In fourth grade the school had a firefighter come to class and talk to us about fire safety and prevention. I guess they figured we were at prime playing-with-matches age. The program was intended to inform us and keep us from burning down our homes.
I sat through the presentation, which was a lot of stuff my mom had already taught me. We were also encouraged to go home and ask our parents about whether we had the proper number of smoke detectors and fire extinguishers and how we would escape if our home was ablaze. It all made sense to me, safety is important. Got it.
When I saw my mom that evening I told her all about the days activities. I went to bed feeling fine about the whole thing, but in the middle of the night I was awakened by a terrifying dream.
I was outside in the courtyard of our apartment complex. It was dark and the air had that cool crisp feel of a perfect autumn evening. All of our friends and neighbors were gathered under the starless black sky, as if we were at some community event. Except, all the buildings were on fire. All of our homes were connected and so the inferno traveled easily between apartments (I knew this because the visiting firefighter had addressed it in his speech). The others were eerily calm, but I was petrified. There was fire everywhere and it was raging.
I awakened, startled. I ran to my mom’s room and told her of my nightmare. She got out of bed and walked me back down the hall of our apartment to my bedroom in the front of the unit. She did all the right mom things. She got me a glass of water. She tucked me in. She told me it was just a dream and everything was fine. She sat with me and stroked my hair until I fell asleep.
No sooner had I drifted off, but the visions of flames and destruction returned to plague my newly achieved REM cycle. There was fire shooting up out of the ground now. There was nowhere left that was safe to step. I stood very still in my dream, afraid that my movements would prompt a flare up.
I woke again. This time I screamed for my mom. I was too scared to leave the bed. She came to my side and repeated her previous efforts to calm me. Again, she succeeded in lulling me back to sleep.
Again, the conflagration was upon me in my dream. The fire spurts that had begun to shoot up from the ground below were worsening. I jumped to avoid them. I noticed that I remained aloft for longer than gravity should allow. I tried again. This time I really pushed off of the ground and used my arms like a champion breast-stroker to propel myself through the chilly night air and over the flames. I was flying. I had figured out how to survive.
I couldn’t stay airborne for long, but it was long enough to keep from getting singed. I called out to my friends and neighbors below. Just jump, I said. You can get away. Soon we were all floating over the destruction.
I was able to complete my night’s rest after that, but the dream plagued me for several nights. Each time I had to relearn my flight skills. Eventually I stopped dreaming of fire, but it took some time.
The next year fire safety day was off the curriculum. I think. Maybe my mom saw it on the calendar and let me skip that day.