This past weekend in Dallas, we were treated to a midnight sonata of ALL the tornado sirens going off at the same time throughout the entire city for an hour and a half. Finally, some smart engineer pulled the plug on the whole system and made it stop. I woke at the very first WHOOoooooOOOOO, and stayed up, periodically looking outside to see what we were supposed to duck and take cover from. It was a clear night, so logically we were not “having some weather”, so my best bets were that we were about to be bombed, or that aliens were invading. My husband woke up too, and after looking at me in a bemused way as I went from door to window to my computer looking for WHY THIS WAS HAPPENING, wisely left me to it and went back to sleep. I stayed up, trying to find information, and marveling at the looney-tune posts, expletives, and terrible spelling I was seeing as I swept through the alt-crazy sites Google led me to when I typed in “Why are Dallas Air Raid Sirens Going Off?”. It didn’t occur to me until a few days later that by obsessively reading those sites, I too was dancing on the edge of looney-tune, perhaps dipping a toe into crazy. In my defense, I grew up in Kansas where tornados and hail the size of hedgehogs regularly sweep through and devastate entire communities. You just don’t sleep through those sirens, you get your ass to the basement or at the very least climb into the bathtub of an inside room. On top of that, those “tornado sirens” started out years ago as part of the Civil Defense System. When I was in grade school, everyone called them air raid sirens and we practiced getting under our desks and covering our heads with our arms in case of nuclear attack. Like that was going to help, but at least we didn’t have to practice doing those awful Capital Q’s in cursive for ten minutes or so. And, you know, those sirens kind of sound like a fire alarm, so there is that from our recent history.
And there it is again. Another gift from The Fire. I’ve been resisting the idea that I might have some incarnation of PTSD but it declares itself pretty clearly every time a siren goes off. It can be a fire truck going by, or an ambulance, or the Dallas tornado sirens. It happened the other day when I was cooking chicken. I accidentally set off the smoke detector. It was incredibly, embarrassingly loud — and I lost it at the first WHEEEP. After battering at the damn thing ineffectually with my dish towel and turning on the vent, opening the front door so the neighbors could share in my emotional event, and shouting “I’m just cooking!” as if the detector understood vocal commands, my finale consisted of throwing my towel on the floor, yelling “I hate cooking!” and bursting into tears. My husband at that point calmly walked over and pressed some sort of button and made the alarm stop. He gave me a hug and took the chicken out of the oven. In hindsight, perhaps using parchment rather than foil when broiling was a mistake. At any rate, I remained in a heightened sense of “what’s going to go wrong next’ for the rest of the day and boycotted eating the chicken that had caused my panic.
Walking around in a vaguely alarmed and easily startled state is exhausting, and I really would like it to stop. As we move on into week five from The Fire, I am now tired of the story, tired of recovering from it and would rather just get on with things. I am reminded of those mazes you find on the floors of ancient churches, or in the gardens of Zen people – meditation paths where you start, and it looks like you are headed straight for the center, but then the path turns, and you find yourself very nearly back at the beginning again, walking in eddies like tide pools, and headed away from your goal. I always thought I liked those things, but as I navigate one in my real life I find I hate it. I just want to get to the center, find my way through, and have done. While scrolling through websites that alarmed me by their very existence as I hunted down WHY THE SIRENS WERE GOING OFF the other night, I got the sense that maybe a lot of folks are suffering from a vague but persistent alarm these days, and that hunting for information, or the new normal of simply making up information is becoming a popular way of dealing with the hard reality that the center of the maze is many turns away and that the straight path is an illusion. I am forced to realize that life is not a quick walk to the center. Perhaps it is a good idea to meander a bit through the less attractive parts of my personality – to take a look at the crazy bits and embrace them as actually being part of myself and not as surprising and inconvenient stray bits of fabric that should be clipped off, tucked away or covered up. They may be annoying and pop up at inconvenient times but the crazy is certainly part of my quirky view of the world. Perhaps embracing the crazy is the first step to finding things funny again. I’d love to fully get my sense of humor back. I’m almost willing to remain jumpy if I could laugh at it. I have hope this will happen – after all, the Dallas sirens, all 168 of them, did eventually stop. The smoke detector was turned off. Perhaps my internal WHEEEPs and WHOOOooooOOOs will eventually wind their way down too.