“I’m Here to Save Everyone From This Pretend Fire!”
In the midst of delusion, a savior arrives
Just to get it out of the way: I am no longer angry at my daughter. Time heals all wounds.
I do get to write another timely email, though—this time, about fire. Top headline today is a quote from Kina playing the role of a firefighter saving her (real) family from a (pretend) fire, but I don’t think she really knows about house fires, and so the idea of a fire that requires rescue is strictly theoretical to her.
What isn’t theoretical is a malfunctioning living room smoke detector (or “smoke detective”, in Kina’s dialect), which went off at ten o’clock this morning while I was in the bedroom. In the three years since I installed actual working smoke detectors in my own apartment for the first time in two decades (don’t ask), I have learned the importance of cleaning them—a task that, when shirked, results invariably in false smoke alarms on humid days. Today was such a day; I heard Kina screaming, terrified, before I noticed the alarm itself. I rushed out, pressed a button to silence the alarm, and hugged Kina for two full minutes to calm her down. Neither Kina nor I are fans of loud noises, but at least I have forty extra years of practice, and I know what a smoke detector is (and whom to blame for not cleaning it). Kina, on the other hand, was deeply shaken in a way I didn’t recognize until I put her to bed tonight.
“Is the rectangle gonna make noise?” she asked.
“No. I promise it won’t make noise. I fixed it, and it won’t bother you.”
She stared anxiously at the smoke detector in her room, as if waiting for it to sucker punch her. I held her hand and told her again that the rectangle would not beep, that I had cleaned it just for her, and that I would keep her safe.
“Do you want me to tell it not to make noise?” I asked, pointing up at the smoke detector and starting to scold it.
“No! No. No, Daddy. Don’t talk to it. I don’t want you to talk to it.”
I had underestimated the degree to which she feared this thing, believed it to harbor some malignant spirit. It reminded me of when I was her age, staring at the wallpaper of my bedroom—a pattern of golden eagles on a field of blue—and feeling somehow threatened by the pattern itself, like a belligerent roommate you’re afraid to kick out. There’s no reason to it, this sense of threat, the first time your brain is exercising its sense of menace. A false alarm.
“Do you have a rectangle in your room?”
“I don’t have a rectangle in my room.”
“Can I sleep in your room tonight? And you can sleep here, with the rectangle?”
“No, I’m too big, and this is your room, and the rectangle will keep you safe. I promise, promise, promise that the rectangle won’t make a sound tonight. And if anything happens, I will come running so quick and grab you up and keep you safe.”
“Will you stay with me, for just a minute?”
“I will stay with you.”
And so I sat on the floor by her bed while she tucked her nose into her sleeve and closed her eyes. Every minute or so, she would open one eyelid to check warily on the smoke detector. It remained silent. I rubbed the bridge of her nose gently to remind her that I was there, that she was safe.
When I stood up to leave, she asked for a kiss. She never does that. I hugged her, again, for two full minutes. She drifted off to sleep.
If that smoke detector goes off tonight, I swear to god I’m gonna lose my everlasting shit.