Obligate Ram Ventilator

Last week I had a dream whose central metaphor was so potent that I woke with a gasp.

A huge shark careened through deep waters, blasting through everything in its path.

I sat up from my nap with a sudden stab of understanding, my hand on my heart, speaking aloud in hushed tones, to no one:

“This is how I move through life.”

It’s only now, days later, that I recall something I once heard about sharks. A quick Google search reveals that this is mostly myth, except for a few species, including the one my subconscious produced.

When did I become an “obligate ram ventilator?”

Before the question finishes in my  mind, a scene flashes from my childhood:

“10, 9, 8, 7, 6…”

If I make it up the curved path to the front door before 0, I won’t implode.

Only this time there is ice.

No one comes when I call.

I’m not sure what precipitated this game I played with myself. There was the new baby, number 4, neglected. There was the yelling in the room above me, waking me in the basement of our split-level. There was the belt over my father’s lap in the upstairs bedroom. There were the bottles poured down the drain of the kitchen sink. “Don’t let her get more.” There was the fire. Not the one lit by the sashes of our freshly laundered Christmas dresses dipping into the furnace on the otherside of my bedroom, but the fire across town, in the middle of the night, with all the sirens.

Just last year while working on the book, I looked into it. A kind librarian across the country happened to stumble upon another librarian whose elderly father had been a firefighter in Aurora in the early 70’s. He still had the clippings.

“Would you like me to scan them and send them to you?” she asked.

The boy, a kindergartener, had been thrown from the window. His older brother had gone back in for their sisters and parents. Everyone perished in the fire but the boy from my school. This is how I always remembered it.

But according to the clippings, I didn’t have it right.

It was worse than that.

I’ve already forgotten how.

Or maybe the game of counting down to zero was an effect of the movie theater at the new shopping “mall.” There were no ratings then. Almost 50 years later, I’m still haunted by what I saw on the screen. Age 9.

Or maybe it was the nightly news on the black and white television. Viet Nam.

Or the drills at school, crouching under desks. Or was that when my parents were in school?

If I could just get up the path and into the house fast enough, “5,4,3,2,…” I would not die. My grandparents would not die.

The stakes were higher when I made it about my grandparents.

Is ritual akin to prayer?

The day I fell on the ice and broke my arm, I failed at my mission of protecting everyone.

This is why the truck crushed my grandmother’s car with my aunties inside, just like the truck that took tiny Gumdrop’s life when she dashed out the front door.

I am always on the lookout for what needs tending, for what has been forgotten, or will be forgotten, or might be forgotten.

If I keep moving.

If we keep moving.

Maybe then…

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