Sirens. The sound that once made all the muscles in between my shoulder blades tighten had, over the last year, worked their way to just small twitches and spasms, barely noticeable under normal circumstances. These weren’t normal. I heard the sirens from far away. All of the muscles in my back had seized and the weight of Abby in my arms seemed to double. I shifted her to one arm as I waved down the fire trucks. My shoulders screamed, but the sound of that ache dulled under the blare of the sirens.
Just minutes before I had been running through my house trying to figure out where the smell of smoke was coming from. Pushing away chairs, couches, checking every light and every outlet. Nothing. The smell was the worst upstairs, and as I heard the wheeze that Abby’s been fighting for the last week turn to a raspy cough I knew there was no more I could do. I grabbed a blanket and wrapped her up, called 911 and took her out into the freezing cold of the day.
Two gigantic fire trucks. Two ambulances. I felt the sirens, as I had before, jitter beneath my skin. A feeling as much as sound.
I have never called 911 before. The six ambulance rides (six? I can’t remember) Abby has had have been calls from pediatricians and urgent care doctors who couldn’t treat the level of care she needed, and one from my sister when we were in Utah when Abby’s fingers and feet had turned dark. But the sound of the sirens is one that I have had more than enough experience with. From the inside, just two weeks after having Abby when I hemorrhaged. From the outside waiting with Abby as the rescue team clomped past scared moms in the waiting room of the pediatrician’s office. From the inside those many trips from doctors offices to hospitals.
I hate the sound of sirens.
The firefighters jumped out, prepared with axes and dressed in their gear, eager, almost as if they had been very bored, to fight a fire with no flames. My hands shook as I pulled out the phone answer Lance’s call- his airplane was taxiing the Reagan International Airport runway in D.C.-to tell him that the firefighters were there, and begging him to call the school again because I was so worried about the kids. He couldn’t, the airline was breaking rules as it was and he had to get off the phone. “My son, my son is autistic and is going to be worried and I need to get him at the school.” The firefighter’s eyes widened as he looked at me holding my beautiful daughter with Down syndrome, her head nuzzled into my neck, putting together what I was saying. “Just one son? Which school?” “No, I have three boys at that school. They’re fine. They’re with their teachers, but I need to get them.” I’m not sure if my anxiety to get there was more for me than it was for them. I wanted my boys. I wanted to tell them it was fine if for no other reason than to hear the words myself.
A minute later a paramedic came and said that he’d drive me in the ambulance to pick up my kids. I almost laughed. There was no way I was getting in an ambulance I didn’t have to, and there was absolutely no way I was picking up my boys, my anxious Peyton and my autistic Casey, in an ambulance. I explained that the school was close and there was a cut through just one street over. The paramedic decided to escort me there and back to get the kids. He was nice, and for once, I didn’t feel the usual anxiety I get over spending time with people I had just met.
The boys were waiting in the resource room. Casey, who I imagined pacing the room biting his fingernails, barely registered my presence as he played on an ipad. I introduced the paramedic and told them that even though everything was okay, we were going home and there were going to be firetrucks. My anxiety was lost on them. “Cool!” Peyton said as he hopped out of his chair. Mrs. Duncan, Casey’s superhero of a special education teacher, walked with us.
Once home, I handed over Abby and met the head fireman in my yard. They had found the source- our furnace. It turns out, it hasn’t been serviced in years, maybe, and was clogged with dust. The reason I couldn’t find the source of the smoke was because it was was coming out of all the vents. The firemen let me inside to find the name and phone number of the property management company. Once I had got it, the head guy made the call for me. The company scrambled in a way I have never seen a business before. I think I’ll have him do all my calling for me.
The furnace had to be shut off, and I could already feel the chill of these past couple of days seeping into the house. The guys told me that it probably wasn’t a good idea to stay in the house until the smoke cleared, but by that time, if the furnace hadn’t been fixed, it would be too cold. I gathered up Abby’s inhalers, the Ipad, some snacks. They told me they’d keep in touch to make sure the property management company complied and gave me their numbers if they hadn’t.
I walked to the ambulance where the firemen told me they were keeping my kids warm. I pulled the back door open and my breath caught as I saw Abby sitting on the stretcher in front of me. She was fine. They all were. Mrs. Duncan had kept them calm and entertained while I was inside. She. Is. A. Saint.
My kids and I spent the rest of the evening looking for things to do. First, to fill the car up with gas, next to meet the furnace guy back at the house, to the overcrowded and much, much much hated McDonalds , then onto the YMCA where in an hour or so Carter had basketball practice. I had forgotten Casey’s goggles in my rush back in when I had met the furnace guy, and upon his hearing this, any sort of resolve he had crumbled. He had been so good, that I didn’t even mind his breaking. He climbed to the top of the two-story play place and laid right in front of the slide, letting kids scramble right over him to go down. When they were at the bottom, I heard them calling him the “Zombie Boy” and for once, it didn’t bother me. It didn’t bother him, either. I think we both felt more undead then truly alive. He emerged for a minute to grab the Ipad then slunk back up to his perch. Minutes later, a sweet boy from Peyton’s class showed up and asked where the boys were. Peyton was swimming, Carter at practice, and Casey, at the top of the playground. The boy climbed to the top where he spent the next half hour sitting with Casey. The boy is my hero.
Abby, who’s shoes I had left at home and who was still too wheezy to go into the kids care, and I played basketball, sung songs and danced in the space below Casey’s tower. My shoulders eased as I giggled with my beautiful girl. Casey crept down and joined us and as we played mini-basketball. He giggled as he joined in with two other boys throwing the balls so hard against the little hoops that they knocked them over. Once, the ball bounced back and caught Casey right in the jewels. It was a half-deflated ball, and the image of it was funnier than the feeling. He fell back on the floor and laughed until his voice broke into a cackle. I laughed too, and then I realized how grateful I was that in the end, the day had brought me there. Don’t get me wrong, heads are going to roll in the rental office tomorrow, but for that moment, I didn’t feel like it had been the worst day ever.
I’m just kidding. Today sucked. The kids are still getting up, creeping down the stairs and worriedly asking me if the house is going to burn down.
This is a long post and I commend any of you who made it through the whole thing. I probably would have skimmed it at best. Really, I wrote it for me as a way to process the trauma of a pretty untraumatic event. If sirens didn’t take me back to a place of wretched fear, it wouldn’t have been much more than it was. Also as a ploy for Lance- who is always out of town for the fun- to buy me a cat.