These Were Our Years
I wonder if they’ll believe us when we tell them how bad it got. In my mind, when I imagine us talking about it, it’s dead and gone but we’re still alive — you and me and everybody who is still here. We are old and we are healthy. Can you see it, all of us, creaky in our bones but thriving, dredging up memories at the beach, on the stoop, beside a lazy river in the sun?
I know, of course, that we won’t all live through this, but I still like to play pretend. I like it more now even than when I was a kid.
I know, too, that it may live forever, mutate and grow and change and stay among us as long as there are any of us left on the planet. Like us, it is programmed for survival.
When I say that I picture it dead and gone, I really just mean the worst of it — the way it is now, strong and so easily passed among us. I imagine that part being long over, when we describe it to them.
Picture us telling children about this, the ones who aren’t born yet and won’t be born until after it’s done. They’re at the beach, or on the stoop, or beside the lazy river. Maybe it’s a family picnic. Maybe it’s a block party. Maybe one of them says something that triggers a memory — they mention wanting a mask for Halloween, or they say they hate being outside when it’s so hot and they wish they could just stay inside all the time, all day.
Maybe one of them says what I would always say to my own mother: “Tell me a story from when you were younger.”
Will they think we are exaggerating? Will they think we’re making it a bigger deal than it was? How do children regard the recollections of elders who went through something so massive and catastrophic, something that cut through swaths of the whole population? It’s been awhile since I was little and asked my grandparents about their wars. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that my grandfather told me about watching a Luftwaffe pilot, writhing in flames, jumping to his death from the sky.
“We didn’t hit him,” he said quickly, and I don’t know if that was true. He was a tailgunner.
My parents, children of the late ’50s, have no such stories. And many of my grandparents’ generation didn’t tell their own…