I don't really know how to start this, so I'll just start here: when I was in 7th grade, I read my first book about the accident. It's called Voices From Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich, and it contains the personal accounts of hundreds of survivors from the disaster. As someone with high-functioning autism, I'm a sponge of facts, and so absorbed these stories into my brain to feed my growing obsession with the world's worse nuclear disaster. If you ever read it yourself (which I highly recommend), the first monologue is by the widow of a fireman from Pripyat named Vasily Ignatenko. I used to be him. It began with just snips in my mind, a sudden feeling of deja vu and thinking that if I look up while I'm walking down the street I'll see the gray apartment blocks. It was just little flashes in my head, so quick that I almost didn't notice them. The first time, I thought it was odd. But it kept happening, for years, making me feel like a crazy person. I didn't know how I could be having visions and flashbacks of a place I'd never been to. I'm a student of Russian, and someday I plan to visit the exclusion zone (and probably many times after the first), but I haven't left my home country yet. When I was 16, though, I started to dream in Russian, and I asked my teacher about it. She said it was very unusual to dream in another language until after you've left the country that speaks it. My mother has a friend at work, Yana, who is from Ukraine. I own one of the stereotypical winter hats with the flaps, and she saw a picture of me wearing it. Yana told my mother that with the hat I looked Russian, and that I must have been one in a past life. The final piece fell into place about a year ago, when I made friends with someone online. (They're from Italy, and even though we've never met in person we talk all the time with emails.) They told me about their past lives, and it jogged my brain - I've had autistic obsessions before, but this one had always felt different to me. I'd thought from the beginning that I was connected to the victims, like I was one of them, though I was born long after the catastrophe. Two important facts to note: I was born on exactly the 10th anniversary of the explosion, right down to the hour. And ever since I was a small child, I wanted to become a fireman. But this seemed like it wasn't a gradual realization on my part, but more like getting suddenly punched in the face. I've read the memoirs that Svetlana Alexievich collected back then so many times that I can practically recite them word-for-word, and in that moment I understood why I always felt the need to go back to them: I was there. I was one of the first ones who arrived on that scene, and I stayed on the roof until the fire had been contained to the exposed reactor core. After that, we were sent back into town with radiation sickness, and finally flown to Moscow. The last few days of that life, I spent in Hospital 6. It's a horrific conclusion, especially because (for me at least) it makes perfect sense. Even long before this, when I first learned about it, I've been immensely terrified of radiation. I've had many dreams of being a fireman, and many dreams of Pripyat (which again, I didn't understand for the longest time why I had these dreams), but they were never bad dreams so much as they were strange ones. Putting on my bunker gear and spraying water from the truck into a river. Sitting in a chair in one of the schools, just staring at the dust all around me. Driving through the buildings and running drills with the others at my fire station. But I've also had dreams of radiation poisoning, of myself dying from massive exposure that made the radiation meter go off the chart. And those are always nightmares. I think the worst part, though, is that I've read about how I died in that book. About how my skin would bleed if the sheets were wrinkled. About how my wife (who was pregnant) spent almost every minute with me, but then left for just three hours to comfort a friend whose husband had also just died. And fifteen minutes before she came back for me, my last words were to call out her name... The baby, Natashenka, absorbed an incredible dose of radiation because of me. She didn't live for very long, and was buried with me, by my feet. I never look at the photos and documentaries of Chernobyl the same way as I did before I knew this had been my past life. The pictures of the reactor: I was there, and it killed me. Of Pripyat's hospital: They sent me there first, before Moscow, and my fire uniform is still in the basement. Of the school: My daughter should be learning there right now, growing up. Of the amusement park: I would have taken her there, to play and have fun. An entire life for me ended even though it had only just started, and when I look at the films, for me it's just there. Some part of me is still there, like my ghost. The phantom of my past is waiting, where my now-self will meet it someday. How do I feel about this? Well... how should I feel about this? I don't know if everyone else knows this many details about their former lives, but for me, it's the most unsettling thing I've ever discovered. But I also know, I'll still go there eventually. I'm drawn to it, where it makes me feel sick and at the same time fascinated. Because who else has this story? Maybe some people, the other firemen like me who died, are out there somewhere. But I've never met them. As far as I know, they may not exist at all. The woman I married in that life is still alive, and has remarried. I've debated whether or not to reach out to her, but I've decided not to. It wouldn't be fair. The whole experience for her was nothing if not disgusting and horrific, and even if she did believe me, I can't drag her back to that world. No matter how much pain and sadness I have at this knowledge and these memories, I know that for her it will always be worse. And again - how do I feel about this? I was a Chernobyl fireman, and I was 25 years old when I died. I don't know how to feel.