Fireworks shooting across the Tennessee River last Saturday, two blocks from my head, kept me awake. The finale in Chattanooga is a waterfall—they pile roman candles on Market Street Bridge and you watch them cascade into the water. The first time I saw real fireworks was on top of our family car in the Jordan’s Furniture parking lot. Mom’s encouraging look told me the best part was coming—the very end, with the most beautiful and bright and colorful fireworks. But I felt the vibrations in my sternum and cried and shook and covered my whole head with our Toy Story blanket.
One night, my brother knocked over a lamp while he was running down to dinner. It burned straight through that Toy Story blanket—his favorite—and down the carpet till the floor was on fire. Why did the bulb get hot? Shouldn’t someone invent a bulb that can get bright without burning up my brother’s Toy Story blanket? Then I understood that light bulbs were really little balls of fire, at the ready to burn houses and blankets.
I knew where to go when my sister yelled, “Fire!” We headed to the wall. Always to the wall, across from the basketball hoop, in front of the two spindly cherry trees with stakes as helping arms. For a long time I actually believed the wall would keep a fire out—stop it from touching our tiny white arms and legs and Lion King pajamas. It didn’t matter that the wall was one-sided and only went up to my seven-year-old chest. It was safe, because Mom had told me it was safe. We never fixed the hole in my brother’s bedroom. The perfect light-bulb-shaped hole with concentric layers of plywood and carpet was still there when we sold the house.
There is a certain kind of palpable fear that builds up in the back of your throat—a sort of sinking. I remember it the first time I felt abandoned. I remember it in the fire. I remember it as clear as fireworks reverberating in my chest. It’s reserved for special threatening moments out of my control. When I’m running from a parking garage to my apartment building at 2:00 in the morning. Running to the wall, because it’s safe there.
Through funny mediums like Twitter and Facebook and Google+ posts, women have bravely put voices to these fears in their grown-up forms. They push aside temptations to withhold and disappear, and ask each other to remember what it was like to have a wall that saved them from fire. At the same time, it’s easy to divide and detach—to remind men that they couldn’t understand, couldn’t fathom, couldn’t feel the same fear that yes, all women feel. But in that little moment we have a chance to cleave in solidarity to the things we share. My brother has never run to his apartment in fear, but I know his empathy is real—as real as the time his favorite blanket almost burned our house to the ground.