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.