Craig Mazin’s Chernobyl: a personal response

Reactor 4, Chernobyl, under its protective sarcophagus

“With every lie we tell, we incur a debt to the truth. Sooner or later that debt will be paid.”

These lines are spoken by Valery Legasov, in Craig Mazin’s five-part series Chernobyl. Legasov was the nuclear scientist, who was instrumental in saving the world from the nuclear holocaust that the meltdown of reactor 4 on April 26, 1986 could have been. In doing so, he exposed himself to doses of radiation that would have eventually proven fatal if he had not killed himself on the second anniversary of the disaster. He left behind an oral account, which circulated among scientists and revealed the lies that caused the explosion and the ensuing coverup.

As it turned out penny-pinching, ambition and fear of humiliation were the root causes, but none of these would have endangered Europe or cost so many lives – as many as 100,000 – if not for the lies.

We are living in an age of lies. As of the end of April 2019, Trump is reported to have lied over 10,000 times . His staunch supporters don’t care. Even now, that Fox News is beginning to admit the fact, they don’t care. This week, he has denied knowing E. Jean Carroll, who writes that he sexually assaulted her in a dressing room at Bergdorf Goodman, even though a picture has been published showing them talking together.

Hitler followed Joseph Goebbel’s advice that if you told a big enough lie often enough, everyone would believe it. Thus he was able to resettle six million Jews.

I remember. But that may be because I am so old that I was alive while he was doing it. A friend of mine, who is even older, on the other hand, does not. Or only partly. She voted for Trump, but may be having slight second thoughts now, at least about his sexually morality. Still, what does sexual morality have to do with GDP?

I also remember learning from George Orwell’s 1984 that it is possible to hold two contradictory ideas to be true at the same time. This he called doublethink, a key principle of government in Oceana.

I was glad to discover there was a name for that kind of thinking. Doublethink was the default mode of the Family. My family – lower case – belonged to the Family. In the great tradition of other arch Families like the Mafia, we were more or less owned by the Family and stepped out of line at our peril. And no, we didn’t live in a walled off commune, we lived where everybody else did. We were indistinguishable. We didn’t wear red robes – except at night, but only if we were high up on the hierarchy. Initially, the goals of the Family were quite admirable. Or at least, some of its members, most of them women, believed in a higher purpose and even eventual enlightenment. Unfortunately, others believed that children were sexual beings and that kidnapping and murder were justifiable instruments of order.

Our father, who had been nurtured in the bosom of this cult, turned out to be a sociopath of considerable stature, who helped himself to cult power for status and extra cash. His alliance with the actual Mafia was helpful in both regards. He was a dab hand at body disposal and much worse criminal mayhem, seemingly unhindered by empathy. He was considerably ahead of the CIA or even the KGB when it came to torture techniques and he practiced on his children and grandchildren.

So why did I keep returning to the family home for family celebrations, thus enabling such abuse.

In my day to day life, I carried around the idea of my family as respectable, hardworking and honest. A little raucous, noisy, prone to shouting matches, but fundamentally good, even God-fearing. We didn’t even speed or run red lights. We became teachers. We served the community.

And because…

My father had threatened the life of one of my children and offered convincing evidence that it was no idle threat. And, of course, he had violently abused me to the point of near-death.

Terror initiates trauma, a feeling of helplessness -“There’s nothing I can do. I’m done for.” The connections in the brain get ‘messed up’. Adrenaline and cortisol release into the body. Adrenaline helps to formulate memories, but cortisol prevents the integration of them because the hippocampus  responds to cortisol by shutting down. And the hippocampus is the part of the brain that links ‘separated areas of implicit memory” and integrates experience. The wires are down between the the conscious and the unconscious. (Quotes from NICABM “Treating Trauma Master Series, session 1, The Neurobiology of Trauma.)

Traumatic memory gets locked there as Dr. Ford said at Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court hearing: “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter”.

After my father died, flashes of memory and dreams began to release these bits, along with the original terror. My sister and I both had to stop teaching for several months. I shook visibly, which wasn’t a good look at the front of a classroom. We went to lawyers, psychologists and the police. We learned that it was not a crime to witness a crime. We learned that none of our allegations could be proved. We learned that telling the truth could cost financially and socially. We learned that our family was split into truth-tellers and deniers.

And that was that.

But no. As time went on, other hippocampuses flashed information into higher brains and other people, who had stood aside from our truth, found themselves dragged into it by their own dysfunctioning minds, their own despair and rage.

We had a rule. Don’t tell until the other person remembers. But after a certain number of close calls, we broke even that rule. It turned out to be a good thing.

If you can ever say that letting a person understand the hidden horror in her past is a good thing. It’s not as if we can replace the graphite tips of the control rods in the brain or replace the AZ 5 emergency shutdown device. The Soviets eventually did both.

So that is what I’ve learned about the truth. I can’t even swear to its exact nature. I know only that it cannot be denied. It catches up to you and its interest rates are astronomical.

On the other hand, partial though it may be, it heals like love.

 

 

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All Is Well: another contradiction to despair

Sirroco,

“All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”
Hildegard of Bingem

“No doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”
The Desiderata

Faithful followers have already met my sister Georgia. Not as funny as my Brussels brother, but then she doesn’t smoke pot.* Georgia’s more into the wisdom market and she lives closer, just up the street here in westernmost TO.

