i sat up with my legs dangling off the mattress. oh shit. it was the smoke detector. the battery must have bypassed its periodic beep fest that warns of its approaching death knell and instead gone straight into “on” mode.
i was still half asleep and feeling like i was watching a movie when i sensed a movement behind me and rotated my camera-like gaze over my left shoulder. i swear the light was almost blue when the frame snapped on to the torso of a man staring straight at me. i started screaming bloody murder as my adrenaline levels took yet another rocket ride into the stratosphere. my screaming scared the fuck out of brian who grabbed a hold of me and told me i was okay.
i told him the smoke detector was going off. they would have to bring in a ladder. i would have to move furniture. as my levels of consciousness began to be fully realized, my levels of panic started to take over. the magnitude of that dual tone was off the charts and i began feeling like my brain was going to melt and ooze out of my ears.
apparently, i was initially more concerned with the inconvenience of waiting in this new landscape of noise for a maintenance man to show up and then having to move furniture under conditions of duress than actually understanding there might really be a fire in the building. we were now awake enough to realize this was not normal. i asked brian to get dressed and see if other alarms were going off.
they were going off all over the building. i now know why they are hard-wired to the ceiling in addition to the battery.
the noise was becoming even more unbearable and i was starting to freak out.
i threw on some clothes and pulled off two pillowcases. after running into the bathroom to look for ttyki between the shower curtains, i spun around and found her cowering next to the litter box. she was scooped into pillowcase #1 and handed off to brian so he could run outside and call the apartment manager.
oskar had wedged himself into the farthest corner under the bed. when i shoved boxes to one side to gain access to him, he retreated with them. after seeing there was nowhere for me to easily move my bed (only a two foot walkway down one side), i ended up on my back scooting halfway under the bed. it was at this point i remembered i’m a little claustrophobic and managed to suppress a childhood memory of being stuck under a bed a little longer. i grabbed oskar and miraculously managed to scoot myself back out from under the bed. then he got away from me again after leaving an inch-long slice across the heel of my right hand.
i was about to start crying. but held my ears instead.
i don’t know how often people manage to get trapped in a bubble of constant, piercing noise, but it does something to you. the landscape changed. it felt like another dimension. my brain short-circuited and turned to useless mush. life on the other side of that noise must somehow be different and changed. that noise was religious.
i decided this was likely just a false alarm, but it would still be cruel to leave a cat surrounded by that excruciating noise. and what if it wasn’t? i imagined myself running back into a burning building to rescue my cat. worse yet, i would have to run back into that noise.
for some reason, in the middle of all this, i decided i should call 911. a female operator answered the phone. i think i might have said i wasn’t sure if i should be calling 911. at least i know i thought about saying that. all i knew anymore was that i couldn’t think enough to even speak. she said it sounded like a fire alarm was going off. eureka... maybe i wouldn’t have to think or speak after all. i excitedly told her “yes... the fire alarm is going off in the whole building” and then i stumbled. i couldn’t remember the name of my building. i groaned and waffled and then imagined hearing my voice on the news as the anonymous 911 caller who couldn't give her location and mindlessly spit out the address. she quickly notified the fire department and i hung up.
i crawled back under the bed and managed to get oskar out this time. he’s always been resistant to capture and coaxing him into pillowcase #2 was less of a cakewalk than it was with ttyki. but captured he was and i stumbled out into the hallway where the noise increased even more. as much as i wanted to crouch down and cover my ears, my flight instinct had taken over enough to make me push on.
i flew out of the door on the side of the building and landed crouching, out of breath, shaking, and on the verge of tears. i was astounded to see people stumble out after me sans difficult pets.
after feeling like i was making a scene and realizing that even in an emergency, my neighbors still fostered little sense of community, i walked out the gate toward the front of the building. brian strolled over in his McShit t-shirt and we sat down on the curb with our kittens as the fire department pulled up. it took the horror of all that noise as well as their first trip to the outside in almost four years for ttyki to finally bond with brian. short-lived as it might have been.
my cats' eyes were agog as they stared into the unknown and watched a parade of leashed canines coming all too close. i wondered who would be the first to die of a heart attack or at least piss their pillowcase... the 13 year old ttyki or the tightly wound oskar who will likely be pooing blood for a week after this.
with little fanfare, the alarm, which sounded more like crickets chirping from the outside, was silenced and the truck drove away. we asked some neighbors what happened. they didn’t know, but everyone seemed to be going back in.
as we settled back under the covers for restless sleep, it wasn’t the leather-masked protagonist from the near-laughable texas chainsaw massacre that i feared would take on new proportions and infect my sleep with terror, but the sound of that noise.