Bennett didn't understand why his mother called him selish for staying in
his room. In those years, and for many years after, he was terribly
confused by what people said. One fall, after his weekly allowance was
reduced by twenty-five cents, his mother explained that since the family
business was doing well, it was a good time to save money rather than spend
it. On another occasion, Bennett's cousin Laura, in her early twenties,
announced that she was breaking up with her boyfriend because she loved him
too much. Could that be what she meant? Bennett learned to hide his
confusion and just nod his head. Then he'd go to his room to do word
problems. He thought everybody should learn how to do word problems.
Several boys in Bennett's eighth-grad science class made bets on when
nuclear war was going to start. One kid bet on three years, another on one
year. boy who had done a project on impurities in water bet four weeks'
allowance that the bombs would start dropping within five months. Bennett
stopped thinking about what he would be when he grew up. He stopped
thinking about going to college, or even finishing high school. He was
fourteen, and he believed he would not live to fifteen.
Bennett had nightmares about a nuclear attack. In one dream, he is riding
his bicycle in the neighborhood when he looks up and sees a dark grey
cylinder woosh by overhead, like a shark. He can see its tailfins. It moves
silently. This one missile goes by, headed for downtown Memphis, and he
knows that it is a Russian nuclear missile and that in seconds the world
will be over. He has a quick, nauseous feeling and the thought: So this is
how the wold ends. It couldn't be helped...
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