We go through our lives trained for how to respond to fires. In kindergarten, we draw maps for escaping our house and decide where we'll meet our family. A few years later, we practice lining up and filing out of the school. And at every movie, we look for the nearest exit.
I assumed, based on all these drills and reminders, I would know what to do if there ever was a fire as long as I was awake, sober, and the fire wasn't roaring between the exit and me. But after last week, I'm not so sure.
While out of town visiting a friend, I stayed at her apartment. My first morning there, I was taking life particularly slow - lounging around, sipping coffee, posting Instagrams, and not expecting a fire to happen. My friend had gone to work, left me her key, and I wouldn't see her until evening.
After some more lounging and a short workout, I decided to shower. I stripped completely naked - please don't fantasize - and started the water. This took a bit of time because it was a new shower, so finding the right temperature was a struggle. Once I found it, I also decided to peruse Instagram some more. And it was during this scrolling that I heard a blaring begin.
Half a scroll later, it hit me: that was a fire alarm.
I had made eggs earlier. Had I left the stove on? I walked out into the kitchen - still naked, and also obviously assuming my friend and her roommates would not be home for some time lest they wanted a striptease. Actually, it wouldn't even be a tease.
The alarm was not going off. Make no mistake, an alarm was going off, but it was not internal to this apartment. And the apartment also didn't smell like smoke nor was the stove on.
The building's alarm was going off.
I considered peeping into the hall, but then reminded myself I was naked.
Do I finish showering? Now I'm a fast shower-er. Two minutes in, I'm done. Theoretically, I could shower faster than some people could collect their kids and escape a burning building. But then I imagined myself leaving the apartment, refreshed, fully clothed, only to be greeted by a wall of flames - and my shower would have been in vain. I would be dead.
I contemplated the windows in the apartment. Say, I continued down my reckless course and did shower: could I jump from a window if there was a wall of flame? But the windows didn't look like the type that opened. And I was on the third floor.
Okay, I need to evacuate. (And reevaluate my logic here.)
But what to wear?
I know! I'm mad at myself, too - but this really went through my mind.
How long would I be out of the apartment? I hadn't showered. Do I put on sweats? Or should I put on fresh clothes in case I can't get back in the apartment for hours? Worst case, I could find a local gym and shower. Okay, so I was going to dress up.
But I hadn't even unpacked. I began scrambling through my suitcase. Where were my socks?!
I short-circuited the process and put on a jacket without a shirt. There, I was rushing. Some.
Wait, I needed my class ring. And the apartment key. And where's my wallet? Should I bring my laptop? Do we think this fire is that serious? Should I take my whole suitcase?
Meanwhile, I don't even consider rescuing my friend's belongings.
I decide I'm not carrying my laptop down. If my dissertation work perishes, it's God's will.
I slip on my ring. How long have I been diddling here? But that wall of fire!
I am ready. I go into the hall. I see others are just as late for the drill as me. We don't take the elevator because I do recognize that is dumb.
Now we enter the part of the story where I meet my friend's neighbors. It's after the commercial break. I've made it downstairs. The lobby is crowded with, I guess, residents. I've never seen so many people not at work at 11 am on a weekday. It's like when I walk into the Robinson St. Starbucks on a Wednesday. Why aren't you all at work?! Why aren't I at work? Also, why are you all inside?! There's a fire in the building!
Of course, it is raining, but I huddle with the few smart people who have gone outside. But dang it, I did forget my umbrella. Of all things! It never crossed my mind.
A person asks the group, "When do you think we'll go back in?"
"Did anyone see smoke?"
"Were you here for the last fire alarm?"
This question I feel is directed at me, because I find myself saying, "No, I wasn't home for that." Probably because I don't live here.
"I wish I had grabbed my cigs before I came down," a woman comments. "I need my nicotine."
"The last fire was started by someone throwing their cig into the trash," a man says. "Just blew up. Took them two hours."
Are we going to be here two hours??
Employees of the apartment building rush past us into the lobby. Their affiliation is obvious from their uniform. They start checking this device on the wall.
"They're seeing where the fire's coming from," someone explains.
"I need my nicotine," the woman reminds us. I feel for her. Not really.
"Someone probably burned something on the stove," another person vents. "They opened the door to let the smoke out, and they set the whole building's alarm off. Idiots. They should know better. Don't open the door."
"Mm, hmm," murmurs Mrs. Nicotine.
I start to sweat. My coat is very warm. I unzip it slightly and expose my chest.
This fire obviously isn't that serious. I would've had time to finish that shower. But I consider the alternative, that wall of flames. Okay, I'm glad I hurried down.
"You got a light? Anyone got a light?" Mrs. Nicotine bellows to the lobby crowd.
"Man, it's cold out here," a young woman shivers in her pajamas.
I would give her my coat, except...
The apartment employees return. Someone asks if we can go back to your rooms. They grunt yes.
Are they serious? We've been down here five minutes. Was this a fire alarm or a false alarm?
I guess it's better safe than sorry, I muse in the shower moments later. Otherwise, I might be dead. Actually, I would still be dead - and so would my laptop.
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