Fans paralyzed me when I was a child. The whirring-grinding noise sounded like the crushing of helpless little bodies. Fans breathed and digested. Every fan ate fairies and devoured small children.
The bathroom fan at the local Fed-Mart pharmacy was the worst. The aluminum monstrosity engulfed the entire ceiling. The shiny silver blades looked as carnivorous as my grandmother’s meat grinder. If you flipped the light switch on, the fan gulped to life with an inhalation that threatened to slurp me up by my hair.
I soon realized fans lived everywhere. They circled sluggishly above my head at the grocery store. Fans ventilated our bathrooms and rattled the window behind our TV set. Even the family Toyota housed a dashboard fan that wheezed and shuddered.
Initially, I tolerated fans in their myriad forms. Soon it seemed as if the fans followed me, bumping and dragging themselves into every possible corner. A humming in the back of the refrigerator clicked on in my presence. The slide projector hissed as I sat for a slideshow.
Fans lurked and conspired.
One day, my mother decided to cure me of my terror.
She secured a tiny table fan to show me how harmless fans were. When she turned on the little device, I became panic-stricken. My father comforted me as I shrieked and shook. Mother turned the fan off and the blades slowed to a lazy pace. I calmed. “Look, Lori. The fan won’t hurt you. Look, it won’t hurt Mommy. See?” she said sweetly. “Mommy can even put her hands in!” She thrust her hand in. I soiled myself and fainted.
Eventually, the sight of a fan, any fan, caused unprecedented hysterics. Window fans, tabletop fans, ceiling fans were all cut from the same horrid cloth. Fans unhinged me so much that I refused to go into any building with a working fan. Errands with my mother churned my stomach. I bit my nails raw.
Mother sought another remedy. Growing up on a farm she learned to observe, respect, and understand animals. She drew on her years of experience training skittish polo ponies to form a plan. I needed to be treated like a horse.
Nowadays, you’d call it “exposure therapy.”
Mom asked me to put on my favorite pink dress for a special occasion. She drove us to the Fed-Mart Pharmacy where the original evil fan lived. Once I realized our destination, I wailed. She said, “We are not going inside. We are just going to stand by the door.”
Mom never lied. I settled down. I walked with her to the glass doors of the pharmacy. I concentrated on the heat of summer concrete as it radiated through the soles of my white mary janes. Mom reached for the door. I began to cry, anew.
She stopped and asked, “Would you like to open the door and wave to the pharmacist, Mr. Brown?” She waited and said, “You have on your prettiest dress. Let’s open the door and show everyone. Let’s open the door and wave.”
I nodded my assent. I peeked in and I waved.
Mom tried to convince me to step inside, but I balked. “Okay,” she said. “We can try later.”
The next day we returned. I wore my red ladybug dress, trimmed with festive rickrack and embroidered bugs. Holding her hand, I walked into the pharmacy composed. This was the first calm entrance in months. Mom offered copious big-girl praise. “Next week,” Mom told me, “You will be brave enough to go to the bathroom with Mommy.”
Shocked, I stared at her. Impossible!
She described my future success with such vivid detail; it seemed as if it had already happened to me.
And happen, it did. I was anxious and fearful, with red ragged nail beds, and bitten knuckles, but I was ready to try. Mom had called ahead to make special arrangements. The pharmacy staff stood by to defend us. Mr. Brown held a big ugly broom for fan-beating. Ms. Emmy had a towel and a bowl of candy.
I hovered outside the bathroom as Mom walked in and sat on the lid of the toilet. I stood nearby and edged as close to the door as I dared. After a minute, Mom declared victory. The staff congratulated me and Ms. Emmy gave me a grape lollipop.
The next visit, I put one foot into the dreaded bathroom as Mom held out her hands to me. In a few months, the ferocious fan was tamed. I could not tolerate the sound of that particular fan, but fans were no longer a sinister species of child-eaters. Some fans were actually cheery and helpful.
One spring day, I sauntered into the pharmacy bathroom alone and stood staring into the silver blades. Pride and victory swept through me. I was fiercer than the fan. I could turn it on and off. Its job was to sweep stinky smells away to please my nostrils. One day, I might even flip that switch.
Thank you, Mom.
My mom takes a strong and logical approach to problems. She has helped me to overcome many fears with her insight and systematic method. I will do the same for my son. She is on my team while I make a plan to help Liev fight his impulses to lash out. I will start with small steps.