I took this image. It is of a sign directing t...


It happens every autumn. I’m walking down the street and it wells up fast, triggered by a first chill in the air, some foliage, maybe a doorstep pumpkin. In that instant returns the knotted stomach and debilitating dread of the apocalyptic autumn of 1983.

That was the season my slice of generation, on the younger side of X, learned about things worse than death. Things like flash burns and thermal radiation and stillborn mutants. It was the season we acquired some of the habits of the wartime mind. We wondered if lights in the night sky were planes or missiles, and whether the school fallout shelter stood a chance. The autumn of ’83 was also a semester of children’s thermonuclear ethics. If it happens in the afternoon, do we run toward home, or away from the city and the blast? If it happens at night, do we let our parents huddle over us in the basement, or do we stand on the rooftop, chests forward, praying the first shock wave dematerializes our family without pain?

In my nightmares, I always ran, and the blast always overtook me. I could never get out beyond the red circle drawn on the maps left on our doorstep by Boston’s Freeze activists. Still I studied them. I kept my collection of maps and pamphlets hidden like a stash of pornography. Attempts by adults to calm us only deepened the terror. It was obvious their reassurances were hollow. It was for them, not us, that the American Broadcasting Corporation set up 1-800 panic hotlines for the Thanksgiving week airing of “The Day After.” Grownups were as scared numb as we were that autumn, which seemed to be replaying the Cuban missile crisis in slow motion. [Read the full article]