It was the smell, a pungent citrusy, fruity cloying sweetness that triggered the memory. Fuzzy at first, just flashes of light and shadow. Holding the open jug of liquid detergent under my nose, I inhaled the scent of grapefruit and cherries, and remembered the taste of pink penicillin.
As I stood at the sink, the images came into clearer focus.
I was probably five years old. I wasn’t in school yet, that’s how I gauged my age. That morning we were outside, raking up huge piles of leaves. The higher the better – better for jumping.
By that evening, I couldn’t breathe. My throat was closing down and my lungs were screaming for air. My father stood in the shower holding me, hot water scalding his back, praying the damp steam would give me some relief.
The next thing I remember was a wild ride to the hospital. To this day, dry leaves can bring on a coughing fit, making me sound like a barking seal.
Maybe it was reliving an intense memory, maybe I snorted a little dish soap bubble, but I started choking. I leaned against the sink, trying to take in some air, my eyes tearing up, temporarily blinding me.
I fumbled for the faucet handles. Turning on the taps full blast, I splashed cold water in my face, swallowing as much as I could to tame my fiery throat.
Finally getting my lungs to cooperate, I sat down and tried to get my breathing under control. That is when I was hit with a flood of memories.
Like a frenetic ViewMaster, pictures flashed through my brain, each one more vivid and disturbing. My breath came in jagged gasp. The phantom taste of cherries overwhelmed by rising bile.
I couldn’t make sense of what I was remembering, what I was feeling. I didn’t know if I truly wanted to poke that bogeyman, but I couldn’t ignore what happened. My first move was to call my parents, and ask them to tell me all they remembered about the fall when I was five.