27 March 2009

"True Story"

By Curtis C. Chen

1945, August, there's this guy living in Hiroshima when the US drops the first atomic bomb. He survives. All around him, death and destruction. He decides this is it, the end of the world, and he's got to go home and see his parents one last time.

So he hops the first train he can find. Three days later, he's with his family. In Nagasaki. When we drop the second bomb.

And he survives again.

So now here's this guy, irradiated all to hell, mourning the loss of his family and friends and still thinking that it's over, the bombs are going to keep coming, it's just a matter of time until the Allies vaporize all of Japan.

But he doesn't give up. He goes out and helps. Distributing food, water, medical supplies, digging bodies out of the rubble. He tells people that he's from Hiroshima, and word gets around: This guy just survived two A-bombs. He's scarred from flying glass and debris, his skin's peeling off, and he's losing all his hair, but he's alive. Alive.

People want to see him, talk to him, touch him. It's a miracle, they say. It's a sign. We can win the war. This man is living proof.

But people keep dying. By the end of 1945, over 200,000 people have died. And this guy, the two-time survivor, he's sick as a dog. Goes into the hospital, and there, he does a lot of thinking. Most of the people he knows are dead or dying. His company's gone; the war is over; Japan surrendered. What's next for him? What can he do to make a difference, in a world where people use nuclear weapons on each other?

He's still alive, you know. Ninety years old, still living in Japan. Has nightmares every night. Takes half a bottle of pills every day. No friends, no family, just sits at home in front of the TV.

See, he decided, sixty-four years ago, lying there in that hospital bed, wondering when he was going to die, that it didn't matter. It would never matter what he did ever again, for as long as he lived. He survived two atomic bombs. He's in the history books. He's done. He could invent a time machine and he'd still be the guy who walked under two A-bombs and walked away. He could never do anything more significant than what we did to him.

Nobody remembers him now. He's a bit of trivia, something you tell at cocktail parties, and you have to say, seriously, true story, because nobody believes you. Because if it is true, it's the saddest thing you've ever heard: The man who survived two nuclear explosions and then squandered the rest of his life.

Could you deal with that? What would you do after surviving something like that? Can you even imagine?

True story.


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