Thursday, May 27, 2010
The Girl from Da Burg at War, Part II
ll too soon, Dov left for his stint in the army and I was on my own. As soon as he left, I got creative. I took an old plastic tablecloth and taped it over the bedroom window. Okay, so an old plastic tablecloth didn't quite fit the Home Front Command recommendations for adequate protection against poisonous gas, but I figured it was better than nothing.
Next, I took packing tape and taped big X's over every window in the house to keep glass from shattering and falling in on us, in the case of an explosion. I brought rags, bleach, tape, and bucket into my bedroom. This is how it was supposed to go: the siren goes off, everyone goes into the sealed room, adults put on gas masks first, after which we were to place them on our children. The door is closed and sealed around the frame with tape and a rag soaked with bleach is placed along the bottom of the door.
That's if we were supposed to go into the sealed rooms. But we didn't know how or when those attacks were going to arrive. We didn't know if there would be conventional missile heads, in which case it would be better for us to go to one of the two public bomb shelters on the settlement, or if the attacks would be by poison gas or biological agents. If gas or biological warfare came, we were supposed to stay put in our sealed rooms.
But we didn't know if we'd have ample warning and we didn't know how we were to be informed. A lot of reassuring words were issued, but I doubt they made anyone feel secure. Each night I had trouble falling asleep, feeling hyper-vigilant as my bedroom took on the look of a bunker.
The municipality had two social workers come out and teach the women a mini-seminar on coping in an emergency, which I found to be very valuable. I still remember the simple words of wisdom they offered. They explained that there were three basic profiles for response in times of emergency. Some people will become hysterical, others will go into denial, while still others would find their survival skills kick in by instinct. The latter was the best case scenario, of course.
The social workers said that there was no way to know in advance which profile would be assumed and we could only wait and see. Meantime, we were taught how to deal with the hysterical person. We were told not to touch the person or hug him, but to lay a blanket or sweater over his shoulders, offer him a drink, and speak to him in a calm and quiet manner.
Dov managed to call me from time to time. He said that his unit, comprised of seven men from our settlement, all fathers of large families, and all taking basic training together, had been assured that should war break out, they'd be released and would be able to resume their training at another time. That was a very reassuring notion. Too bad it was a lie.
The war did break out and the men were not sent home. I was among the seven women of our settlement who would have to manage alone the dreadful task of suiting frightened panicky children and babies into scary looking masks while feeling none too calm ourselves.
As a teenager, I had slept with my transistor radio on my pillow, close by my ear. I fell back into this old habit. It comforted me to revert to this familiar behavior and to have this white noise as a background to my sleep, but more to the point, having the radio on meant I'd know the minute war broke out. This way, I'd know when to herd my children into the bomb shelters or sealed room. I hoped.
Sleep was a precious commodity in those days. I was always either nursing or pregnant. Crying babies who need to eat every three hours and third trimester woes meant a constant state of sleep deprivation. But now, with war looming on the horizon, even when there was a chance to grab a bit of sleep, I found I could not do so.
I remember that one night I at last sank into a fitful sleep. It must have been around 2:00 AM. About an hour later, I heard someone at my front door and my heart did a quick counterpoint, banging in time with the frantic knocking. I grabbed a robe and hastened to answer the door. It was Sarah, one of the seven women whose husbands were in basic training. She said, "The war has begun. But we are not yet in it. There's nothing you need to do right now. I just wanted to let you know."
To be continued.