I believe that all the fire drills we are subjected to as children serve the opposite purpose that they are intended to. I came to this conclusion early Wednesday morning while I was in Albuquerque, staying at a well-known chain hotel. I was asleep-- finally-- but had only been so for about an hour when, at 2:15 am, the hotel's alarm went off.
Before I had gone to sleep, I had the strangest thought- what if the alarm went off? I can't remember the context of the thought, and don't profess to any sort of psychic ability. I mention it because when it really did go off, that very loud and quite obnoxious alarm, I thought it was my fault. I jumped out of bed, ran to the middle of the room and stood, completely disoriented. I returned to the bedside alarm clock and thumped it a couple of times, thinking it was the culprit and that I was really, really making my neighbors mad. It wasn't the alarm clock. Nor was it my cellphone (which has an alarm that plays music to soothe one into the day, unlike this bellowing Beowulf). Finally, I looked through the little peephole, and seeing nothing amiss in the hallway, went to the window. Still nothing to see.
In all this, I couldn't figure out what the alarm meant. Fire? Smoke? Terrorists on Menaul? I just couldn't get my befuddled, two-glasses-of-wine-before-bed mind around the idea that it meant EVACUATE.
That, I believe, is the result of years of fire drills in school. As a child briefly living in Oklahoma, I was also drilled on tornadoes and nuclear bombs. I am well versed in the meaning of an alarm. Fortunately for my childhood but unfortunately for 2:15 am, I associate alarms with drills, not the real thing. Thus, pretty sure the hotel would not be conducting a drill at such an hour, but not wholly convinced they wouldn't, I was rendered motionless in the middle of my room, unsure what to do. Finally, I opened the door and stuck my head out into the hallway. And that's when I saw it-- several of my neighbors, up and down and hall, sticking their heads out or pulling their heads back into their rooms. We looked like a bunch of whack-a-moles, that arcade game that encourages players to smash the heads of poor, helpless moles peeking out of their holes.
I asked my neighbor to my left, "Do you know what's going on?" and my neighbor to my right asked me, "Are you evacuating?" It wasn't until two young girls passed us and told us, "Our grandma says we have to evacuate" that we all pulled our heads in, shut our doors, and made our move. Thank goodness for grandmas.
I've always wondered what I would grab if I had to evacuate my house quickly. I now know-- my cellphone and my car keys. Savannah went down the four flights carrying her book bag, which is no lightweight proposition. I asked her why she was taking the heavy bag; she leveled that look at me, the one that says, Can I really be flesh of your flesh? and responded, "My life's work is in here. I'm NOT leaving it to burn!"
I looked at my car keys and phone and thought to myself, that's why she's going to be a famous writer someday, and I'm going to be answering her fan mail.
Ultimately, the alarm signaled nothing of significance. The firemen came and went, and we were allowed to return to our rooms.
By this time, it was almost 2:54 am. A significant time, as Kailee was born on July 29th, 2:54 am. The irony wasn't lost on me. I was awake for her arrival, and now, at the moment she turned eighteen years old, I stood at the window and sang happy birthday to her.
Not that she knew it-- she was sound asleep in her quiet dorm room.