Twenty one years ago today, my family moved to Europe. We flew from Chicago to Luxembourg and drove from there to Munich to spend a few weeks with friends before heading off to settle on the French/Swiss border. I was nine years old.
News of the disaster at Chernobyl was just trickling out of the Soviet Union.
Whenever someone mentions Chernobyl, I think of how close we were. I remember how the produce section at the grocery store in Germany was empty: everything had been contaminated. I remember the pictures in the newspaper. I remember not understanding radiation, nuclear meltdown.
Mostly I remember this: my brothers and I and our friends playing in the sandbox at the neighborhood park and our mothers running down the street yelling at us to "Get out of there! Quick! Get out! They just said on the news that we need to stay away from sand!" and rushing us home to scrub us in the bathtub, trying to clean off what no one could see or smell--what made us all afraid.