Did I leave the oven on? Something’s burning.
It’s hot. I’ll turn down the thermostat.
Is that smoke coming from the curtains? I’ll stamp it out.
What about that fog? I’ll open a window.
Instead of packing my precious belongings and running from the house at the first sign of smoke, I wait until the house is up in flames. I barely make it out alive. Smoke fills my lungs, my skin is scorched, and I have third-degree burns.
Why did I wait until the last second to escape?
I’ve been learning fire safety since at least kindergarten.
Fire Safety 101 is:
Crawling under the smoke.
Touching doors with the back of my hand before opening them.
Memorizing my escape plan.
A meeting place for loved ones.
Executing the escape plan–quickly as possible.
I’ve always known Stop, Drop, and Roll to extinguish the flames. In emergencies, every second counts. Nothing can wait. My survival depends on running away at the first scent or sight of smoke.
When I was five, I was the “good kid.” The girl who followed every direction without question or argument. I was happy. Giddy. Enthusiastic. Envisioning my future, I had dreams so colorful that it’s no wonder they haven’t yet come to life.
With years of fire safety education throughout my life, how have I ignored it? I checked the oven, blew out the candles, stomped out the small fires from my curtains, and opened my windows in hopes that outside air would clear the fog. I should have been running from the house, screaming to anyone who would listen.
I should have watched from across the street as my house was engulfed in flames. I shouldn’t have been inside.
I stubbornly sat on the couch as the smoke rose throughout the room. I glanced around as flames encircled me.
“Maybe it’ll get better,” I say out loud. “I can just douse the fire with water and it’ll be fine.”
But the flames multiply, consume every room. Soon, I will have no escape. I will burn like charcoal. My ashes indistinguishable from the burned remains of my house.
I jump from the couch when windows explode and glass cuts my face. When explosions erupt throughout the entire house. When welts form on my bare arms from objects that hit me.
“I need to get out!” I scream, and my body hits the floor.
I frantically crawl to the front door and let myself out. My shoes are burning, smoking. Winter air shocks my body, and I collapse.
Every second counts towards my survival or my body burning before I can reach the front door. I am unconscious, but alive. With medical attention, my health will return. I’ll have nightmares, but nothing I won’t wake up from. I could experience PTSD, but nothing a little therapy and medication won’t help manage.
No matter how many times I curse myself for ignoring the smoke that filled my nostrils, for dousing the small fires when I should have just gotten the hell out, I am grateful to have escaped alive. I can be cured. The burns will scar, but they will fade with time. My nightmares won’t haunt me forever. Therapy may only be a few sessions before I can manage and control my thoughts.
I may be broken, but I can be fixed.
I’ll never forget fire safety, and even though I ignored what I learned, I have the scars to prove how important it is to have an escape plan.
I am a survivor now. I have a story to share. I am the example of what not to do. When I think back on my five-year-old self, I never imagined I would be this girl. The girl who stays too long, who puts her life at risk, who remains in a burning house.
When the fireman looks out at the crowd of tiny, pristine faces and recites, “Your possessions can be replaced, but we can’t replace you,” even though it’s cliché, it’s true. If I stayed in that fire a second longer, my bones would be dust with the rest of my possessions.
I can rebuild my house. I can buy the necessities. I can replace all of my possessions.
But I matter. My body, my existence, and my worth are more valuable than every item I own. For years, I let the smoke build, trying not to inhale the toxins, and opened the windows for clean air. I remained a prisoner. I ignored my worth. When the blood streamed down my face and fire scalded my skin, I woke up. I had to save myself.
Suddenly, I mattered. I wanted to live. More than any other time in my life. I wanted to survive. I didn’t have to die. I wasn’t ready. I needed more time.
The smoke is clearing. Spring is officially only weeks (but realistically) only a couple months away. My body craves sunshine and warm temperatures. That won’t erase the trauma, but my pain will fade with the passage of time.
After putting my life at risk and ignoring the fire hazards, I know that if I can survive that, then I can be the girl who I recognize in the mirror. A girl who smiles and means it. Who is her own ally, and not the enemy holding the match to light the house on fire.
My house may have burned to the ground, I may be broken, but I can be fixed.