And What No One Wants To Hear After It Happens
I didn’t recognize this particular alarm; it was much louder than the one that went off every time I tried to fry chicken. The clock read 8:32 PM. Startled by the sound, my 9-year-old son sat up curiously; the noise was new to him too. I left my bedroom to check if the alarm was sounding throughout our unit; it was. I made my way into my son’s closet and grabbed what I thought might keep him warm while we awaited whatever this drill was. Once dressed, we crouched in front of the front door while I laced his shoes, then a loud bang at the door startled us both.
The man on the other side was anxious. “Y’all have to get out of here; the building is on fire,” he spoke loudly over the alarm. His words didn’t register. However, the bright red fire extinguisher in his left hand did. My mind misplaced every instruction, emergency plan, and immediate course of action I had stowed away for a day just like this.
“Ok, I have to.. “
“Ma’am, you can’t!”
The man immediately interrupted me. Just then, a woman pulling three children behind her back raced past my door and toward the stairwell. “The fire is in the unit next to you,” the man called out, pointing to the door to my right, the one still adorned with Valentine’s Day decorations.
As I shut the door, panic set in. I stumbled over my son, who sat silently, searching my face for answers. In another world, the worried look he wore would’ve warranted a calm and well-coordinated conversation, complete with the electronic communication device he and many autistic and nonverbal individuals utilize to communicate and understand the world around them. Tonight, there was no time. I threw boots over my pajama bottoms, grabbed my purse from the sofa, and with my son, stepped out of our front door for what would be the final time. Thick black smoke had darkened the corridor; complete chaos was on the other side of the cloudiness. Women and children ran wildly, men with pets in their arms scrambled from their front doors, all of us crammed into a single stairwell, moving like a mob from floor to floor. My son tugged my arm in the opposite direction; he wanted to go home to the one we’d just run from. In my fear and frustration, I offered only a tug in return…