We were having it. The talk. The one she had been avoiding. Somehow hoping it would never have to happen. That this day would never come.
“I don’t want you to be afraid, but I don’t want you not to know either.” She sighed long and looked seriously into my eyes. “Nuclear war would be a very sad, very horrific thing.”
And then, my fifth grade fingers went cold.
A few days before Thanksgiving, 1983, I walked all of the way home with a ticking time bomb in my school bag.
It was a note about a movie.
I knew it was there. And I was pretty sure I knew what this movie had to be about because the last time I brought home a note about a movie…there had been a talk. A big one before my mother signed off and sent the permission slip back to school.
The previous year in the fourth grade, after a girl at one of the elementary schools in town had gotten her period on the playground and freaked out thinking she was dying, it had been decided that it would be wise to start showing the “hygiene” film at an earlier age. And so a note had been sent.
My mom had always been pretty good at providing little bits of information about babies and bodies and bathing regularly all along so it wouldn’t be just one big surprise. According to her, sex, although a deadly mortal sin, was just a part of who we were.
And I had also seen my three younger siblings come along and had a lot of questions. So I knew a fair amount of stuff already. But, she wanted to run the topic through the family filter one more time before signing off and sending me for a glimpse of my future girlhood.
The movie we watched gave the basics, but was pretty sterile. And from the information I had received at home, I knew there was more to it than that.
So now that there was a new note, I knew there would be a new talk. And pretty sure a new movie with the rest of the story.
The odd thing though, my younger brother had gotten one too…and he wasn’t even in fourth grade yet…or a girl.
And this note was in an envelope, so I knew it had to be a doozy. Unreadable and all sealed away. I couldn’t even prepare myself for what I figured was about to take place with one of my parents.
And on top of that, as I found out on my walk home…EVERY KID IN THE ENTIRE SCHOOL HAD GOTTEN ONE. The PTO phone tree had even been activated and parents had called other parents to tell them that a note was on the way.
Now growing up in Southern Kansas at the dawning of the age of AIDS, sex talks were constant. They were everywhere. At home, at school, with friends and on television. I was only in the fifth grade and even I knew who C. Everett Koop was. And believe it or not, this prevalence of information did not make me run out and have sex. It just scared me. A lot.
But not as much as the conversation I was about to have.
You see, it turned out, the Russians might just kill me before sex even got a chance to! And ABC was about to prove it by destroying my entire home state on national television that coming Sunday night. Kansas was going to cook for all to see in a nuclear holocaust on their console TVs.
This note was to warn parents that the movie THE DAY AFTER was not family fare, especially for elementary aged children living in Kansas, the state that was about to be annihilated in living color.
And so, rather than just read the note and forbid me. We had a talk.
An honest one.
About worries and war and wants of something better. Not to fill me with fear. But because even my mother, who was far from a hippy, had hopes for my future and wanted me to know and understand that this was a serious thing, with serious consequences.
And when Sunday night came, I wanted to watch that movie so bad. But I understood why I wasn’t allowed to. Not because of a note. But because nuclear war was something I just wasn’t ready for. I'm still not.
The idea of it was bad enough. Still is.