Friday, February 27, 2015

Real or Not Real

“Trauma fractures comprehension as a pebble shatters a windshield. The wound at the site of impact spreads across the field of vision, obscuring reality and challenging belief.” - Jane Leavy

Time, I have found, is not an automatic healer of wounds. Just when we think enough time has passed and we are settled into life after a trauma, that small, wounded part of us reopens and reminds us just how damaged we truly are.

This happened to me last night.

A little over a year ago, as I’ve written in a previous post, we lost our home to a fire. Seeing the house on fire, the enormous flames, the huge billowing clouds of black smoke was horrible. Watching the firefighters go into that inferno, knowing they were risking themselves for our home, was frightening. Walking through the house afterward was devastating. We picked our way through the wet ruins of the house and saw our belongings charred, water-logged, and smoke-damaged. The awesome power of fire was completely, unquestionably, driven home to us all.

I was glad for one thing: we were not home when the fire began. My children did not have to know the fear and panic of trying to escape from a burning home. But the fear of it happening again is still with me. They investigated, of course, to determine the cause of the fire but were unable to pinpoint a cause. This bothers me. I want to know. I want to know why my house suddenly caught fire. I want to know so that I can make certain that it will not happen in this house.

As I was looking at houses, one house had a smoke detector that kept beeping. The battery needed to be replaced. I couldn’t handle that. While the fire was in full blaze at the old house, what was amazing was I could hear the smoke detectors going off in the rooms the fire had not yet reached. I will never forget that. That new house was automatically scratched off my list. When we moved into this house, my dad did not mock my jumpiness. He supported me. With his help, we had smoke alarms installed in every bedroom, hallway, the kitchen, laundry room, garage, and bathroom. Every room of the house, actually. Is this overkill? Maybe. But I have to feel safe. My children have to feel safe.

Which brings me back to last night.

I occasionally have severe flashes of PTSD from various traumas that have occurred in my life. It seems to be dealer’s choice on which trauma will be triggered. Last night was a bad one. Around 2:30 in the morning, as I lay tossing and turning from the pain in my shoulder, my smoke alarm began beeping. The red light flashed and the automated voice repeated, “Fire! Fire! Fire!” I shot out of bed, my heart pounding. The fire was not in my room. My first thought was getting to the girls.

I ran to the girls’ hallway, but there was no sign of smoke. I quickly checked their rooms to make sure they were clear of fire. I made the decision not to wake them yet while I checked the rest of the house.

The den, kitchen, dining room, laundry room, and garage were all clear as well. That only left the attic. I did not want to climb into the attic at 2:45 in the morning, but I had to know. Clad only in my nightgown, sweating with fear and shivering with cold at the same time, I pulled down the steps in the garage to access the attic. Once my head popped through the ceiling, I knew we were safe. There was no fire. There was no smoke.

But why was my smoke alarm going off?


I walked back into the house and stood for a moment, listening. When we had the smoke detectors installed, we had them all daisy-chained together: if one went off, they would all go off. If there were a fire in one room, all alarms would sound. So why would my smoke alarm have been the only one to go off? And why would the voice have sounded exactly like Siri’s? For that matter, why did my smoke alarm even have a voice?

It wasn’t real.

I wasn’t dreaming. I was awake when I saw the lights flashing and heard the voice. My mind did that to me. It lied to me. I don’t know what triggered it. I’ve tried to trace it back, tried to find something that I did yesterday or saw yesterday, that would have made it happen, but I have come up with nothing. It just happened.

I didn’t go back to sleep. I couldn’t go back to sleep. I lay there, awake, taking comfort in the only thing I could: the steady, reassuring green light shining from the smoke alarm in my room and knowing that, at least for the moment, all was well.

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