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Carol's Apartment Roasting on an Open Fire (not really!)

Posted Oct 22 2008 6:27pm


Well, last Friday night, I found out the hard way that my fireplace works.

After several hours of donating to charities online, I noticed I was chilly and that it would be lovely to have a warm fire in the fireplace. It was my first time using it, after I'd ascertained from my landlady that it was indeed wood-burning even though it has a (disabled) gas starter. So...

I built a beautiful pyramid of logs, newspaper, and fire-starter chips...

Opened the flue (or so I thought...turns out it had been opened ever since I moved into the place)...

Lit the wood...

And smoke proceeded to pour out of the fireplace and up to the ceiling. (First belief: I should have known better!)

Then I went about doing several things wrong and a couple of things right:

1. Opened all the windows and doors (you're supposed to contain fire and smoke; now I know.)

2. Called the fire department.

3. Grabbed my handbag and got out.

4. Asked the firefighters sitting in the truck on one end of the condo complex (we have two entrances) why the hell no one was in my apartment yet. (They said someone was already there, and of course they weren't or I wouldn't have been out there.)

5. Went back to my front door and waited for the firefighters who soon entered from the other side of the complex...and urged them to hurry, which they weren't doing. (Second belief: firefighters should move quickly.)

6. Wondered why four or five firefighters were standing around studying the damn thing instead of putting it out immediately with the fire extinguisher they'd brought—and said so—therefore not trusting that firefighters know how to deal with fires. (Third belief: they're not helping.)

7. Watched helplessly as the wall above the fireplace started to turn black. (Fourth belief: my landlady will kill me.)

9. Had thoughts of the whole building burning down because of me. (Luckily it was clear that I couldn't know this was true.)

10. Thanks firefighters profusely for closing all doors and windows, discovering closed flue, opening it, checking on neighbors' apartments, remaining calm and professional, and telling me that everything was working well—the smoke alarms did what they were supposed to do, the sheetrock (which is apparently flame-resistent) did its job, the fireplace was working great, and that there was no reason to put out the fire in it because it was burning nicely and no further harm would be done.

11. Vowed never to light fire alone again, even though gracious firefighters said there was no reason I coudn't or shouldn't. (They're right, and I have some work to do on this.)

12. Tried to clean scorched wall and ceiling with mop. If this happens to you, don't do this; I spread the sooty stuff around further and made a mess. Sand the black stuff off first, then clean what's left. (Oh well.)

13. Re-opened all windows and doors (again, not a good idea; I got a smokey office for my trouble).

14. Cleaned up all smoke residue elsewhere, which was, amazingly, minimal.

15. Counted my blessings a thousand times over.

16. Primed burnt wall the next afternoon, all by myself, and, seeing as I usually see myself as so inept, am feeling extremely proud of this and happy to have blown that story.

17. Went about my life without further drama.

What is interesting to me is that while all this was happening, the worst of it was a bunch of scary thoughts, and I knew it, even when I was getting in the firefighters' business. It's just so ingrained to say and do certain things...and I watched myself do it, and at the same time, I could see everything was being handled and that I was fine. I even saw how, if the apartment had sustained real damage, and uninsured, underemployed moi would be responsible for it all, that would have been fine too; in reality, I have never emerged from anything unscathed, and I've had some interesting experiences, especially in the last decade.

I'm about to turn 50. In my 40th year, I lost my mother, and shortly afterwards, when my immune system crashed, I lost my health; in the years that ensued, I lost my business, my home, and a relationship that I thought was "the one." While I still lived there, just a couple of miles down the road from Ground Zero, my hometown lost nearly 3,000 people and the Twin Towers in the terror attack of 9-11, and we lost our innocence as a nation...at least I hope so.

A scant decade ago, this little smoke incident would have derailed me; one more thing to prove that my life sucked.

Ah, 2007. I experienced an earthquake and a fire, and there's no harm done; I am blessed. Would I be any less blessed if these had resulted in major loss? I can't know. I know now that nothing terrible has ever happened to me.

I have gained so very much too; the independence I sorely wanted...a new home state, which I adore...much of my health...The Work. My old best pal from high school came back into my life, and I can't count how many new friends I've made. I went back to doing improv and acting after many years. I have written prolifically, and been published some. I've got a new career which is the best of the best. And there's more, too much more for this small space.

Happiness is at hand.

And how was your year?

Merry happies to all, and to all, an open flue.


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