When I was in Kindergarten, I had watched (mostly through squinted eyes), Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. It wasn't until much later in my life that I began to appreciate all the layers and subtleties of the film, not the least of which was the torment experienced by the film's star, Tippi Hedren, at the hands of her director. When I was five, the focus was squarely on being chased by crows that were only concerned with pecking out children's eyes. Which is why it stuck with me all the way to morning recess on Monday, when I began to entertain my friends with the lurid story of how this girl got chased by crazy birds.
We decided to play The Birds. The rules were simple, I would be the bird that chased the boys and girls around the playground, trying to peck out their eyes. Without an immediate approximation of a beak, I settled instead for pulling my arms into the sleeves of my jacket and racing around while twisting my shoulders, giving the impression of flapping wings.
And this worked tremendously until I tripped and fell. On my front, but more significantly on my bunched up arms that were the thrust into my stomach, pushing all the air inside of me out. I had heard of "having the wind knocked out of you," but I had never experienced it. I thought that I might die. There was no air in my lungs, and in my fright, I was having a very difficult time catching my breath. Once my little friends determined that I was not attempting to lure them closer by pretending to be unable to breathe, a few of them came to my aid. They helped me across the yard, into the building, and to the nurse's office.
That was where I attempted, through sobs and gasps, to recount just exactly how I had landed there. No matter that by this time I had regained most of my lungs' capacity and was using it to heave and cry about how I was sure that I would most certainly die. Until I calmed down and realized that I had returned to something resembling normal and I would almost certainly survive.
My mother likes to remind me, from time to time, that the book she was reading while she was pregnant and awaiting my birth was The Birds. After many years of living in the Bay Area, my wife and I spent a long weekend in Bodega Bay, where locations for Hitchcock's film were shot. And now I am an elementary school teacher, who doesn't panic when he sees flocks of birds swarming the playground. That fear returns when I see a kid pulling their arms into their sleeves and begins to chase their friends across the yard.