Daily Archives: October 6, 2018

things that yell EVACUATE in the night

Here are some lovely garden photos from a few weeks ago. I’m including them with this story because they are calming and zen-like and quiet – unlike our night last night.

We have eight hardwired, interconnected smoke alarms installed in our house as required by code. One per floor (including the basement) and one in each bedroom. You might recall that our basement is still only accessed from our backyard, and it’s also where we store our ladders. Each smoke detector has batteries, but they are also wired together, so if one is triggered by smoke or heat, the rest of them go off as well. Important information for the following story.

We had another busy week, and by Friday night we were all pretty tired. We attended a Friday late afternoon soccer game in the heat and blazing sun for E’s high school homecoming (her school doesn’t have a football team). After roasting on the bleachers for a few hours, we ran a few other homecoming errands together – first, new shoes – and then we finally went to dinner around eight. We were really hungry at that point, and really wiped out.

After dinner we stopped by Target for a couple more essentials, ran into Trader Joe’s for milk, and headed home. It was nearly eleven by the time we all collapsed into bed. M and I were both getting up around 6:30 on Saturday – and so that 7.5 hours of sleep ahead of us was a welcome thing. I think we all fell asleep within seconds of hitting our pillows.

A few hours later (2:20am to be exact), all hell broke loose in our house. It started with a single siren sound, but within a few seconds all eight detectors were blaring. It’s hard to describe just how loud these things are – they emit a piercing welping sound that bores into your brain within seconds. Layered over that sound is a digital voice screaming EVACUATE EVACUATE EVACUATE over and over and over and over again. Approximately thirty times per minute.

But it’s not just that all eight detectors are going off at once – they are also going off just SLIGHTLY out of sync. So it sounds like eight devices welping and EVACUATE-yelling in some sort of twisted echo chamber. Within seconds of it starting you have to clutch your ears tightly and your head starts to pulse with pain. It terrifies the girls. They don’t actually run downstairs to evacuate. They huddle into useless blobs in their bedrooms. There is nowhere to hide from the noise.

Our first response was to wave pillows underneath each one to see if maybe something has triggered them – dust? heat? a ghost? who knows? we were all dead asleep and we couldn’t even think straight. M grabs a chair to start pressing buttons and to open the battery slots, but even at 6.5 feet tall on a chair, he’s no match for our tall ceilings.

So he heads outside and down to the basement, grabbing the ladder and a huge pack of new batteries on the off chance that one detector has failing batteries that have somehow triggered this response that can be heard way beyond the confines of our home in the wee hours of the morning.

At each location he removes the current batteries and replaces them with new ones. Nothing is working. He moves through the house, and our ears are ringing. EVACUATE EVACUATE EVACUATE.

I’m not sure what all he tries, but he’s up and down the stairs with the ladder several times, and back down to the basement again. We get a few moments of quiet before they rebel again. F has curled into a ball in E’s bed, and both have their heads buried under pillows.

I think at some point I started to just zone out. It was so loud and my head was pounding, and I was too short to be any help at all. We’d have some quiet, and then it would start again, which was honestly worse than just listening to it non-stop. Somehow he finally got them to stop, and it didn’t involve a baseball bat. I’m convinced that anyone other than M would have wielded a bat by that point.

I saw 4:30 am on the clock before we finally had permanent quiet. I’m not sure how we didn’t end up with the police at our door. Or an angry mob. I’m also not sure how we can all still hear each other today. We’re all grumpy and exhausted, and M’s working on figuring out what the issue was, and we’re trying not to burn down the house in the meantime.




I’m off to take a nap now, at least for a few minutes. Just typing this story makes my head hurt and the welping return. More than once this week I uttered to myself “just burn the whole thing down” – obviously I wasn’t referring to the house, but to the rest of this mess we’ve created and maintained by centering power and privilege with a select few. Maybe these machines could sense the simmering heat of the moment and it built up to a level that could no longer be ignored, and last night they rebelled. Maybe a baseball bat isn’t such a bad idea.