There are many benefits to our current situation, beyond the obvious points of no-rent and free food. The students here are genuinely interesting, intellectually engaged kids who are, by and large, well-behaved and very nice. There are times when I feel like a den-mother, asking nineteen-year-olds what kind of cookies they’d like at a study break, or how their roommate situation is going (My husband, Brad, try as he might, is not exceptional at navigating female housing conflicts).
And then there are moments when I remember that we do live with college students, smart and lovely though they may be. One of those moments was a few nights ago. After a totally normal evening, we had just gone to sleep when I heard shrieking in the hallway. Whatever, it’s college, it happens, I thought. And then there was the banging. The very insistent banging on our door. I turned to Brad, who falls asleep ten times faster than I do.
“Someone’s knocking on the door.”
“Get up, someone’s knocking on the door.”
And then I heard the fire alarm. While Brad stumbled around in the dark, looking for his glasses, I headed to our front door and poked my head out, to see what was going on. That’s when the very dense, acrid smoke hit, and I realized it might not be the usual shenanigans.
“THE HALLWAY IS FILLED WITH SMOKE, GET YOUR SHOES ON.”
While Brad glacially moved towards his sneakers (one thing I learned from this experience is that he is apparently not the crisis management in this relationship), I grabbed my phone and my purse, and we headed out the door and into the street. There, the girls who live on our floor explained that they had put a plastic tea kettle on the electric coil stove (WHAT? WHY?) and it had melted (WELL YES OBVIOUSLY IT MELTED). While Brad told them it was fine, and made sure they had turned off the stove before leaving (they had), I called the authorities, who sent over two trucks full of thoroughly annoyed looking firemen. They aired out the hallway, made sure the stove was safe, and after we gave all of the university authorities our information, they headed off into the night.
Despite the obvious questions this situation raised, like why these students thought it was a good idea to put plastic on a hot burner (for privacy purposes I won’t say which university we’re associated with, but I will say that if you’re smart enough to get into this school, you should be smart enough not to put a PLASTIC TEA KETTLE ON A BURNER), another was what we’d save, and what we’d lose, in a real emergency. The first item on my list is Brad – while watching him come out of his slumber more slowly than I’ve seen babies crawl across a football field, I realized that my hyper-anxiety at least enables me to be immediately on the alert in a situation like this, and to get him out the door and to safety as soon as possible. But after that? Well, I grabbed my phone because I figured we’d need it, and my bag because it was by the door. But that was it. (You might notice our cat is missing – he has the miserable habit of running very far under a variety of furniture when something scares him, and we’re trying to figure out how we could get him out of the building, if it came to that, without killing ourselves in the process.) But everything else is (maybe literally) toast. And in that moment, when I realized that our building might actually be on fire, that wasn’t even a concern. It’s a relief to know that my miserly ways don’t extend to those terrible moments of decision, when saving your money might mean losing what actually matters.
image: Steve Wilson