Tonight there was a gas leak in one of the pipes in the street right in front of my house at the exact spot where I park my car every night. I could smell it outside and called the fire department. They checked the basements of all the houses while they waited for the gas company to show. The smell didn’t seem to be coming from any of the houses; just that one spot on the street. The gentleman who work for the gas company confirmed that it was indeed coming from the pipe that was right where I parked my car. He had a mallet and some other tools with him and said that he had to do a little digging to see if the leak headed towards my house or my neighbor’s house and that a crew was on their way to fix it.
Like I always do in situations like this, I went for the humor: I offered the firemen alcohol (of course they refused), asked one of them for cigarette, and when it was time for me to move my car I demanded that I wanted it in writing that I would be safe to start it and threatened to haunt him if he lied to me. There were also borderline inappropriate jokes about phone apps and a stud finder (right, ladies?)—you had to be there. When the first worker from the gas company showed up, after he found the leak (and also found out that there was gas on the foundation of the house), I told him if he was going to blow it up to do it now before I finished cleaning, because I’d be really pissed if I cleaned the house only to have it blow up.
This was a good night for it to happen, because both of my girls were not going to be home. My oldest was working until 11 and I was going pick her up from work and drive her to her father’s house in Boston because she needed to be there in the morning. Because of that I made arrangements for my 10-year-old to stay at my friend’s house (who also happens to be my daughter’s school bus driver) so that she wouldn’t have to be out driving with me late. I know that if they had been home they would’ve been nervous.
I had about two hours until I had to leave to pick my daughter up from work, and I’d been standing outside with the firemen and the gas man, and I was getting cold. So I went inside. I was in the house alone, and I could feel the house shake every time the gas man swung his mallet and hit the ground around the pipes. And then I realized something.
I was afraid.
I will not say that I’m not afraid of anything, but I don’t usually get scared. I get uncomfortable, nervous, hot, cold, pathetic, snarky, flighty, bitchy, hungry and horny – but I don’t get scared. Not like this. I have had scary moments, but I’ve always prided myself on my ability to not react out of fear—even if I get reactionary shakes afterwards, I’ve always managed to be clearheaded in the most trying moments.
This goes back as far as I can remember, from when I was eight and almost drowned in the bathtub when my hair got caught in the drain (I don’t think I ever told my parents about that) to a few years ago when I lost the brakes when I was driving a full school bus—of course there was that almost freak shaving accident in the shower couple years ago that I mentioned last month. I have had serious experiences; I have children – and there is always a measure of fear at points in their lives, but I don’t remember ever being afraid like I was tonight. We live in an age of terrorism. My family is military, and I was brought up to not react in fear or to allow myself to live in it. In my first blog here I referred to terrorists as bullies and got a little snarky.
But tonight I was actually afraid. This was a very new experience for me.
I have to say this is been a banner fucking year for me for new experiences.
A number of years ago when I was driving a school bus full-time I was driving a route that was undergoing construction on part of it. I bitched about it for days and the delay it was causing, especially because one of my stops was right in the middle of it. One day, about an hour after I picked the kids up at that particular stop, my boss called me on the radio and told me I wasn’t going back to that stop in the afternoon. When I asked why she said, “It blew up.”
I do not know if I have the correct information about what happened, but the information that I have has become my truth. From what I understand, it was human error and that someone hit the gas main. The house that was there exploded and, fortunately, the four college students that were inside sleeping all survived. I had heard a couple of years after that that those poor kids were still suffering the fallout of that – understandably so. Obviously, I had some serious moments of thought about that myself. I stopped there twice a day every day while that construction was going on, and that accident happened less than an hour after I was there. That was enough to give me some pause (understatement). Apparently, it also gave me a measure of fear. I park my car on that spot every single night. Despite confident assurance from the gas company worker and the fire department, I was actually afraid. But they told me that everything was fine and relatively easy to take care of.
Because of that I had no intention of running away to spend the night somewhere else. I like to be able to trust that people know their jobs, and I wasn’t about to be a hypocrite to what I say I believe in by running scared, or to worry about the possibility of human error. That possibility is always there, for everything.
Before I go further, I want to thank everyone who has a job where “business as usual” is potentially dangerous: gas workers, electricians, construction workers, transportation workers, policeman, firemen, doctors and nurses, military personnel – everyone who has a job that carries a large responsibility with little room for error. Thank you for knowing what you do, and doing it to the best of your ability.
Every parent is aware of the façade we put on for our children when things aren’t going well. Normally, I complain about having to put on “that face”, because it’s not easy. It’s not easy to pretend that everything is fine for the kids, that you’re not worried about whether or not you can feed them or pay the rent. Or hide a negative attitude. Or hide fear. I was grateful that my kids were not around tonight. I also realize that sometimes it’s easier to forge through something when they are around and you have to plaster that confidence on. Because for half an hour I was alone in the house, and every time it shook with the downswing of the mallet, so did I.
I was determined to stick it out. Guess what I did?
I called my father.
I wanted him to confirm what I was already told, that everything was going to be fine. I felt more than silly about it, and fully expected him to make fun of me. I felt ten years old.
But he wasn’t home.
(Yes, I had a good laugh at that, too.)
Knowing that I was going to be picking my daughter up, and not wanting him to call me while I was with her, when I left my message I did not tell him why I was calling. I did not want her to know that I was concerned – and rightly so; as soon as I dropped her off at her father’s house she called me while I was driving home, very worried about me being home near a gas leak. I did what every parent would do, and I told her that everything was going to be fine.
For the remainder of the ride home I thought about the times that I’ve had to put a face on for my kids, and then for the times that I know my parents had to do the same for me. And I appreciate it. Especially now that I know what it’s like. And I thought back about specific instances where I know now that they put on the paint and spackle for me and my brothers and sisters, that I hadn’t known then. And I appreciate it.
To all of you parents out there (past, present, and future) – especially the single parents who go through it alone, know that the effort you make now will be appreciated later in some way. My father wasn’t home when I called him tonight (and you know I’m going to give him hell later!), But he did help me: first, in the gratitude that I felt for the façade he always put on for me, and second, in that happy realization that I had that – despite the turbulence of our relationship – I actually wanted to call him in that moment. I had always mourned that I didn’t have a “family home” to go back to (divorce will do that). But I know I have family to go back to. And that comforted me incredibly.
Gas leak? Smash shmeak. I have better things to think about.
(When I got home from Boston, the gas company was still here, but they said they were pretty much finished and just cleaning up. It’s 3am now, and there’s still a truck outside, but they do seem to be pretty much done. Thanks, guys.)