One thing that I think is really funny about kids is how little they care about dying. I have a younger brother who, when cautioned not to drive to the gym in the middle of a historically unprecedented blizzard because of the possibility of sliding off the road into a ravine, said, “Yeah, whatever. Gotta go sometime.” It’s the sort of thing you’d expect your 75-year-old Vietnam veteran grandfather to say when your mom tells him not to smoke while he’s on oxygen, and hearing it come out of the mouth of a kid who cries when he goes to the orthodontist is funny. At least, I thought it was until last Wednesday.
There I was, sitting in a funky beanbag chair at the Cedar Rapids Public Library, severely under-caffeinated but otherwise looking forward to a pleasant shift, when the lights went off. I assumed that it was a normal power failure and resumed my usual teen area activity, which is performatively reading exciting, controversial literature in hopes I can persuade one of the teens to actually read something. I was interrupted by one of my coworkers, who came in to inform me that the building was on fire. I went out to the lobby, where there was indeed black smoke pouring from one of the light fixtures and molten hot plastic all over the ground. Huh, I thought, we should probably leave. There’s a lot of paper in here.
I went back to the teen area to inform the kids in the most soothing voice I could muster, and asked them to leave quickly, but calmly. I was concerned that if I sounded upset, they might panic, and I seem to remember from elementary school that you’re not supposed to run during a fire drill. You guys, I have never seen them move that slowly. They were shutting down the computers, cleaning up the candy wrappers on the computer tables. One of them thought it was a good time to look for her phone. Meanwhile, I’m having heart palpitations as sparks rain down on the circulation desk. When they finally did start making progress towards the door, they thought it would be funny to play chicken with the molten plastic falling from the ceiling. I started crying.
Out on the sidewalk, one of them said cheerfully, “This is fun! I love fire drills!” It was at this point that I decided that if you can’t beat ‘em, you might as well join ‘em. Yes, I had a terrifying, slightly traumatizing experience, and it’ll be some time before I can return to work, but hey. Gotta go sometime.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 309.