If you remember the night that the church bells rang, you likely remember a simpler time. You likely remember an age of lies and tension; of disco and eight-track tapes.
If you remember that time as a child, you might remember the smell of those red Swedish fish – slightly greasy to the touch when fresh, slightly hard when old and dry. Their smell was the smell of something like cherry and yet more like paint if you thought about it. You might remember the songs of television and a world where grouches lived in garbage cans and monsters with ping pong balls for eyes ate cookies and didn't scare anyone.
If you remember the night the church bells rang and you remember that time as a child, you might remember a world where old men and women were from another century and they had raised their families through something we couldn't understand, something called a 'depression' – something that caused them to eat things you might not normally eat and wear things you might not normally wear. Our moms made us meatloaf and TV dinners and dressed us in matching clothes with animals on them that taught us how to coordinate our colors. Not so for the old men and women. Their children had no TVs. No TV dinners. No zebras and no monkeys.
On the night the church bells rang a very small boy in a Midwestern suburb got up from his bed and wandered to the front door to wonder at the racket. He pressed his nose against the screen and smelled the dust and the fly-dirt and wondered at the racket. His older brother walked up behind him and picked him up in his arms. He unhooked the door and they stepped out into the cool night air on a fine summer evening. He put his little brother on his shoulders and they carved small circles together on the front lawn.
“Why are the bells ringing?”
“It means the killing's gonna' stop.”
A few more small, slow circles on the lawn and he took his little brother inside and returned him to his bed and tucked him in. Sleep came easily after that for both. When the killing is going to stop, you sleep a lot easier.
If you remember the night that the church bells rang, you might likely remember having to grow up eventually and not knowing that you had done so. All sorts of things came along - the mortgages and graduate school and the deaths of parents who might have been the children who ate the things you might not normally eat and who wore the things you might not normally wear. These things all came along and you might have lived through them or you might have ignored them or you might have missed them due to a sudden death or a slow death or just the right amount of the proper chemicals that would have transformed your thinking-organ known as the “brain” into a mass of silly putty.
On the night that the church bells rang a very small boy in a Midwestern suburb fell back asleep and dreamed a dream so vivid. He was on his older brother's shoulders and they were carving small, slow circles together on the front lawn. He bent his head forward and smelled his brother's hair – it was always clean, it seemed – clean and fresh and smelling like the stuff that big people put in their hair. He put his lips on his brother's head, and then rested his cheek there, feeling as safe and as secure as he had ever felt. His big brother was never going to have to go away to a war and kill anyone or have anyone try to kill him. He would never have to go away to the place called Vietnam that they showed on TV. And if they had ever tried to take him, like when he was away at college, he would have told his brother to come home right here and he would hide him in his room – under his bed or in his closet and President Nixon never would have found him there. And he would have brought meatloaf and TV dinners to him and hidden him there as long as he needed to to, but that wasn't anything to worry about now, now that the church bells were ringing.
A whole generation dreamed and a whole generation slept easily until it realized that there was no reason to sleep easily anymore. And a whole generation got out of bed and got dressed and took its tranquilizers and its prescription pain killers in massive quantities, washed down with light beers and hard lemonade and energy drinks and red wine and vodka. It took its medicine like a good patient and sometimes even got up in the middle of the night and pressed its collective nose against the screen and smelled the dust and the fly-dirt.
And it waited for the church bells to ring.