Saturday, March 01, 2014
We’d smelled the scent of something odd for a few days – odd being an odd description for a vague smell that we caught in the upstairs bathroom usually early in the day.
What it was and it’s potential did not register, perhaps suggesting its effect on us without knowing.
It’s the silent things they say that kill you.
Not until much later did the memory of the
explosion occur to me, how an ordinary house on an ordinary street can fill up
with something invisible until some spark causes it to explode.
Last week, an ordinary merchant went down to his ordinary basement and died there because something invisible crept into his lungs and denied his brain the oxygen needed to comprehend his danger and to spark inside him the necessary flight urge to escape.
I thought none of that when I came downstairs to take my morning shower.
The sound from the boiler room – a tiny enclosed space off what formerly served as the TV room – bore a strange crackling sound, and the scent that had been so vague previously filled the space if not yet my lungs as I moved to the door to where the boiler sat and yanked it open.
Later, a fire official told me that opening the door on the enclosed space, likely caused the invisible gas to wash over me and to fill my lungs.
I saw the fire inside the room, flames pouring up from the bottom of the boiler and along the sides – a tiny voice in the back of my head saying this was dangerous – but I was numb;
I ought to turn off the gas, I thought, but could not figure out which of the valves to turn, even though I was inches from the one I absolutely knew would turn it off.
I had become stupid – a certain sign the official said that I had already succumbed to the gas.
“You’re lucky you didn’t pass out,” he said. “You would have died.”
All I thought at the moment was how can I stop the gas that fed the fire, and the idea of turning off the thermostat upstairs occurred to me, and I fled in that direction, an accidental reaction that apparently saved my life.
While the other, deadly invisible gas had permeated the house even upstairs, its effect was less, and I managed to twist down the knob to stop the fire. My head cleared, although foolishly I returned to the basement to see if the flames had ceased.
I could have passed out in the process. I didn’t, and fled again once assured that the house would not catch on fire at that moment.
I called the gas company. Then the fire department, and then stepped out onto the porch to let – if not clear air of
– pour into my lungs, then fresh air. Hudson County
In the hours that followed, the arrival of the fire department, and then the gas company, and then finally the news we would have to replace the furnace, all I heard on the radio were warnings about installing carbon monoxide detectors.
I kept thinking about the poor store manager in his basement, and how stupid he must have felt, knowing something was wrong, but unable to detect what it was. I kept thinking of the house on
Gale Place that had
burst with a spark after natural gas filled its three floors.
I kept thinking how lucky I was to still be alive.