I’m stealing a leaf – or a post, actually – from my friend Claire’s blog, Scribblings.
A few days back she published her memories about the day history became something real for her, it became something happening around her.
We talked about it, a few nights back, and I came to the realization that for me, this sense of “My, this is history happening!” also clicked, more or less at her same age, but in quite a different circumstance.
It was on the night of the 26th of April 1986.
I was in Geneva – dreary town on a Saturday night – and it was raining.
We had spent – my school pals and myself – the day in CERN, and now most of the guys were either revelling in their hotel rooms, or having a wild night somewhere in Geneva.
I was alone, I was under the rain, and I had just learned the Chernobyl reactor had blown up that morning.
I was trying to figure out if atmospheric circulation was fast enough to carry radioactive material all the way to Switzerland.
To Geneva in particular.
And history became solid.
All the talk about Russians and Americans, all the scare about the cold war going hot all of a sudden, all those pieces in magazines and on TV about building your own nuclear fall-out sheltr in the garden, the movies and the novels and the daily news…
Everything cohalesced, for me, in that single night.
So, weirdly enough, fantasy became solid, too.
The next day was sort of a let-down – no gangs of barbarians of the nuclear wasteland, just my hung-over schoolmates snoring on the bus taking us back home.
Nobody gave a damn – there was the usual after-party storm of recrimination, fall-outs (of the non-nuclear sort), headaches, disorientation, broken hearts and lost virginities and adolescent angst.
I felt strangely old, watching my schoolmates.
I found them so much scarier than the radiation and the uncertainty of what the Chernobyl powr station blowing out might bring in my future.
I felt so utterly alone.
But not scared.
Chernobyl blew up and I got my ten minutes of utter and total alienation.
It’s the sort of stuff writers cherish – useful, revealing, and somewhat scary in itself.