Everybody’s got plans…until they get hit.

3 Apr

She fears fire.

Vividly, it encapsulates her, and she’s trapped in the terrified thrall. What if’s, what of’s, they fill the air around us until I almost cannot breathe anymore and I’ve run out of words to say, out of words with meanings deeper than this one thing:

“I will always save you. I will always be there.”

She imagines she can’t get out, she can’t break the window, the doorknob is hot, she can’t go out barefoot. Yet she can’t remember our escape plan, our meeting place. I ask her what she would do if there was smoke.

“The school” she tells me, “said to go slowly.”

The school has created this monster, this giant fear worming it’s way through her head, eating at her, slowly. A fear of fire is an elemental thing, especially for a child. “Where would we live?” she asks, “What about all my things?” We fear the cleansing of the growing, growling beast.

“Would snow put it out?” she asks, but only after asking if brick would catch fire. So many thoughts for someone so small and young. Such a weight on her back.

I look her in the eyes. “You are safe. We are here. We will always come for you. You think a little fire will keep your mother away? Pfft.” I hold her gaze for a little while, so she can be weak, then strong again. She gets it.

A plan, I tell her, keeps away the fear. And we have a damn good plan.


I fear my own fires, but it’s not one that burns in the real world, eating timbers and dolls. I’ve been feeling good-damn good, that good that terrifies me because it’s almost TOO good, a meandering steady that leads irrevocably into madness and mania. I glimpse my own potential, and see it’s shunted and cornered by this fire, my normal fear, my hideous lecture. I fear myself. I fear the fire that eventually tries to eat me from the inside.

I have all the hope and joy in the world for my future right now, but it’s tempered by the knowledge that sometimes, my own brain, my very own self, kicks my ass back down to be burned and scarred. It scares me, and it saddens me, and it sucks the hope right back out of me. I could fly, if only my wings would work for longer than a fledgling. I can’t get off the ground, and the smoke and flames threaten.

I worry just as much as Viv. I just keep it hidden, stuffed down, where I almost don’t feel it, where it almost doesn’t bother anyone, where I can mostly pretend it doesn’t exist. But it does. The terror of a hidden soul can only stay hidden for so long. Then it creeps and smolders up into my chest, down around my heart, until I paralyzed and gleeful, all at once.

I worry that one of these days, I won’t be able to control the fire, to put it out, and the flames will drain me.

I don’t have a plan, I don’t have an escape, and I can’t help but wonder about the fire extinguishers.

7 Responses to “Everybody’s got plans…until they get hit.”

  1. Laura April 4, 2009 at 9:55 am #

    When I was maybe 7 or 8, in school we had an assignment where we had to write the things we would save from our house if it was on fire. I still can’t believe they did that to us. Obviously it’s important to have a plan and let kids know what to do in case of fire and all that, but that particular writing assignment made me feel like I’d be completely on my own in that situation – I was trying to save things like the good china and my parents’ wedding rings, as if they wouldn’t even be there. So scary.

  2. Hannah April 4, 2009 at 12:41 pm #

    I’m choosing to only deal with the literal bit of this post because the rest? I don’t know what to say other than I hope you one day take the happy as a gift and keep the fear at bay.

    I wondered if the source of Viv’s nightmares had been found (now that I’m off Twitter, I feel like I have no idea what’s going on with you guys anymore).

    Here’s my own fire drill story, for no other reason than that you’ve given me an opening. πŸ˜‰

    In the 2nd grade we were asked to draw a floor plan of our house, and map out two escape routes in case of fire. I was having trouble with it because I’m not really good at visualizing; I couldn’t even get the outline of the house right. So I asked Dad for help by saying “Daddy, we need to know how to get out if there is a fire”. Deep in the depths of his own depression, and hating the plywood death-trap hippie shack we lived in, he replied “we don’t need an escape plan. If there’s a fire, we’ll barely have time to stick our heads between our knees to kiss our own asses goodbye”.

    I ended up drawing a floor plan of my dream house instead, a house that didn’t exist, and mapping out neat escape routes that involved rope ladders.

    Fire safety in schools is something I’m really mixed about. To my mind, it’s the parents who should be responsible for 90% of what the kids are worrying about, frankly.

  3. Bon April 4, 2009 at 12:57 pm #

    between your fears and Viv’s and Hannah’s story, i’m mostly left with my heart in my mouth reading through this, awash in empathy and wishing i could comfort.

    i had Viv’s same fears as a kid…for me, it was fire (particularly fire caused by lightning) and dinosaurs. i’m not sure anybody ever talked to me about probabilities. πŸ™‚ but i had a plan, oh yes. it involved me getting my entire toy box out the second story window.

    sometimes i think living, with ourselves and our histories and our bogeymen and our brains, even brains that are mostly chemically balanced but have learned paths that sabotage and take us out at the knees, is way harder than a five year old getting that toybox out of the window would ever have been. sometimes i wonder if the childhood fears aren’t just practice.

    i wish i could spare them all of it, the terror of the practice and the terror of the stuff that has no dress rehearsal.

  4. Marcy April 4, 2009 at 4:47 pm #

    This is a finely crafted post.

    You do have some things in your plan — don’t you? — things like which hospital you can go to in an emergency, which doctor you can ask for which meds, which friends you can call in the middle of the night, and all that.

    Meanwhile, I’m right with you — the necessity, the sobering necessity, of knowing what our minds have done to us in the past, and the strategizing for next time, balanced against allowing ourselves to enjoy the smile for now, however fleeting it may be. To know it’s as real as the pit, both are equally temporary, equally real, and neither changes who you really are.

  5. B April 6, 2009 at 5:34 pm #

    While I was reading your post I was wondering if your happiness could just be that for a little while – happiness. I’m trying to undermine the validity of your feelings, I’m just wondering if you can let yourself feel the joy and wonder that happiness can manifest without the fear.

    I struggle with that in my own life. I don’t have any answers, just good, non-mania, non-depressed thoughts for us both.

  6. bromac April 13, 2009 at 12:20 pm #

    Yes, Hannah it should be the responsibility of the parent. But what about irresponsible parents, lazy parents, sick parents, or just plain ignorant parents? What happens to those children, crouching with fear like a deer in headlights, with absolutely no idea of what to do as fire and heat and smoke creep closer to them?

    And, those responsible parents can make a plan; quell the fear created by a misguided teacher.

    I believe in teaching these things in school. I know I sound like a socialist, and that is fine, but I believe the community has a responsibility to protect all children. And, unfortunately, that sometimes means protecting them from their own guardians.

  7. acciskskasume May 20, 2009 at 7:51 pm #

    Super writing – Will visit again:)

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