.journal 2005.07.17


A real bad flashback

Now listening to: Matsui Keiko, The Piano
Now reading: Ira Shor, Critical Teaching and Everyday Life
Now playing: Final Fantasy VII (Playstation)

I know I have a tendency to exaggerate the bad things that happen in my life way more than I should. Often when I talk about having a bad idea, it’s just one or two little personal slights at the start of the day that just seem to magnify every little thing that happens afterward — stuff that I’d normally just brush off — and by the end of the day I come onto the .org and post this really angst-driven stuff that doesn’t really detail what happened, just that I’m angry or depressed or some combination of the two. I keep telling myself that I don’t go into details because those would involve naming the people who made me feel so down and be an invasion of their privacy, but sometimes I wonder if I don’t mention the details because I’m so embarrassed over how piddly little shit can make me go so crazy.

Yesterday, however, was not one of those days where the little shit got me down. It was one of those days where the big shit just fucked me up completely.

Let’s just rewind all the way back to the start of the day for me. While I was still asleep, my parents left on “vacation” for four days (they went up to the family vacation house, but they’re doing so to help tend to my paternal grandmother, who recently broke her arm). It was going to be just me and Heather and Mark in the house for a few days, and while I’d really appreciate some time alone at the house here, I could live with it being the three of us here. I woke up a bit later than I would have liked, but it was around the usual time for me to wake up during my break. I had a bit of lower back pain, but nothing too bad. I’ve had better starts to the day, but all in all it was shaping up to be just another Saturday.

I got out of bed, went to the bathroom and showered. Normally I go straight to journaling after my shower, but sometimes I have breakfast first, and on this day I decided to have breakfast first. Mark and Heather both came downstairs while I was eating, and instead of going straight back up to my bedroom I found myself sitting on the sofa with Heather, with both of us giving Rowan a good scratching. (My father is Rowan’s human, and when her human goes away for a while she needs some extra TLC.) It had been a while since any of us had initiated a “gang-scratching” on one of our cats, and it was a nice, pleasant moment. All of a sudden, though, this loud noise pierced the air, and my sister and I looked at each other for about a second before simultaneously realizing what it was.

The smoke alarm.

(For those of you just tuning into the .org these past few years, a little background: in May of 2001, there was a huge fire at our house while we were all home. The entire second floor was lost, my sister lost damn near everything she owned, and I got stuck living in a hotel room with my family for the next eleven months while the house was being rebuilt. In the week before the fire, I’d lost my biggest client at work, and my two best friends had to go missing for an indefinite time; weeks after the fire, I was back in college for the first time in several years. I seriously thought I was going to go insane for a real long time there.)

All three of us immediately rushed around the house, trying to figure out what had caught on fire, but we couldn’t find anything. There wasn’t even any smell of anything burning. I even went out and did a quick run-around of the property, trying to see if there were any fires I could detect outside, but there wasn’t anything. After a minute or so of beeping, the alarms just stopped.

Needless to say, Heather and I were both rattled. (The first fire happened years before Heather and Mark met online, so Mark was puzzled at how we were reacting.) When it came time to speak or perform actions, I was brilliant — I pretty much marshalled the family through the fire — but inside I was a wreck, and I could tell Heather was pretty much the same way. We didn’t know what to make of what had happened, and my parents were still on the road to the family vacation house so we couldn’t call them. We ascribed the smoke alarms going off to an electrical short caused by a bug (we’ve had a bit of an infestation here lately), and decided to just go on about our lives, making sure to tell the parents what had happened as soon as they called.

I came back up here and did my journaling, first writing about how the previous day I hadn’t gotten much done because I’d gotten so depressed over my recent revelation that I don’t know how to have fun anymore, and then writing about what had happened with the smoke alarms going off all of a sudden. All of a sudden the alarms went off again, once again sending all of us scrambling to find the fire, but there wasn’t anything we could see or smell. The alarms went off on their own, but ten minutes later they went off yet again, and even though it seemed a waste of time to go around looking for a possible fire, after living through the aftermath of the first fire we weren’t about to take any chances there.

