Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Lemme Stand Next To Your...

Just recently I realized that every important thing that happens to me doesn't necessarily need to be shared with my parents. I know, I know, perhaps a little late at the tender age of 41, but...yeah.

As the product of a closely-knit family of oversharers, I've typically told my family EVERYTHING. Not sure why, but I feel like every weird, wonderful, humiliating or painful event isn't really and truly HAPPENING to me until I've broadcast it to my mom and dad.

It has come to my attention, however, that it isn't necessarily appropriate to pick up the horn and impart absolutely everything to my parents, who are 3,000 miles away, retired, and after spending their lives validating everything I've ever done, might actually deserve a little down time.

I'm realizing that not every milestone, be it good, bad, or terrifying, needs to be passed on to the elders. Like, say, for example, when your house catches on fire.

I guess I can say I've had my metaphorical housefire-cherry broken. As a child, having my house go up in flames was absolutely my biggest fear. Well, next to cobras. Also, the white witch from Narnia. Escalators, for a time. And my sister being abducted by a serial killer.

Anyway, fire safety being paramount, I would vigilantly palm closed doors 'just in case' they were hot before I entered a room, and would be the first to knock over the family dog in order to reach the nearest exit if dinner got a little smoky on the stove. Funny that, given these proclivities, the only thing I felt when my fire alarm went off the other night was irritation.

My house's fire alarm system is a little high-strung. It's been known to whine if the back door is open and the grill is going in the yard. It doesn't like certain scented candles. Generally, when I hear it, my first instinct is to want to smack it with a bat. So when I lit an incense and went into my bedroom to savor my few kid-free moments (Lil was down the street at her friend's house), I didn't exactly hustle out to the living room when the alarm started to chime. "Fucker," I muttered, trudging out to see what the trouble was, grumpy as a teenage boy whose bathroom masturbation time has been cut short by his kid sister's need to pee, like, now.

I saw the smoke just as the ping of the alarm graduated into an urgent wail--I'd never heard it do this before, and the siren was deafening, like a hundred foghorns and ambulances converging on my living room at once. In minutes, the room had filled with gray, turbid smoke, curling furiously toward the ceiling from a fire -- A FIRE -- that was fast leaping up the wall.

You'd think this would be the time when a dramatic 'impending danger' soundtrack would play, wouldn't you? But it's shocking how utterly silent a fire really is. The only sound was me yelling, "OH MY GOD THAT IS NOT HAPPENING", over and over, which I tend to do when the fight or flight instinct is supposed to kick in for normal people.

I don't remember every detail of the next few minutes, but I do remember thinking briefly (if not absurdly), 'What would Michael Landon do?', since I generally look to Pa Ingalls as my go-to crisis guru. So I grabbed a blanket from the laundry room and hastily threw it over the fire. The flames retreated beneath a cloud of smoldering black vapors, rising up to the ceiling like hateful spirits. They stained the wall and ceiling a sticky black and coated my nostrils and throat in the savagely toxic odor of THINGS THAT ARE NOT MEANT TO CATCH ON FIRE.

As the alarm continued to wail, I suddenly thought, I should probably get the animals out of the house.

Oh, and probably me too.

Somehow I grabbed my phone and gathered the smoldering blanket, eyeing a melted plastic picture frame in the rubble. I realized that the incense stick must have somehow set the frame on fire, as it was no doubt a cheap-ass Family Dollar purchase, painted with a ridiculously flammable shellac probably not legally manufactured in this part of the world.

Stumbling outside, I called 911. Have you ever actually had to do that? punch in the numbers 9-1-1? I hadn't. I always wondered what it must be like to be the poor person on the 'actual 911 recording' you see on reality crime shows, and now I do. It sucks. I felt like someone else was talking for me, giving my address, describing the situation. Yes, a fire. No, it's out. Yes, I'm outside. Within minutes I heard sirens in the distance-- such a commonplace sound, really. I tend to hear sirens outside and feel a sense of comfort that they aren't coming for me.

Except that now they were.

Three fire trucks pulled in front of my house and men started streaming out. It's weird, but my first instinct was to hug one of them. "THANK YOU!!!" I wanted to cry, "THANK YOU FOR COMING! OH MY GOD, YOU SHOULDN'T HAVE! THIS IS SO SO NICE OF YOU! ARE YOU THIRSTY? HOW ABOUT SOME FLAVORED SELTZER??"

They marched inside and thoroughly inspected the entire house, even going into the attic to see if some residual smoke/damage had spread (it hadn't). They brought in giant industrial-sized fans and blew the caustic hate-smell out the open windows (and with it, 2 inches of black ash that covered everything in the living room. Amazing how even a small fire can cause SO much damage). By then neighbors had started coming out of their houses, rubbernecking to see if there might be anyone passed out on the lawn or trying to jump to their death from an open window. My friend Khipi pulled up and I crumbled into her arms. Jeremy arrived a few minutes later and I pulled him close, so grateful to have people in my life willing to just come and BE with me.

I caught the reflection of my tear-and-soot-smeared face in a window and sob-laughed. "Do I look hot right now?" I asked Jeremy. "Like, in a Little Match Girl sort of way?"

We all cracked up because it felt like the right thing to do.

In the end, there was only cosmetic damage to the wall and a small part of the ceiling. The firemen told me it was lucky that I acted so quickly and put the fire out before it spread. The dog was panic-stricken but safe in the yard, and the cats, I don't think, even noticed a thing. Lily was safe at her friend Molly's house, and it seemed, for now, we had dodged one very hot bullet.

As the firemen were leaving, I still felt compelled to throw myself at them in gratitude. Maybe I could send them a fruit basket or something, I thought. I mean, really. They deserve it. A bottle of wine, a thank you card. Something.

I got through the rest of the night with the help of my loved ones and a large jug of wine. But it was everything I could do not to call my folks. It seemed unnatural, wrong, to keep this from them.

But I didn't call.

I'll tell them about it at some point. They'll probably read this post and go, "WHAT THE HELL?? A FIRE?!?!" but by then the danger will have long passed and it will be just something that happened, no big deal. I'm ok not sharing this with them, because they've spent their lives trying to protect me from unpleasantness and pain and worry. And I think it's time I start doing the same thing for them.



1 comment:

Kim Arnold said...

WWPD? Yes, I think Pa would have doused the fire with a blanket as well. Well, Half pint would have for sure. I was raised thinking throwing a blanket on a fire was just adding fuel. This new information on how to douse fires may one day save my life. Thanks and glad you didn't get burned up.