Remembering Childhood Fear

It’s an August morning in the 1980s. The sun’s creeping over the ridge near our Point Loma, California, apartment. The pomegranate colors flash through my second floor bedroom, casting light on the “Star Wars” sheets, the keyboard of my VIC-20 computer and the toys on my bedroom floor.

Flicking on the small television atop the light blue desk Dad once made for Mom as a vanity, the noise of news pipes up. A vanilla, well-styled newscaster smiles and tells me the Soviet Union still has ten thousand nuclear bombs pointed at my bellybutton. She smiles again and throws it to the weather guy. I turn it off.

I stretch and think of those violent artificial suns. Hydrogen bombs do that. They also wipe out every living organism within 12 miles of where they explode. The after effects of the radiation last longer than my grandparents have lived. Looking out the window seeing the natural sun, I think of those missiles. All it would take is a 30-minute ride over the Arctic Circle, past Whitehorse, Yukon and swan dive into the broken, dirty community pool. At least the blast would take care of the pool.

A bag of books and a frown. What if they do press the buttons? What motivates some fat old white men to want to turn the Big Blue Marble into a carbon-scored hunk of glass? Down the sidewalk and up the busted up flight of steps that lead to my high school, that smiling reporter’s words persist: thousands of nuclear missiles on the other side of the world pointed at us. Thousands of nuclear weapons buried under North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana and elsewhere pointed at them.

School ends. Adulthood begins. It’s 1989. I wake up, stretch and turn on the news. The Berlin Wall is falling and taking the Iron Curtain with it. On the edge of my bed, I watch hundreds of Germans tear down my childhood fears chunk by chunk. For 12 years, all that’s left for kids to worry about is “Friends,” SAT scores and something called “getting the Internet.”

Then, airliners smash into the World Trade Center. While we were clumsily trying to find Sharpies and draw a face on what scared us in the Cold War, television’s 550 lines broadcast his face and name, and Osama Bin Laden, and kids in the United States get a new fear: terrorism.

The day ends. Wars begin. Scared children sign up and go off to battle. In between exploding transports, rocket attacks and embassy explosions, the fear spreads. Some vanilla anchorman reports the damage, tallies the lives lost, smiles, then tosses it to weather.

A decade goes out. May 3, 2011 comes walking in. A group of trained military killers rumbles into a bedroom in Pakistan. They blast fear in the skull with a repeating machine gun. Some others wrap the body and throw it in the ocean hours later. Later, the president stands at a lectern. He tears down someone else’s childhood fears word by word.

It’s an afternoon in May. The sun is creeping through partly cloudy skies. Snow is melting from the mountains and I’m picking up my daughter from afternoon daycare.

She fears nothing.


  1. I remember as a kid thinking I would never live to be twelve years old because that evil, bald, Russian man-Khrushchev- hated little American kids and wanted us all dead. I don't know where I got the idea that twelve would be the end of my life, but the fear came from being herded into the hallway at school and being instructed to stand as close to the wall as I could and fold my arms to cover my head-as if that was going to keep an atomic bomb from destroying me and everything around me. It wasn't until many years later, when I heard the Sting song, 'Russians' with the tag line, " I hope the Russians love their children, too" That it even occurred to me that the 'godless' Russians were just like you and me.

  2. Jason- this piece is amazing. It sums up the feelings I recall having as a child and as a parent. Brought a tear to my eye. Thanks for writing and sharing.


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