On a night in late November, I arrive home dead tired. It was a long evening in the lab, staring at a 27-inch screen until my brain turned to mush. I drop my bag to the floor. Brush my teeth. Change my clothes. And fall into bed – to no avail. I turn on my bedside lamp, read a little.
Finally, it’s time for sleep. It needs to be or I’ll hate myself in the morning. I turn out the light.
I’d mistakenly thought that that Moroccan Mint tea would be fine. My mind is wired though, flitting between the problems in my code, the fires I’ll have to put out in class tomorrow, and all that needs to be done by Friday, the day after. I try to quiet my mind. I listen. My apartment is asleep, but there are still noises in the night. Cracks outside. Like gunshots, I think. I put it down to whatever trauma I still carry from Baltimore and my obsession with true crime.
The alarm starts. I lay in bed listening for a few seconds, initially unsure. They must have replaced the fire alarms while I’d been gone over the summer. I’ve never heard these before. I open my door to the dark hall, staring at what must be the alarm in confusion. It could only be that.
It doesn’t stop. Footsteps start upstairs. My roommate steps out from her room, the same expression of confusion mixed with questioning alarm. The footsteps become increasingly frantic. Smells of burnt toast. Perhaps that all it is. We don’t say anything as we go together to open the front door, which opens to the entrance of the complex. It’s unsettling to say the least.
A few seconds of waiting and listening and people are running down the stairs.
“Get out! The whole building is burning!”
I look back down our hallway. It stretches the length of the building. An unmistakable orange glow is now dancing across the white of the refrigerator, the pots and pans gleaming. The air now reflects light, increasingly paled by smoke.
My third roommate finally pokes his head from his room. Despite his dazed look, I think he gets the point. The fourth has yet to emerge from his room. As the kitchen grows brighter and brighter, I yell down the hall as I get myself together. He finally emerges.
In these seconds, you don’t think, you simply do. I grab my bag, shoes, coat, phone.
With these things overflowing from my hands, I stumble out the door. I pull my boots on in the carpeted foyer. Getting out to the sidewalk, I pull my coat on. It’s still a cozy 34°F outside. The last few people flow from of the building. Some are already in tears. I realize that I’m shaking uncontrollably. Thoughts of what to do now are only faintly beginning to filter in. Sirens.
Policemen are on top of us, yelling, pushing us to get off the block, anywhere, just away from here. Sledge hammers are already pounding away at the electronically locked glass doors to the foyer. Only just installed last week.
They’re already in our unit. We can hear the shouting, making sure everyone is out. We slowly heed their words, backing away slowly, but not sure where to go.
We can’t help but watch. We can see the flames rise above the building. You can’t help but think that everything is lost. All that wood.
I take a minute to feel the air. It’s dry, but there’s only a little wind. Thank goodness, I think to myself. The four of us continue walking to nowhere in particular. I concentrate on stopping the shaking.
We find a late night café and sit. We sit in silence. Some minutes pass. Logic begins to come back to us. During these moments, your mind inevitably files through all that you have in there, now presumably in flames. Yes, there are childhood mementos, my passport, the products of some hard work. You realize what you truly value for those few moments, and it’s little. More sirens.
The logic comes flooding back. Priority #1: a place to stay for the night.
It’s Thursday. I respond to text messages, explaining 2 am phone calls. I check my email. I find presentable clothing. I go to my meetings. I go to class. Carry on as usual. There’s not much else to be done. I carry on as usual.
Sure, I’m sure that I do.