I had wanted to go shopping that day, but I was reconsidering my plans. On the one hand I really needed to get out of the house, but at the same time I didn’t just want to leave with everything in the house going haywire. Eventually we got father on the phone, and he gave us two suggestions for how to go about things. The first was to call the electrician who worked on restoring the house, and get him to come over here ASAP. That would be fine, except for the fact that apparently he doesn’t answer the phone on the weekends, as we still haven’t been able to get hold of him. The second suggestion was to replace the batteries in all the smoke detectors in the house, which we did after Mark ran down to the nearby K-Mart to get fresh batteries.

I don’t know why, but at that point I just came up here to my bedroom, got around, and left the house. I’m not even sure I knew where I was going to go, but I do remember deciding not to take my DDR bag with me, and instead taking one of my Popples as an “insurance policy” in case something bad happened here. (If you don’t understand, I’ll never be able to explain it to you, so just let it go.)

Anyway, once I’m out of here I decide I want to head to Spring Meadows, a shopping complex in southwest Toledo that is, I just realized, across the highway from the hotel we were all staying at after the first fire. I get on said highway to go down there, a trip that usually takes no more than five minutes. As soon as I get on the highway, though, traffic slows to a dead stop. There were brief periods of rain just before I left the house, and I guess there must have been an accident that just gummed up traffic. Instead of being on the highway for five minutes, I was on it for close to forty-five, and all that time I’m thinking to myself, “Oh shit, the house is gonna catch on fire and I won’t be able to get turned around and get back there.” Thankfully that didn’t happen, as I called the house on my cell phone after getting off the highway, and everything was still fine.

It was at this point that I realized I was pretty darn hungry, because my mind had been so focused on other things it had forgotten about eating lunch before heading out. Bowing to the immense stress I was still feeling, I stopped by Mancino’s and got an order of cheese bread and a Dr. Pepper, then went to Dairy Queen and got a cherry malt. I wasn’t happy about going off my diet like that, but I figured these were extraordinary circumstances. Unfortunately, because I was so stressed out, I could barely even taste my food, let alone enjoy it.

For the next hour or two I wound up bopping around several stores in the vicinity, looking at lots of stuff but not buying anything. I was sure I was putting on a brave exterior, but inside I was torn. On the one hand, I was worried that the house really was on fire and nobody would be able to do anything about it. On the other hand, from living through the first fire — especially in the immediate hours that followed when we weren’t able to evacuate the cats and were worried for their safety — I had this little voice telling me that I was safe, and even if the house burned down while I was away, Mark and Heather would get out safely and I’d just be losing things. Even if some of those things have great emotional and sentimental value to me — my journals, my writing/songwriting things, my Popples, my collections of Bj√∂rk and Tori Amos rarities, all the stuff on my computer that I never remember to back off to CD because I’m such an idiot — I was still safe, I knew all the humans and cats here would be safe, and I would survive.

Eventually I decided to go to a grocery store (Heather had asked me to get some stuff while I was out), but since I was passing a quarter-mile from the house I decided to stop here first and check on things. Just as I turned onto our street, though, I had to slam the brakes on because the road was completely flooded. Two things: one, there had been some rain while I was out but never more than a sprinkle (and I was only a few miles away from the house); and two, our neigbourhood never floods. We’re on really high ground here, and even in the worst of the Midwest thunderstorms we’ve dealt with here, I’d never seen the streets flood like that. Of course, I panicked again because now I was certain the house was on fire and there’d be no way for me (or the fire trucks) to get there, but I just took the long way around and arrived to find the house intact and not smoldering in any way.

I popped in here just long enough to talk to Mark and Heather, who said that things were fine and the smoke alarms hadn’t even gone off since I left. It sounded like replacing the batteries solved the problem, so I went to Media Play and picked up a CD for myself, then went to Kroger to get Heather’s stuff as well as some stuff for myself that night (since I was already off my diet for the day). That part of the road was still flooded when I came back here, but again I was able to take the long way around, get back in here, take a shower (it was super-humid all day yesterday), and try to relax.

