would have written you back! Or at least I would have meant to, though sometimes these things sort of drift to the bottom of the apocalypse pile and then, ya know, it seems late to write when you've grown into a woman already ;-)
But I *do* think it's an original idea, that children should never die due to the actions of grown-ups. Every time I hear it, I think it's original, and oh-so-worthy.

L.G.C. Smith said...

My action to deal with nuclear apocalypse fear was to figure out where I could get my parents to move that wouldn't be a target. Alas, everywhere I liked was close to a target. I found bomb shelters appealing, but lost interest when my mom handed me a spoon and told me to start digging. I never wrote letters to politicians. My dad worked for the government. I knew about bureaucracy by the time I was seven.

I find your faith in your own voice so hopeful. Beautiful, as well, and a testament to your spirit and your family's good will toward the world. Great post. :)

Rachael Herron said...

Awww. All y'all, I'm glad you would have written back to me. And Cassie, I love your comment. Just goes to show who we are, huh?

Mysti said...

My dad worked at NTS, and told me how safe and reasonable nuclear power (and, as only parents can, also nuclear war) was. Still I had apocalypse dreams, always silent, always starting with ash falling from the sky, then I try not to look but the mushroom cloud demands it.

So, you can lie to some of the people all of the time, but not if they're a kid ;)

Martha Flynn said...


I, not surprisingly, I'm sure, have also had mushroom cloud dreams and whenever I'm in an environment that mimics the dream environment, I have a silent panic attack.

Carol said...

I never had any bad dreams and am proud to say I have a reprint of the poster, 'war is bad for children and other living things' on the wall. Google Syracuse Cultural Workers for other peace oriented stuffs. It's gotta send some good vibes out, peace in our hearts, peace in our homes, peace in the world. Love ya!

Adrienne Bell said...

I spent my childhood worried about nuclear war too. I was always certain that the doppler sound of planes flying overhead was actually the sound of bombs dropping. I was nervous kid.

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