A single message changes everything
My stomach dropped the moment I saw the aftermath.
I'd always heard about what a nuclear bomb does to cities. I'd seen the pictures from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Buildings leveled, people burned to death, barely any trace of humanity left. But it wasn't until I came back that the damage truly sunk in. Ash covered the ground. Every building I'd grown up by was gone. I knew that I was probably absorbing radiation the longer I stayed there, but I didn't care. My city was gone. My home, my neighbors, my family. I was the only one left.
I didn't hear anything about the situation until it was too late. I simply received a text from a friend who lives across the country that my city was bombed. No one was left alive there to report it themselves. I was taking a road trip. I was in a completely different state. I turned around and drove right back. To hell with whoever tried to stop me. No one was around to keep me from entering the destruction.
I walked all the way home, muscle memory bringing me down the path I would use to walk to school. There was literally nothing left of my home. It was just gray ash. I was so numb from the painful reality of it all that I couldn't even cry. I just stood there, silent, non-moving, unable to comprehend anything except that my reality had completely changed. I didn't get to say goodbye to my sister. My dad. My mom. My best friend. The girl I went out with the previous weekend. My entire class. The people I'd grown up with all my life, gone with the equivalent of a single event encapsulated in a single message -- "Please tell me you survived the bombing."
I was alive, but at what cost? Almost everyone I've ever loved is dead. I put my hands in my pants pockets and feel something. I remember what's in my right front pocket. I take it out. A locket in the shape of a heart, an old picture of me with my family. The only remnant I have left of them now. Not only are they dead, but every single picture, memory, and material object connected to their person is completely destroyed. I hold the heart in my right palm and stroke it with my thumb. I feel its smooth texture with small indents where an intricate design was carved into the gold-colored surface. I see the smiles of my family. Of myself. Of people who didn't know any better.
There weren't any hints. There weren't any warnings. Now, everything that mattered to me is gone, and if I was there, I would have been, too. What's worse, dying suddenly or living with this pain? I finally let a teardrop on the small picture. I gripped the locket tightly. I dropped to my knees, not caring how much radiation I absorbed or what happened to me at that moment. I couldn't do anything but sob.
I knew in my heart that since I lived, I could carry on their memory. I knew that I could do everything I could to remember my town, preserve its legacy. But at that moment, all I could focus on was the fact that I was almost completely alone. My cross-country friend was the only one left, and his place was the only place I could go. I drove back across the country to stay with him, and I've been here for over a month now. I still haven't had the motivation to write anything about this, do anything to raise awareness, even figure out where to begin comprehending all of this. All I can do is lay in my bed in the guest bedroom, wondering why I was the one to survive.