(picture courtesy of cakewrecks.blogspot.com)

My husband and I are professional leavers now.

At 1:00am, snuggling our way to sleep, the fire alarm shatters our coziness. We look at one another, and he says, “Really?”  Jaded and unnerved, I roll out of bed and begin to gather our things. Laptop, hard drive, keys, wallet, cell phone, box of special papers like passports and American money (just in case we need to go on the lam).  I make sure that this time, I’ve got a warm coat and good shoes. We open all the windows so that smoke can escape, and walk reluctantly out into the hallway, expecting chaos.

Apparently, most of the other tenants are still asleep or firmly ensconced in apathy. We waltz down the stairs and end up on the street with a dozen others, all asking each other about the absence of smoke.

Turns out, as the firemen roll up and take the elevator (!), that it’s a malfunction in the system, and the only thing escaping the building is water from the sprinklers.

So now I sit with the kettle boiling, my poor husband back in bed armed with earplugs, as that damn fire alarm clangs away the wee hours of this suddenly very long night.

As the bored and antagonistic lady from the mighty Voltech alarm company on the phone reminded me, tenants have no power, and must wait for the property management company (whose offices are currently closed) to come with the keys.

Apparently, nobody in the building has the right keys. And while one young fireman grips his axe in anticipation, the boss lets us know in no uncertain terms that they are not going to break private property for a mere violation (outdated keys). You see, modern keys are universal, and a copy is held by the fire department so that they can turn anything and everything off. But here on Wall Street, like most of the apartment fixtures, the cars and the hallway carpet, the alarm system is pure, vexing vintage.

The fireman saddle up and drive off into the night, leaving us standing on the sidewalk in various states of undress. We decide among ourselves that outside is no less noisy than inside, where at least we can feel at home instead of kicking the curb.

So here I sit, at 2:13am on a Tuesday morning, philosophizing.

How does one sleep with a fire alarm and not feel stressed and out of sorts? How does one ignore those finely honed instincts that whisper, run, run and breathe, breathe and nonchalantly lay down to sleep with the infernal noise that usually accompanies an inferno on one’s doorstep?

I’ve been asking the same kind of questions in my personal life as well. Dealing with emotions, reactions and ways of relating that have been finely honed over the years, but are actually serious malfunctions of the heart. My most difficult challenge has not been learning or earning a trade, a degree, a skill or a licence.

No, it’s unlearning that has nearly undone me over the past few months, whispering run, run and escape, escape from the hard work of healthy relationships and habits.

I’ve been struggling – because the man with the key has gone, and I’m left with an entirely alien way of seeing the world and the people in it that I must learn, all the while letting go of what made me safe and comfortable. I don’t have the same cues anymore, I can’t trust the alarm bells buzzing in my head every time I step into an old situation with a newly minted boundary, and I’m often overwhelmed by nostalgia and a yearning for things that I can no longer go back to.

But like hope of sweet quiet that will eventually settle over us exhausted apartment dwellers once that damn alarm is shut off, I have been experiencing some small, sweet measures of quiet in my heart that could only come from letting go and choosing something different than my old, familiar emotional landscapes.

Now all I have to do is make it through this night, and fight the urge to run out the door. Freedom, and safety, are right here in this little apartment. Like any new neighbourhood, it just takes a little getting used to.