My first exposure to radiation of any kind took place in Tommy’s Comic’s circa 1989.
What the clerk brought from behind that fingerprint laced glass case literally lit up my face. Okay, maybe not literally more like literarily. My winning grin spreading cross my chin-like cancer. Yes a smile like cancer that had yet to make it’s mark, the minute this web-slinging, wall-scaling, sky-scraping dancer in the dark first appeared inside Amazing Fantasy Number 15’s story arc. Inside this inimitable issue, Peter Parker becomes superhuman when he gets bit by a radioactive arachnid.
Now it’s arguable what degree of radioactivity the spider was exposed to, but we can assume it was weak enough to not kill it, but strong enough to create a less than hulking hunk of a super-hero. Scientists have calculated that a spider bite contains around .00003 to .000003 millisieverts of radiation—no more radiation you’d absorb from say, eating a banana, which contains a radioactive isotope called Potassium-40. With such small amounts of radiation, super-hero transformation or mutation of any kind is literally impossible and the threat of cancer is nonexistent.
But at that innocent time in ’89 I didn’t know any of this, so I blissfully flipped through the pages completely ignorant of the words relapse or remission, and when I was finished,
I split like nuclear fission.
My second exposure to radiation took place during one of our few family vacations, this time to Atlantic City. A combination of some luck and science, my father wins our very first new age kitchen appliance from a Showboat Casino raffle. Way to go pops! Our toaster was toast, there’d be a new sheriff on the countertop. This culinary convenience gave rise to my mother’s new favorite phrase. “Don’t stand in front of the goddamn microwave,” or “move away from the light as soon as you press start,” not unless of course, I wanted more harmful Rays than a mile long line of MLK assassins at a civil rights march.
However, studies have shown these time-zappers are non-ionizing which means they don’t give off enough energy to damage cell DNA and only being trapped inside one would their be any real hell to pay.
But back then I didn’t care about any of this. I was just happy to have hot leftovers and TV dinners served up lightning quick. I didn’t even have to boil water on the stove-I could just nuke that shit! Yes, we were all blissfully ignorant of its disposition to lead to nutritious deficiency and I didn’t care where to stand. We usually cooked than ran,
like responsibility chasing Spider Man.
My third exposure to radiation was literally lethal. Yes literally, although literarily this would make for quite the story, so I’ll leave out all the gory details and obscure some facts, with allegory.
Picture a body stripped of its nutrients, like a TSA agent confiscating your Slim Jim and Vitamin Water, only to reveal a cancer that despite a doctor’s best efforts is starting to spread like a smile. A smile like cancer that could just as easily reach your hospital sheets as any Japanese Beach. Yes, a cancer like a smile, a smile like a cancer buried deep within, impatiently waiting for a terminal patient’s treatment to begin.
But at this point I didn’t believe any of this. So I laced her bed spread with radioactive spiders and told her to not be afraid. I’d pretend to forget her hot tea in the microwave to let it purposely cool down, then repeatedly reheat the water before bringing it inside. I’d bring her to the airport three times a week, exposing her to the best in domestic and international destinations. An unconscious Ibiza, the Moscow of our mind’s, Caribbean dreams and back again. Back then you could go through airport security then turn back around, just because. No one in their right mind would dare do this now, but if it was helping even in the slightest, it was worth both our efforts.
Except their were no radioactive spiders, but real radiation three times a week. No more family vacations even just to the airport, but a Sisyphean spreading of treatments failing. There were only microwaves, sailing towards the light. My little hands with outstretched palms,
A miniature me micro waving to my mom.
My next exposure to radiation happened recently and makes me think I lack a staggering degree of human decency. Losing a loved one is one thing you’ll never forget, but what happens when thousands of people die you’ve never seen heard or met.
In Japan an earthquake destroys a nuclear reactor, a major city is flooded and an estimated 18,000 people die and I somehow like I’ve done countless times before ignore the bigger picture, relating global tragedy to personal trauma for really no other reason than some half-baked exploration of the common appearance of radiation in all three previously mentioned situations.
Maybe I’m not alone though when I say so, but sadly I have felt far worse when losing someone I know than when large numbers of strangers die, no matter how viciously they may go.
So at this point I know these three things:
1. Tsunamis, these huge and hulking destructive walls of water are the near opposite of micro waves, although both can inadvertently lead to radiation exposure.
2. Airport scanners really have no effect on health and wellness, but do slow down your day so much they end up taking time off your life.
3. Even though she never smoked Mary Jane, hated insects and ended up marrying a man named Peter, my mother would have made one hell of a Spiderman.