by Andrea Dworkin

Copyright © 1990, 1991 by Andrea Dworkin.
All rights reserved.

Excerpt from Chapter Three

In January 1965 (Age 18)

When I was a child they made us hide under our desks, crawl under them on our knees and keep our heads down and cover our ears with our elbows and keep our hands clasped behind our heads. I use to pray to God not to have it hurt when the bomb came. They said it was practice for when the Russians bombed us so we would live after it and I was as scared as anyone else and I did what they said, although I wondered why the Russians hated us so much and I was thinking there must be a Russian child like me, scared to die. You can't help being scared when you are so little and all the adults say the same thing. You have to believe them. You had to stay there for a long time and be quiet and your shoulders would hurt because you had to stay under your desk which was tiny even compared to how little you were and you didn't know what the bomb was yet so you thought they were telling the truth and the Russians wanted to hurt you but if you stayed absolutely still and quiet on your knees and covered your ears underneath your desk the Russians couldn't. I wondered if your skin just burned off but you stayed on your knees, dead. Everyone had nightmares but the adults didn't care because it kept you obedient and that was what they wanted; they liked keeping you scared and making you hide all the time from the bomb under your desk. Adults told terrible lies, not regular lies; ridiculous, stupid lies that made you have to hate them. They would say anything to make you do what they wanted and they would make you afraid of anything. No one ever told so many lies before, probably. When the Bay of Pigs came, all the girls at school talked together in the halls and in the lunchrooms and said the same thing: we didn't want to die virgins. No one said anyone else was lying because we thought we were all probably going to die that day and there wasn't any point in saying someone wasn't a virgin and you couldn't know, really, because boys talked dirty, and no one said they weren't because then you would be low-life, a dirty girl, and no one would talk to you again and you would have to die alone and if the bomb didn't come you might as well be dead. Girls were on the verge of saying it but no one dared. Of course now the adults were saying everything was fine and no bomb was coming and there was no danger; we didn't have to stand in the halls, not that day, the one day it was clear atomic death was right there, in New Jersey. But we knew and everyone thought the same thing and said the same thing and it was the only thought we had to say how sad we were to die and everyone giggled and was almost afraid to say it but everyone had been thinking the same thing all night and wanted to say it in the morning before we died. It was like a record we were making for ourselves, a history of us, how we had lived and been cheated because we had to die virgins. We said to each other that it's not fair we have to die now, today; we didn't get to do anything. We said it to each other and everyone knew it was true and then when we lived and the bomb didn't come we never said anything about it again but everyone hurried. We hurried like no one had ever hurried in the history of the world. Our mothers lived in dream time; no bomb; old age; do it the first time after marriage, one man or you'll be cheap; time for them droned on. Bay of Pigs meant no more time. They don't care about why girls do things but we know things and we do things; we're not just animals who don't mind dying. The houses where I lived were brick; the streets were cement, gray; and I used to think about the three pigs and the bad wolf blowing down their houses but not the brick one, how the brick one was strong and didn't fall down; and I would try to think if the brick ones would fall down when the bomb came. They looked like blood already; blood-stained walls; blood against the gray cement; and they were already broken; the bricks were torn and crumbling as if they were soft clay and the cement was broken and cracked; and I would watch the houses and think maybe it was like with the three pigs and the big bad wolf couldn't blow them down, the big bad bomb. I thought maybe we had a chance but if we lived in some other kind of house we wouldn't have a chance. I tried to think of the bomb hitting and the brick turned into blood and dust, red dust covering the cement, wet with real blood, but the cement would be dust too, gray dust, red dust on gray dust, just dust and sky, everything gone, the ground just level everywhere there was. I could see it in my mind, with me sitting in the dust, playing with it, but I wouldn't be there, it would be red dust on gray dust and nothing else and I wouldn't even be a speck. I thought it would be beautiful, real pure, not ugly and poor like it was now, but so sad, a million years of nothing, and tidal waves of wind would come and kill the quiet of the dust, kill it. I went away to New York City for freedom and it meant I went away from the red dust, a picture bigger than the edges of my mind, it was a red landscape of nothing that was in me and that I put on everything I saw like it was burned on my eyes, and I always saw Camden that way; in my inner-mind it was the landscape of where I lived. It didn't matter that I went to Point Zero. It would just be faster and I hadn't been hiding there under the desk afraid. I hate being afraid. I hadn't grown up there waiting for it to happen and making pictures of it in my mind seeing the terrible dust, the awful nothing, and I hadn't died there during the Bay of Pigs. The red dust was Camden. You can't forgive them when you're a child and they make you afraid. So you go away from where you were afraid. Some stay; some go; it's a big difference, leaving the humiliations of childhood, the morbid fear. We didn't have much to say to each other, the ones that left and the ones that stayed. Children get shamed by fear but you can't tell the adults that; they don't care. They make children into dead things like they are. If there's something left alive in you, you run. You run from the poor little child on her knees; fear burned the skin off all right; she's still on her knees, dead and raw and tender. New York's nothing, a piece of cake; you never get afraid like that again; not ever.

Go to NEXT CHAPTER: "In February 1965 (Age 18)"