Last night, I was awakened by… Well, I don’t know what. Weird noises, trucks driving in at 2:30 in the morning, the usual stuff you hear when you don’t have the air conditioning on. All of a sudden, there was some kind of ruckus somewhere in the apartment building. Then a strange beeping started. Then, just as I was starting to figure out it was a fire alarm (the old fire alarm sounded a lot more alarming), somebody ran down the hall pounding on doors, saying there was a fire. All this took maybe fifteen or twenty seconds.
The thing is, you don’t know whether to take this sort of thing seriously. It’s almost always somebody pulling the alarm. But whether or not you’re worried, you get up anyway because that’s what you do, when you hear a fire alarm. So I shuffled around, found my contacts and my shoes, put my contact case in my pocket, put on some shorts so I’d be decent, and grabbed my purse as I was going out the door. It felt slow, but I doubt it took me more than thirty seconds from the moment I decided I had to roll out of bed. Thirty seconds can be a lot of time.
As soon as I opened the door, I smelled lots of smoke and felt a certain amount of heat. I went toward the front door on the office side, felt the smoke getting thicker, and stopped and went back down the hallway the other way, worrying that the fire might be on the office side. (My apartment building is attached at a right angle to an office building, with the two connected by a lobby.) The other staircase, toward the side door on the apartment side, was actually billowing out more smoke. So I stopped again and went back the other way again. None of this was done at a polite walk, so I didn’t waste too much time — maybe fifteen or twenty seconds — but if the fire had been thicker, I really could have roasted my goose with this indecision.
So I went out the front door on the office side. The smoke seemed pretty thick when I was crossing the stairwell and crossing the office lobby, but it wasn’t anywhere near thick enough to restrict vision or anything like that. It was more acrid than anything. Staying low helped a little but not much, probably because the fire was in the basement and the smoke was coming up both through the stairwell and through the various floors of open lobby.
Anyway, I went outside and held open the door for others coming behind me. We ended up propping that door open. I guess that could have been bad, because it might feed the fire air, but we wanted people to be able to get out the door without fumbling. (And since the door was locked, we would have to use keys to reopen it from the outside, which would also mean a lot of fumbling around.)
Everybody pretty much got out, in a timely manner and in various amounts of clothing. One well-meaning idiot went back upstairs for his cat, found her, and got back out again pretty quickly — but honestly, I thought we all knew by now that you don’t go back into a fire except for people. I really had visions of them finding his body.
Luckily for everybody, it turned out to be a minor fire in the laundry room. They think somebody threw something (a cigarette butt, maybe) into the trash down there and it smouldered and eventually caught the big plastic trash vat on fire. Tons of horrible-smelling nasty smoke, most of which stayed out in the hallway, and not much damage. Thank God.
The weirdest thing was that (except when I was trying to figure the best way out, and when I screamed at the cat guy), I was really pretty calm. I only started feeling scared or upset after the whole thing was well over.
Anyway, I ended up calling my parents and staying the night and morning (or rather, the morning and later morning) at their place. It was very weird, because I didn’t feel conventionally scared or upset. Most of the time, though, I felt as if something about going through a real fire had disoriented me. I had trouble settling down to sleep, and I had to have the TV on. (Not normally something I want.) I didn’t really want to eat, not even anything sweet; but I did have hot chocolate and it helped. After finishing my sleep for the night, I felt better, but the odd off-balance feeling got worse — or at least, more pervasive. I did manage to cry a little, which helped, but not as much as a hot shower and washing my hair.
But honestly, I didn’t feel really back to normal until I got back here. Something about seeing the damage, for better or worse, made me feel much better. I had something definite to work on. There was even something funny about noticing that the fresh cobwebs in the stairwell were black in the basement, and just a bit darker gray on my floor.
Anyway, everything is mostly done that I can do. I’m airing out the apartment, which I couldn’t do before I left last night. (They let us back into the building, but smoke was still coming out on my side of the building. I didn’t want to open the windows and let in more smoke while trying to get rid of what I had!) My mom had me bring some laundry to her place so I’d be sure to have clean clothes. (The laundry room is slightly out of commission, at the moment.) So I’m going to clear out of here again, go hang out somewhere in the surrounding area for the next few hours, and then clean some more tonight when the apartment is smelling better.
You just never know, do you?
But on the whole, God is very good.