Imagine you wake with a start in the middle of the night. It takes you a few bleary seconds to realize you are in your bed and not competing in a dance competition against penguins in the middle of your office. The noise continues and instantly your stomach begins to churn. You realize the noise is your heater. Your heater is literally screaming like some demonic banshee harbinger of the winter blast soon to come. There’s only one thing to do: switch it off and pretend like it never happened.
I rolled over as soon as the noise stopped and blinked frightfully in the dark. My heater can’t be broken, I thought. It’s probably just tired. I’ll give it a rest and turn it on again in a few hours. Everything will be fine, I repeated, over and over, as I slowly drifted back to sleep. Everything will be fine…
There, I congratulated myself when I woke up again and cautiously switched the furnace back on. See? It’s fine. Everything is fine.
I didn’t have time to think much, anyway, because I had missed my alarm and was running late for work. For good measure, I switched the heat off again before heading out the door. Just in case, I told myself, but everything is fine. Everything is fine…
NOTHING IS FINE.
Despite having turned off the heater on my way out, the fan blower was still whirring away at warp speed. How long has it been doing this? I wondered in a panic. How long until it loses control and explodes, throwing me unconscious into the snow with a particularly thorny case of amnesia? My stomach ache was back.
With shaking hands, I pulled my phone from my pocket and sent off an insane, rapid-fire series of texts to my landlord that looked a little like this:
What if this was karma? I asked myself. Nothing had been going right since I had Rick’rolled my friends on Snapchat the evening before. But it was so clever! And I looked so cute! And my lip singing was on point! Was this revenge for my vanity and poor sense of humor? Had I inadvertently cursed myself for eternity all for a bad joke?
I took a deep breath and tried to convince myself that I could survive anything, which was a terrible mistake, because, as the subsequent exhale hung visible on the air, I knew it would only get worse.
Oh, my God, I thought. I’m really going to die.
I waited for Landlord Jeff* (*not his real name) for a half an hour before I gave in to the inevitable. David Bowie had died and so had my heater and soon so would I. I sat cross-legged in front of my broken furnace and began to sob.
At my job, I hear a lot of crying children. They don’t worry about who can hear them or how trivial their problems are. They wanted to see the dinosaurs and the dinosaurs were closed. Mom is taking too long to buy tickets to the Planetarium show. Dad is more interested in the old cars than their Elsa doll. They wanted to be carried, but not like that, and if Sister is going to carry them like that, well, then Sister might as well just put them back on the floor, but she better not put them down there…
The point is, I see a lot of kids crying, and I’d been wondering what (if anything) could get me to cry so indiscreetly again. I no longer wonder. A broken heater on the coldest day of the year will just about do the trick.
I walked to the kitchen window and stared out mournfully at the snowy street below as tears streamed down my cheeks. When my face got cold, I collapsed on my bed and cried into a pillow. I even sobbed on the toilet, for good measure, before making another melancholic lap of my apartment.
As I was snuffling on my bed, the phone rang, and I sat up, slowly. This was it. Time to be an adult.
It was Landlord Jeff calling to check in on me. He would call someone once he looked up the number. He had a guy. In the meantime, hit this breaker to cut electricity to the fan. Everything was going to be fine.
“Everything is going to be fine,” I repeated to no one, despite believing the exact opposite.
I went through my phone contacts and sent a message to everyone in a 10 mile radius of my apartment asking if they had a space heater I could borrow. No acquaintance was too small. While I waited for the responses to stream in, I hit the furnace breaker. I also turned on the oven and began to boil water. Instantly, I felt warmer.
“I’m so independent,” I validated myself, and, although I still felt shaky, I was beginning to believe it.
I made a warm dinner and drank some tea.
I borrowed some space heaters and declined some couch offers* from the most generous friends a girl could ask for. (*I’d had a bad day at work and was feeling unpleasant. Crashing on someone else’s couch generally requires one to be pleasant.)
I showered, drank some more tea, put on my long underwear, and began to plan for sleep.
Everything was going to be fine…
V. Silver Linings
Once you have accepted the fact that you will be chained to one small corner of your apartment for as long as this ordeal lasts, that the space heater takes precedence to your computer cord and if the breaker trips one more time, you will just have to let the PC die… Once you accept that, then you begin to spin silver linings for the situation.
For example, I could be disappointed that the luxuriously high ceilings of my apartment make space heaters extremely ineffective. Instead, I gathered all the chairs and furniture I could easily move into my bedroom and built a blanket fort around my bed. The heaters situated just outside the walls (safety first!) blew hot air inside, making my bed exceptionally cozy. I actually was too hot inside my fort, can you believe it?
I could let the stress of working non-stop on top of all this trouble eat away at me. Instead, I’m rejoicing! For the next five days, I get to spend 8-14 hours in a warm building. A grueling work schedule never sounded better!
I could complain that I have to sleep in at least three layers and a scarf and a hat. Instead, I’m so thankful I finally have a reason to wear my wool sweater from Ireland. (It is always ever too windy or too warm for it. What’s up with that, Ohio?)
Plus, look at all the friends I realized I have! Don’t we all secretly wish (at some point or another in our darker moments) to test which people will come through for us in an emergency like the flu or a broken arm (or a misbehaving furnace)? Every single person I texted last night responded with concern, rescue offers, and encouraging words. Which only proves the mantra that I often scribble in my journal: You are never as alone as you feel…
So, there you have it, folks. If your heater ever dies on the coldest day of the year, just remember that after you try to pretend it isn’t happening, after you embarrassingly text your landlord, after you sob everywhere but the kitchen sink, you can build a blanket fort and everything will be fine.