There are events in your life that happen at a time when you can kind of recognize that they aren’t all that bad, but seeing things from that perspective is nearly impossible due to how you’re being affected by the events as they happen. I had one of those days last week, and by “last week” I mean right now as I’m typing this up, but I’m going to save posting this until my usual Monday publishing schedule. I’m just trying to get words down on the screen right now to help me stay sane, because that’s what a lot of us writers need to do at times like these.
One of the things I’ve been doing this summer is helping an old friend with a big project of hers. Because she’s even more of a night owl than I am, this means staying up late so we can work together over Skype, and I’ve kind of liked being able to do that here. Adjusting to teaching classes at eight in the morning here in Wisconsin has been rough at times (I’d only taught one class that started before noon in all my years of teaching before I got here), and having lived most of my life in Toledo with I-475 in my backyard kind of necessitated that I become a night owl myself, so I could write late at night when it wasn’t so noisy. Things are quiet enough out here that I really don’t mind having a morning schedule now, but getting to be a nocturnal person again this summer has been nice, if only because it’s a reminder of a simpler time in my life.
I mention this because when there was a loud knocking on the door of my apartment at about nine this morning, I’d only gotten about four hours of sleep at that point. That’s an awful time for me to have to get up, because I clearly haven’t gotten a full night of rest but I also can’t trick myself into thinking that I just pulled an all-nighter. (I function better if I stay up all night than if I only get three or four hours of sleep, and I gather that I’m far from alone in that.) On its own, that would have been bad enough, but the first thing that happened when I opened the door was that a dog came running into my apartment, right up to my feet. Particularly given how messed up my brain was from lack of sleep, that freaked me out to such a degree that it was a miracle I still had clean underwear after that.
One of the maintenance people at the apartment was saying something to me while all this was going on, but on top of being frightened by the dog, I also couldn’t hear a darn thing over the loud, incessant scratching of the dog’s nails on my hardwood floor. I had to ask the maintenance worker to repeat himself, and only then was he finally able to let me know that there was a gas leak in the building being erected next to our complex, and we needed to evacuate across the street to campus immediately. I was able to grab my keys and phone before I left, but that was pretty much it.
While it’s true that I have an office on campus, so I had somewhere to retreat to, it’s also true that I need a long time to prepare to go to campus on a normal day. Despite the impression some people may get from my clothes and hair, I am one of the cleanest people you’ll ever meet, especially when it comes to personal hygiene. Beyond being unable to get dressed in clean clothes that I hadn’t just been sleeping in, or put on makeup like I normally do, I didn’t even get a chance to shower before I came to campus. Add in the fact that it was close to 80 degrees Fahrenheit and humid as heck as I made that walk to my office, and I pretty much had to shut myself away from everyone as soon as I got there, because whatever the opposite of the term “presentable” is, that was me.
The good news is that I’ve outfitted my office with a couple of beanbag chairs, so I might have been able to catch a little more sleep while I waited for the all-clear to return to my apartment. The bad news is that this just happened to occur on a day when one of my colleagues brought their three-year-old daughter to campus, and with her running and screaming in the hall right outside my office, any chance of getting rest there was pretty much nonexistent. This doesn’t even take into account that even though the building that houses my office is air-conditioned, individual offices aren’t, so on top of being there without getting to take a shower first, I started sweating up more and more as the hours passed. I don’t even want to think about how I must have reeked in there.
I have some food in my office, but it’s mostly snack-type stuff that I try to keep around for my students’ sake. Needless to say, it’s not the kind of food someone should try to live off of, and as the hours passed there, and I wasn’t able to have any kind of decent meal (even if I’d brought my purse, the only pizza place in town that delivers is Pizza Hut, and their pizza gives me wicked stomach pains), every little thing started to set me off. That insane beginning to my day had pretty much shattered my nerves to start with, and as the hours wore on there, and I wasn’t hearing anything about when I might be able to get back to my apartment to eat and shower and just not be a raging hot mess, I began to fear that I would genuinely start going insane, and at my place of employment to boot.
Even as I struggled to deal with all this stuff, though, part of me recognized that things weren’t as bad as they were feeling to me at the time. I’d never had to evacuate a place due to a gas leak before (and yes, I knew that I was lucky for that), and I could tell that things would probably be okay, but when all this other stuff just kept piling on top of me, I couldn’t help assuming the worst about everything. I still don’t have that much stuff with me here in Wisconsin, but I made sure to bring all the most important things to me, including a lot of irreplaceable gifts from Mom. Even though I knew that the chances of my apartment going up in flames were remote, as I sat there in that hot office hour after hour, and nothing else seemed to be going right for me there, I couldn’t help thinking that I was going to hear an explosion across the street at any moment, and I’d walk outside to see the second big fire of my life.
I stopped writing at the end of that paragraph, waiting to see what would happen at that point. I was allowed to return to my apartment about fifteen minutes later — I’d been in my office for about four hours — and despite feeling like I was out on my feet, I still rushed back to my apartment faster than I’d ever made the trip back there from my office before. (Keep in mind, I was already stinkier beyond belief.) After I got back inside, I took a few moments there to just cool off and calm down, and then I finally took that shower I so desperately needed. My mind and body were worn out from all the adrenaline spikes I’d had since that knock on my door, and I pretty much took a mental health day for the rest of the day (and I defy anyone to tell me I didn’t deserve it), but I still got a little more work done for my friend that night. This paragraph, and everything after, is being drafted three days later.
With the benefit of perspective, I can see how I got so freaked out there, and how I felt completely flummoxed because it wasn’t like I could blame anyone. Yes, the builders down the street accidentally drilled into a gas pipe, but mistakes happen, and I’ve certainly made my fair share of them. Having one of my colleague’s dogs rush me as soon as I opened my door that morning scared the crap out of me (I recognized him a split-second after he came in, but not before I lost about six months off my life), but my colleague had gone to campus early that morning, so he wasn’t there to put his dog on a leash, and it wasn’t like the staff here could be expected to find the leash and put it on the dog while they were trying to make sure all of us could quickly evacuate to safety. The other colleague who brought their daughter to work couldn’t have had any idea that people from across the street would be in their offices desperate for sleep that morning because of a gas leak. If I could have pointed to anyone, or anything, and vented my frustrations there (if only in my head, because as desperate as I was that morning/afternoon, my instinct for tact was still there), then maybe I wouldn’t have been so bad off, but what happened to me was little more than bad luck hitting me over and over again, at a time when I wasn’t prepared to deal with it.
This was hardly the most harrowing experience of my life, but it was still a lot to deal with all at once, and like I said at the start of my “journal” of the experience as it happened, we writers often write to help ourselves stay sane. If I hadn’t had my computer there to let me type something up to post here later, then I probably would have gotten some scrap paper and jotted the same words down. When I launched the .org nearly nineteen years ago, I wanted it to be a place about me, but more importantly, for me, and if I’ve been able to entertain or enlighten you just a little by sharing this experience with you (just like I’ve shared so much on there over the past nineteen years), then maybe it wasn’t all that bad. Having said that, the next time I have to evacuate my apartment for any reason, I’m taking a damn shower first.