I have been writing about myself so earnestly–me, me, me, me, me–that I had forgotten what day it is today: August 6, the day the US dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Props to Taknunishi79 for reminding me of this important day.
A-Bomb, Hiroshima, and Mom
Today is the 48th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Every August, this becomes an intense issue for many anti-nuclear groups and opponents. For me, it is just as intense, but for more personal reasons.
My mother is an A-bomb victim–hibakusha in Japanese. That makes me a second generation victim, and the research on how radiation effects second generations is still inconclusive–although a friend has told me that if I’m any indication, the research should lead to illnesses like Peter Pan syndrome. But this is not about me….
My mother–photographed in the early ’50s next to Honkawa, a river in Hiroshima (I think the Atomic Dome is visible in the background)–rarely talked about her experience. I had asked her a couple of times, but she would only tell me it was terrible and offered virtually no detail. On my first trip to Japan, I visited my relatives in Hiroshima with her and learned that most victims indeed did not talk about the event… until they were talking to someone who went through the same experience. In my great-aunt’s house just northwest of ground zero–the Atomic Dome–she talked very animately with her cousin’s husband about their experience. I was mesmerized, and now kick myself in the butt for being so selfish, for not recording their conversation on tape or on paper to share with others. All I can offer you today is my memory–as suspect as it is.
I had interviewed my mother a few times and actually put some of it on audio tape before she passed on last year, but I have yet to transcribe them as it is still too painful even to listen to them. So I will not write about her fateful day–I will do that on some future date relying on her memories. Instead I will jot down some of the insights I have gained through her over the years…
Burns: They were shiny oval areas on her legs. They differed in size, from 4 inches to 6 inches in length. Each had what looked like veins in a leaf: a center vertical vein with several branches sprawling outward from there. I always stared at them and at times tried to run my fingers over them, but every time I tried, she would slap my hand away. These are the remnants of her burns she suffered from the atomic blast. Her burns were severe and promoted keloids–an excessive production of scar tissue. She later explained to me that these keloids would form, then become dead skin that turned black and then peeled away. After a time, as her wounds healed, they stopped forming, but they left these shiny reminders of August 6. Whenever she slapped my hand away, she would just say, “Stop it.” But I wonder if it was because it hurt or because she didn’t need anyone else to bring attention to her experience. These weren’t her only reminders.
Physical Scars: She had an ear–the left one–that looked like a boxer’s cauliflower ear. Whenever my siblings and I were horsing around and we accidentally brushed against this ear, she would freeze in pain. Causing the pain were minute shards of glass. They had been embedded inside this cauliflower ear when the windows of her office imploded from the blast. After the blast, she went to a hospital to have them removed, but she was sent away, told that she should count herself among the lucky; patients that demanded “real” care needed their attention first and foremost. My mother just let the wound heal-over as is. Amazingly, she still maintained some–albeit diminished–hearing in this ear.
Psychological scars: Whenever we went outside, particularly when she was driving, my mother wore excessively dark sunglasses. I thought she was just trying to be California cool, but I found out later that there was a reason related to Hiroshima. When she was speaking with her cousin’s husband, he mentioned that even today he flinches when he sees a sudden flash of light–a reminder of the flash on August 6. My mother nodded in agreement. She went on to describe to him how sunny southern California is and that when she was driving, a glint of sunlight reflecting off a car’s chrome bumper always made her catch her breath…
I was reluctant to reveal these things about my mother–she consistently avoided talk about her scars and she always tried to hide them. But towards the end of her life, she suggested that perhaps her experience might prove to be noteworthy to some. I hope that some might serve as a reminder of the horrors of war and the effects of a nuclear blast–as we all know, there are some who unfortunately still need it…