The first time we heard gunshots go off in our building, Lee and I leapt out of our bed and ran straight to our infant daughter. I was first to grab her. Lee peed herself. Stunned, we all moved into our bathroom where we regrouped—me on the toilet and Lee on the tub floor with our daughter. It took fifteen long minutes before we heard the first sirens.
That night, huddled as we were in the bathroom, I thought of the things we’d gather in a total state of emergency—one in which we suddenly had to flee somewhere—and the list I assembled wasn’t long. In a pinch, I reasoned that these things could be packed into a duffle: passports, the ninety-plus dollar rainy day fund, a week’s worth of diapers, a week’s worth of Gerber’s vegetable and turkey baby food, and a box tab folder filled with our family’s essential papers. Sitting there, thinking about it some more, I learned that if such a situation did present itself, most of these things were expendable. I realized that I was expendable, too, when I thought even further.
Not long after the night the shots had been fired, I started having a reoccurring dream. In the dream I was riding on The Screwdriver, a famous roller coaster from my New England childhood, a roller coaster, well known, of course, for it’s screw-like spirals. Except, in the dream, I wasn’t a kid riding my favorite roller coaster, I was me, in full father form, and the seats were not secured by the hydraulic safety restraints as they are presently—no—in the dream, the seats had regular old buckle-style seatbelts, the kind installed in common automobiles. But everything was going as usual until the rollercoaster made its infamous 360-degree whip-around and flung us into the corkscrew segment. There, upside-down and in the midst of the breakneck tumbles, I managed to peel my eyes down to my white and bloodless hands gripping the seatbelt and—just then—I watched my index finger poise over the red push-release button. I knew, that with any sudden urge, I could press the thing and go flying to an uncertain death somewhere over the trees. In bolder dreaming states, I’d press the release and then feel all of my weight become lighter, my limbs become flightless flesh pieces succumbing to gravity’s tug. Then I’d jolt awake, sweating, my arms swimming, looking for a surface to brace onto. When later I told Lee about the dream, as any troubled and decent man would confess to his wife, she was facing the bathroom mirror, straightening her hair with an iron. In the ten years I’d known her, she had always kept her black hair long and very straight.
“Life’s that hard?” she asked, passing through our bedroom. “Don’t tell me these things.”
Jeff Wasserboehr is a writer from Boston. He currently lives in Asia, where he is at work on his first novel. He edits the journal Beantown: Ten Stories.