I was weeping to her on the phone this morning and she started quoting Aunt Mae. I hate that. She said that Aunt Mae predicted I would be very unhappy for a long time, but that it would lead to ….enlightenment. At least I think she said ‘enlightenment’. By then I had my fingers in my ears and I was yelling, “Yabba dabba dabba dabba”. She’s such a good sister that she didn’t hang up.

I was crying because
-someone I love has realized there should be no more chemo
-a sailboat I love should, therefore, go to the scrap yard
-a sweet boy, who came to swim in my pool in 1975, and who has spent 25 years in solitary confinement for two murders and 14 rapes, is back in the news because he is applying for parole and I want him never to get out
-Donald Trump mocked Dr. Blasey Ford
-Brett Kavanaugh is going to be a Supreme Court Judge.

Now Georgia and I learned long ago that, despite what seemed like gross deficiencies, and even though one of us did not entirely accept it, that our lives were perfect. They were exactly what they needed to be.

Reasoning that out could be diverting but also unbearable. Better to retreat behind the ‘mystery of God’ or personal destiny. It’s just too hard debating the role of ‘evil’: how could there be a Jesus if there wasn’t a Judas. No one wants to go down the road to Hitler’s positive contribution to spiritual development.

Earth is a planet of pain. There must be others that aren’t.

It’s been a while since I could take comfort in God the Father. Not sure Georgia ever did. But I do believe very profoundly in Supreme Goodness, a divinity that we all embody, whether we let it shine or not. Even if we are drunken, 17-yr-old sex abusers. Even if we are sweet boys that turn into rapists and murderers. Even if we seem to have no redeeming quality.

And I believe, as does Georgia, that she and I chose this path we’re on, one we are stubbornly sticking to into old age. Why is a bit of a muddle, but not much. It’s about love.

In other news, my new glasses finally came and things are clearer.

* Georgia’s deadpan one-line stingers don’t hit you until long after you could have made a come-back.

 

 

 

A Memory of Laughter: contradicting sexual abuse

Brother et moi on a bench in Bois Fort

Above all, I love to laugh. Well, who doesn’t?

I once embarrassed a whole theater section of students at Stratford. We were watching one of Shakespeare’s comedies. I was rollicking with laughter, tears streaming down my cheeks. They turned as one at my unseemly outburst to reprimand me, their teacher. It’s true, they just didn’t get the joke or understand how hilariously the sight gag echoed the lines. It was probably something about cross-gartering and yellow stockings. But even if they had found it funny, they would never have given in to such gut-wrenching, wholehearted, life-affirming guffaws.

As a young woman I could set a table a-roar. The staff cafeteria at lunch time was all the stage I needed. Hapless administrations feared my satiric tongue. Once for two weeks, I had people weeping with glee – over my ongoing, mishandled root canal.

As a lover of laughter, I was an amateur compared to my younger brother. Now there was a funny man. A funny boy originally, of course, and very annoyingly so. He grew up to travel the world and bring back comic stories of – for example – being jailed in Turkey where feeding prisoners was optional. Doesn’t sound funny. You had to be there.

I fell on tough times.

He and I ended up on a road trip in a restaurant in the Big Sur. I was having some vegetarian meal of rice and soy. He was eating steak. He put down his knife and fork and looked at me.

“What happened to you, Joyce?” he said. “You used to laugh.”

We didn’t find a motel room until after midnight. He came out of the office waving the key.

“I told her you were my sister,” he called. “I think she believed me.” He was so overcome with his own wit, he could barely get the words out.

I gave up vegetarianism. I gave up meditating. I gave up spiritualism.

I laughed.

Last Thursday, I listened to Dr. Ford describing a sexual assault she endured. A senator on the Supreme Court Confirmation Committee asked her what the most compelling memory of the incident was. She replied, “The laughter”.

I fell into a quiet study. I declined hourly into a deeper and deeper depression. I began to lose track of myself. I spent Saturday in such dissociation that I couldn’t even binge watch Netflix. I wasn’t sure who I was.

And all the while, I heard the laughter. Not her assailants’ laughter but my own. A lone assailant doesn’t laugh.

Sunday, it occurred to me to cry. That was a breakthrough. It perked me up.

Just as I got myself functioning enough to go to Whole Foods, my brother Face-timed me from Brussels. He was sitting on the bench on the sidewalk in front of his house, smoking a joint. He was wearing a red t-shirt that said, “Beast”. He told me a story about weevils and moths and smoke grenades to get rid of them and could they actually be in his Oreos – he had just eaten three and forgot to check. But Yagoda, his Polish cleaner, whose name means Blueberry, would come and fix it. And as he talked, I remembered to chuckle just a little.

Here was a man who could fall off a ladder, break both feet and laugh that the plaster casts gave his toes claustrophobia. But then I was the girl who could laugh about a root canal.

I would just like to say – and you know who you are – my laughter is bigger than yours. Love is like that.

https://115journals.com/2012/07/20/i-dream-of-etherica-life-changing-dream-2/

See the link for an older, fuller account of the Big Sur incident.