It started two weeks ago with a harmless chirp. A tiny tweet. I heard it, but deep down in my bat cave, I was not alarmed. My eccentric sonar-like echolalia informed me that a smoke detector must be beeping...somewhere...
Those of you who read my blog on a regular basis, already know, and those of you that do not really should. I have a rather quirky relationship with smoke detectors. Actually, more precisely, just ONE smoke detector.
The one in the bedroom.
The one I talk to.
Well, the one I talked too, once, a long time ago, in the middle of the night, when I was all alone in the house, and couldn’t sleep. I even made a little party out of being alone and ate chips and crackers in bed while curled up with a good book, and ended up with crumbs everywhere, and then had to get out the vacuum cleaner, and then looked under the bed and had to find the vacuum attachments for a really thorough cleaning, and about two hours later found myself wide awake and irritable and staring at the ceiling.
At the smoke detector staring at me. So I yelled at it.
And it blinked back at me. A little red light.
We had a conversation. The smoke detector and I. One blink for yes and two for no. We talked about life and love and parenting, our fears, and whether a Dyson was the best vacuum in the world, and it was a lovely conversation, as it made me feel so much better that I fell asleep.
I was thankful for being watched over, tended to, cared for day in and day out, that I began to wait for the red light to blink good night.
It made me smile.
I mean where else in the world does anything care that much about your personal safety, that it is willing to watch over you, for the simple meal of a 9 volt battery once a year! Talk about a cheap date!
However, taking someone or something for granted, being negligent, not returning a favor, forgetfulness, can result in a loss of trust.
May lead to a lack of quality assurance. Poor performance. Distancing. Separation and oh dear, even abandonment.
A little forgetfulness can lead to a little chirping.
And herein lies the moral of the story about to unfold:
A little chirping, one solitary blip, one miss, and then another and another, is a recipe for disaster. For like all things in life, it doesn’t take much for a small oversight to create a ripple effect that can spiral out of control.
Week One: 11 PM. One chirp.
Week Two: 12 AM. Two chirps. 3AM.
Two much longer and more insistent.
The beginning of the wild goose battery chase. No more chirping, now it is 11PM and the smoke detector in the bedroom is screaming at the top of its lungs, or is it? Maybe it’s the one in the hall. But wait, oh no, now the one in the guest bedroom is....the scream slowly winds down like a leaking helium ballon with a slow whining shriek. Okay. Okay. Ladder out. Change the battery of the smoke detector in bedroom #1 and Lights Out.
One hour later. Full on screeching. Screaming alarms. Full tilt. Heart pounding OMG where is it coming from? It will not stop. It will not stop. Maybe there IS a fire. Check the porch. Check the attic. Check the stove. Are the red lights blinking? Some are red. Some are green. Which one? All of them? Together? Get the ladder. Find the batteries. Hurry this sound is piercing my pajamas and my skull...eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee...it stops. Just like that.
Tiptoe. Walk on tiptoes. Pull back the covers and slide in, eyes averted. Make no eye/blink contact. The smoke detectors are detecting. The smoke detectors are on steroids. Shhh. Don’t wake them. Maybe the new battery upset their equilibrium and since they are all connected, yes connected, now they need to reach electrical homeostasis. Balance. Smoke Detector Nirvana. A Zen State.
We need a ZZZZ state. A state of ZZZZ’s. Ah.
Three thirty AM. This is not a drill. This is not rocket science. I smell a rat and leaping out of bed begin what will be a two hour wild goose chase involving ladders and batteries and swearing and cursing and hoping neither of us fall down and break a hip, because no one would ever hear us screaming over THIS LOUD MIND BLOWING ENDLESS SHRIEKING SCREAMING TIRADE.
At 4AM a thought belatedly crosses my mind. We have an alarm system. Our smoke detectors are connected to it. Why is no one calling? THEY SHOULD BE ABLE TO HEAR IT IN THEIR OFFICES TEN MILES AWAY. Nope. I called them. Nothing showing up on their screens.
NOTHING. Ah. Their three, they remind me, are not yelling. The ones that are yelling are the EIGHT other naughty children we installed to meet city code. That means we have ELEVEN smoke detectors and only EIGHT are screaming.
What a relief.
4:30 AM. I don my swimming ear plugs, my husband is digging through the drawer for more 9 volts, and I decide to turn to the Internet. The Internet knows everything. Even at 4:30AM. So I type in my ardent search....
Why are my smoke detectors going off...in the middle of the night...and will ...not...stop...WILL NOT STOP!!
Aha! A forum. A chat room on smoke detectors that scream in the night. Ceaselessly. Endlessly. Help is near.
Page after page of desperate pleas across cyberspace. Over and over mindless pleading. Why oh why oh why? And then like all chat rooms, some smart aleck fake electrical wizard posts a two page directive on how to rewire your fusebox, disconnect and restart and reboot and upload or was it download, and then the site blossoms into line after line after line of profanity.
Followed by the extremely helpful and considerate fellow who plays his punch line by simply typing....Beep...Beep...Beep...and the profanity shatters the screen.
Five AM. It is quiet. We needed the REALLY TALL ladder for the last one and we are trying not to bang into the walls moving it back into the garage. We are bleary eyed and wary and not sure if the siege is truly over. We are not speaking. We are not angry. We are frightened. They might hear us. Shhh.
Besides. Dawn is peering in through the windows and the little devils never chirp during the daytime.
Only in the middle of the night. Just like when our kids were little. Projectile vomiting at
midnight. Night terrors at 2AM.
When morning comes, we sigh. Safe.
Chirp. Chirp. Chirp. NO!
I decide to call the only other people I know who have a command of the keeping people safe at all costs protocol.. The Fire Department. My husband refuses to call. He is embarrassed. But not TOO embarrassed to coach ME while I call. I do not use the emergency number and the woman who answers is an angel An angel, I swear. She tells me that they deal with this all the time and she can send a fireman out to help us.
Imagine that. Help is on the way.
And so is the bright red fully loaded firetruck. Right in front of our house. And three fully armed and prepared for battle firemen striding up the driveway. And our neighbors hovering across the street looking on. I laugh and wave, then think, no, this is SERIOUS and these men are here to HELP. But the fire truck? I hope the smoke detectors can’t see it through the venetian blinds. They might play dead and make us look very very foolish.
The firemen are kind. They are brave. They walk right up to each and every one and stare them down. No yowl, no growl, no shriek or whoop, not a wail. Not even a twitch or a chirp. Because. The news is not good. The detectors are past their sell date. Kaput. The aging virus has contaminated them all and they must be replaced.
Thus the firemen take OUR vitals, smile and wave good bye as we begin the long and arduous surgical removal of EIGHT detectors and replace them with new ones. Up and down the ladder once again. Out with the old and in with the new. It takes almost all day. But when the lights go out, we crawl in bed, and hold our respective breaths...silence.
The red light blinks at me. My husband carefully read to me the information on the side of the package before installation....the red light beeps every 40 seconds as a test.
But I know in my heart that we are responsible for this fiasco. We should have returned their attention. Should have checked much sooner. A little TLC on a regular basis. Some recognition of service rendered. Attention paid.
So when I hear his snore, I crawl out of bed and find the box in the garage with the tossed out detectors, and lean down and say...
Thank you for your years of service.
As I climb into bed, I have one final task. I look up...
Welcome Home, I say.
Then I count...1..2..3...4..and at 5...not 40...
Never discount the power of kindness.
Or the importance of keeping the conversation fresh.