I play the “What If?” game. I’m really good at it. You can’t win, so that’s not why I’m good at it. I just practice a lot. I’ve vested many a collective hour playing “What If?”.
It is not awesome.
Something like ten months ago, I laid in bed staring at a ceiling fan. In retrospect, I’m fairly certain the blades were spinning counterclockwise, even though it was June. Did you know that you should reverse your ceiling fan’s spin in the summer to draw the warm air up? I didn’t. Now I do.
It was too warm. I laid there, half nervous, half sleepy. (That, dear friends, sums me up quite nicely.) I wasn’t alone, but he wasn’t staring at the ceiling fan like a savant.
“My side of the bed is always the one closest to the door.”
“The window is faster.”
“Yeah, if I’m alone. But the fastest way is actually –”
“– out the door, through Carter’s window.”
Ahh — kindred spirits. In some polluted, withered, parallel universe, my eyes squinted and my lips pursed and my head bobbed, all with the recognition that I’d bonded over something completely inappropriate, unromantic, and, in the light of first dates, rather ironic.
I’ve spent the better part of two years preoccupied with planning escape routes.
If I had car trouble on the way to work, I’d call Annette first and AAA second.
If a shooter came on campus before I could get us out of the classroom, I’d cover my windows with dark paper. I’d use the students’ desks to barricade the middle of the classroom: trapezoid-shaped shields. I know what I can use as a weapon. I know where to aim. There’s more to this one, but it’ll get morbid.
If I’m diagnosed with a terminal illness, I know how I’m going to pose my face in the doctor’s office. I know how I’ll tell my loved ones, and I know how I’ll spend my last days.
I have extensive fire escape routes for my house, my classroom, my mom’s, my church, and most SuperTargets.
While I’ve considered floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes, I’ll be honest — my designs have been a bit more shallow seeing as I live in, you know, Phoenix.
I bought a gas lamp to decorate the table for a fancy dinner, but I also thought to myself, “This would be handy in a blackout.”
I don’t know if it would work, but I’ve figured out a way to not lose my voice when I’m scared and need to yell. I’m not sure how to test it though. That only happens in my dreams.
God laughs at all my plans. And I know they’ll never happen, because I’ve planned for them. That’s how the world works. I laugh and think, “If I plan it through, then at least I can guarantee it won’t happen.”
God says, “Heather, you walk through life with your palms facing up and and your eyes and face round, and you can’t help it.” God, he enjoys my naivety. Not in a condescending way, either. He knows what to do to test a person like me.
In an emergency, it’s always the one thing you never thought of.
If I’m not careful, I think like this:
Me and you, and him and her, we work our fingers to the bones, waiting for payday. But the worst parts of life are free of charge, and they hit hard and in the face.
In a hiding place, the safest place is with my back against a wall. When you’ve got nowhere else to go but down, you’re safest with a wall behind you. When the door slams, the house shakes. But if you’ve got a wall, you can feel it. I felt it. Your back, flattened spine, scraping the wall, each vertebrae another inch down. You can’t find your feet, and the tile is a tidal wave. Your palms are at the top of a heap that begins with the nape of your neck and ends with a puddle of shins.
You don’t even cry, because it’s the same place that always seems to get hurt, and if you break the same spot over and over again, the nerve endings die and it goes numb. It doesn’t hurt anymore, and you’re not proud of it.
You don’t have to make a move to set off a land mine. You can play by all the rules and still lose. You can build walls, but they’ll end up pock-marked from stones hurled in an effort to get in and covered in graffiti sprayed in defiance. At any rate, you won’t be able to see over the wall without a ladder, and you can’t put your back against a wall while standing on a ladder trying to look over it.
My head, it can be an exhausting place.
But when the debris settles from tornadoes and dust devils alike, I think like this:
I need my ladder, stat.
I am: round eyes, long neck, palms open to catch the sky.
Me and you, we’re not capable of living life like soldiers back from war. I’ve watched other people do it. I’ve coveted their walls. But their eyes are hard and their smiles are sarcastic, and that’s just no life for us.
We are all carved out of the same mud. We are not the soldiers that we had to be yesterday, and we are not merely survivors. Me and you, we still cry, and that’s a good thing. It means the dead parts fell off. It means there’s growth.
Lately, I’ve been flying by the seat of my pants on purpose. I’m working on worrying less — it really never did me a bit of good.