Last night I was unceremoniously woken from my usual work-induced stress dream by a high frequency buzzing. My first thought was that my cat had clawed at my ear and punctured my eardrum--which believe me, wouldn't be beyond the realm of possibility. It took me a few groggy seconds to realize the noise was coming from the hallway and was in fact, my buildings fire alarm.
My experience with fire alarms going off in the middle of the night is not unimpressive. In college, our dorm room had a hair-trigger fire alarm that was often activated by illegal hot-pocket microwaving or more likely, bathroom pot-smoking. It went off three or four times that year in the middle of the night, and I, with my Bear Grylls-esque survival instincts would all but stop-drop-and-roll out the door, grabbing nothing, sometimes even forgetting important things like shoes or keys. I blame all those years of elementary school lecturing about "taking nothing" if there was a fire. "Nothing?" I would ask. "Nothing, " it was confirmed. So thanks to the Ohio public school systems, I once hopped from one bare foot to the other in the parking lot of my college dorm, in 40 degree weather because shoes would have counted as "something."
This time, however, I had a little more presence of mind. I put on pants. I grabbed my cellphone and wallet. But then I saw my cat. Should I take her? I figured it was a false alarm, and since Gracie is an illegal squatter in my apartment, I didn't want management knowing there was, in fact, a cat residing with me. Also, I didn't have a kitty carrier, and I figured she would die literally if she ran away, causing me to die emotionally, because like me, she's a bolter, but also like me, she is an "indoor" girl with no survival instincts of any kind. I imagined her running away only to be raped by a tomcat and then eaten by a raccoon (I often also am afraid of this scenario when I'm outside). I decided to let her stay in the apartment.
When I got into the stairwell, however, I knew this wasn't a drill. It reeked of smoke, and as soon as I got downstairs I saw firemen running in, full gear on, axes in hand. A lady franticly grabbed a fireman and said, "Would you go get my son? He's still inside!" I was extremely tempted to swat the woman aside and say, "Fuck your son, my cat's in there!" I resisted this urge. The fireman explained to the woman that all floors but the fourth were fine--and that we would be allowed back in shortly. I relaxed a little. Ok, so no big deal. But then time passed. A good amount of time. And we weren't being allowed back in. Smoke was pouring out of the building. I started to worry even more about Gracie. Would she die of smoke inhalation? Why was I the worst pet owner in the world? Should I send someone after her? Would they laugh at me for being concerned about a cat? This was too much for me to take in the middle of the night. I tried to lay down in my car and maybe snooze a little, but I couldn't because it sucks balls to try and sleep in a car and also because a lot was weighing on my mind.
Finally, they told us we could go back inside--everyone but those living on the fourth floor. Because I live on the fifth floor, however, when I went up the stairwell I could smell the smoke and the chemicals of the fire extinguisher...or the chemicals of the meth lab that started the fire in the first place. Nothing would surprise me. When I got into my apartment, the smell was still in the air, but I couldn't tell if it was just burned into my nose memory or it actually got into my apartment. And then there was Gracie. Now, you can say I'm crazy, but I swear to God she looked at me like Michael Corleone looked at Fredo. "I know what you did," she seemed to say. "That's right, bitch, I know. And it breaks my heart. And also, I'm going to pee in your mouth while your asleep to punish you." I picked her up and cuddled with her and told her I was so sorry and I would have sent someone if I really thought I needed to. But her eyes pretty much said, "Bitch, don't even start."
So to summarize: no sleep, possibly homicidal cat, and the crippling fear that my neighbors downstairs are meth addicts who will one day finish us all in a lab explosion. Sadly, it's not even the worst night I've ever had. Not even my worst night this month. Yeah, think about that.