Given the scare of earlier in the day, I decided to abdicate all the usual activities I’ve been trying to get to over this break, and I spent the rest of the night just thinking about stuff. When I tried to go to sleep, though, I couldn’t. Not only was my mind still racing at a million miles an hour (in spite of the smoke detectors going back to behaving themselves), but I could still hear the ear-piercing shrieks of the smoke alarms somewhere in the back of my mind, how the alarm in my room has a slightly higher pitch than the others, the pattern in which each alarm goes on and off. This was probably because I was the only one awake in the house — and I wouldn’t have been had I not decided, on a whim, to work on my drawing skills before bed — at the time of the fire four years ago. Eventually, though, I got overtired, and crashed.

Care to guess what woke me up today?

Yes, the alarms started going off again, and again none of us could find anything on fire or anything even smelling funny. That is, until my sister went into the office and noticed our printing/matting room was kind of warm. She called father, who advised her to open up the panel in the ceiling of that room, which is where our cable line comes into the house.

Apparently, when she opened the panel, the space between the ceiling and the roof was a sauna; she stole a thermometer from the kitchen, and the temperature up there was well over a hundred degrees Fahrenheit. (By point of comparison, it only got up to about 87 outside today.) Further investigation revealed that the signal booster our cable company had installed was extremely hot, and smelled of melting plastic. My sister immediately suspected that the fumes the booster was putting off might have been what was triggering the smoke alarms. She unhooked the booster, and since then we haven’t had any smoke alarms going off. (This means that our cable reception is now crap and my Internet connection here isn’t what I would call great, but all things being equal I couldn’t care less about those things now.) We’ve also been pumping cool air into that space above the ceiling, and as of sundown today it had dropped to below 90 in there.

All things being equal, though, I don’t dare to say we’re out of the woods yet. Electrical issues were what caused the first fire, and there’s no way I’m going to feel okay until we can get our electrician out here to take a good look at things. (We called the cable company, but they said they can’t get anyone out here to look at things until Wednesday at the earliest.) Not that my father is the great fixer-upper he dreams himself to be, but if he were here then I’d feel a lot more comfortable about things since he knows far more about this sort of stuff than the rest of us will ever know.

I can’t say for sure how I’m doing right now. I’ve managed to stay on my diet so far today, but in the absence of other forms of support — especially with my innermost circle of friends too busy to communicate with me for a long time now — there is a real temptation to just forget about self-restraint from now, and do whatever it takes to give myself even the slightest bit of comfort. Even though part of me suspects that the cable booster was the problem, there’s still a very large part of me that is just waiting for the fire to start, and is bracing for a manic run next door to use someone else’s phone to call 911. Every hour or so I keep going back to the office to look up at that space above the ceiling, to see if anything’s caught on fire. I’m fairly certain that until Heather wakes up tomorrow morning to answer the phones in the office, there’s no way I’ll be able to get to sleep.

If there is a fire again, things are going to be so much different. Last time, after the fire we were all able to go down to the old office about three and a half miles from here to regroup, reserve the interim hotel room before our insurance company could put us up, and hold the stuff we were moving out of the house for later use. Now that the office is part of the house, though, we won’t have anywhere to go. In fact, if a fire does start in that space above the printing/matting room, it’s a lock that the fire department will have to destroy our big printer to put the fire out, and that printer is by far the most important piece of equipment for the current operation of our business. More than that, without the business we’d lose nearly all of our cash inflows, and even with another round of insurance money I’m not sure we could survive as a family.

Anyway, I wanted to let you all know this, not just so you can see that sometimes I really do have truly bad days, but also so you all can be prepared in case I stop updating anything and everything here. To that end I will be as diligent as I can be in posting updates (at least to the .org, as well as the diet log if I manage to stay on-diet here) these next few days, even if I just wind up babbling about some unimportant bullshit (I know, isn’t that what I normally do) for the sake of letting you all know that I am still alive, the house is still standing, and things are still okay. Even if, to be quite honest, I feel like a total fucking wreck right now.

Everyone take care and be well. Hopefully I’ll see you all again here real soon.

— Sean

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