Anxiety plus Fire equals I’m a Hot MessI suffer from anxiety. I attribute my anxiety to being raised by an anxious father whom I believe developed his anxiety from his own anxiety-ridden father. Basically, I come from a long line of palm-sweaters who distrust the world around them. Whenever you talk to my grandpa, he enjoys discussing the impending apocalypse where all will be forsaken and dinosaur dung will fall from the sky. He has spent most of his retirement sending money to televangelists who perpetuate these fears. As for my father, his inherited anxious demeanor was intensified after spending most of the 90’s watching his favorite television show, Cops.

Watching Cops wasn’t just entertainment to my dad. What he saw portrayed on that screen became his own life experiences with lessons, which he then passed along to my brother and I. “Just look at this guy all hopped up on the dope and trying to fight the cops,” he’d explain as he pointed at the television. “That’s why you shouldn’t go to Miami, especially in the summer. It’s no good there. These dopeheads prey on tourists and before you know it, your fanny pack is gone. It happened to me.” Even though my dad had never been to Miami, he did wear a jean fanny pack in the early nineties so I think it was difficult for him to decipher between his experiences and what he watched on television. Eventually, the stories that my dad shared with us fueled more anxiety in my brother and I. Although his intention was to protect us, it instead instilled in us the belief that no one should be trusted (under any circumstance).

Having anxiety and a general distrust in everything/everyone around us made holidays much less fun. On Halloween we assumed every chocolaty treat was full of razor blades or had been handled by someone who had just handled raw chicken and was then repackaged to appear as though it wasn’t covered in salmonella. On Easter we’d lock our bedroom doors afraid that the Easter Bunny may be a child predator hiding behind a facade of cuteness and Peeps. During Christmas, which should be the best time of year for most children, we never trusted that Santa would come. No matter how “nice” my brother and I were, every year we feverishly wrote letters reminding Jolly Old Saint Nick of our address and kindly requested, “Please don’t rob our home.” And when we would lose a tooth, we’d just throw it in the garbage. We didn’t want some strange fairy hovering over us while we slept lacing our pillows with pixie/angel dust or some other kind of hallucinogen. Two years of the D.A.R.E. Program in elementary school solidified my suspicion that the Tooth Fairy was actually a drug dealer. According to our D.A.R.E. Program Leader, Officer Kavaloski, doing drugs was like a cult. “Druggies love sharing their drugs with you. Even if you don’t want any,” he told us in an ominous tone. Later in life, I found this to be untrue after finding out that many of my friends had been on drugs like ecstasy and cocaine while we were hanging out and never once did they offer me any. When I asked them why they didn’t share their drugs with me, they’d always say, “We thought you’d narc on us.” I found their explanation very offensive. Yes, I would have probably narced, but never offering me drugs was just rude. Two drugs stuck with me long after I had graduated from the D.A.R.E. Program. 1) PCP will make you chew your fingers off. Apparently this drug makes you hungry and stupid. 2) LSD makes people attempt to fly. Before you know it you’ve jumped off a 50-story building before realizing, “Oh yeah, I’m not Superman. I’m just Larry from Maple Grove, Minnesota.

With all of my anxiety and distrust in people, I found it quite disturbing when I was selected to be the Emergency Fire Coordinator for the first floor of our office building. I think most people would agree that emergency responsibility and anxiety go together like Mr. Miyagi and whiskey. It’s never a good idea to combine the two because it leads to incoherence and someone always ends up screaming, “Banzai!” Yet somehow this position was bestowed upon me as if it were a gift from the Grim Reaper. Basically, this role allows me the opportunity to remain in our burning office building long after everyone else has fled.  My job is to make sure that everyone gets out safely and then (if I’m still alive), I am to report, “all clear” to our Emergency Onsite Manager who will be wearing a bright orange vest and waiting for me on the non-burning side of the building. Despite having been involved in no fire yet, the fact that I am responsible to stay in a burning building until the last person has vacated sometimes leaves me lying awake at night worrying. My mind wanders to multiple scenarios like:

  • If I myself am on fire, I am still supposed to stay in the building so that I may fulfill my duties? Should I forgo any stop, drop and rolling for fear that it will interfere with my duties?
  • What if a fire starts at the same time that I have an epiphany about my Facebook status. Am I really supposed to walk away before posting a status that has the potential of getting over 50 Likes? What kind of unjust world would deprive me a moment of social media greatness just so that I can confirm that people who are sound of mind and can walk, exit a burning building.
  • Am I really meant to risk both life and limb to potentially save all my coworkers? Even Raquel from accounts payable? She’s the worst and takes great pleasure in her role as office mean girl. She smiles at you, but then quickly slaps you with a snarky remark in order to make herself feel better about the fact that she sits on kitties. Or at least that’s all I can picture her doing while sitting at home alone watching The Bachelor.

The worst part of the Emergency Fire Coordinator positions is that all four of us who are in this position are the least paid people in our building, which makes our office feel like the Titanic. Rich people get saved first, while those on the lower decks have only our prayers and a single wooden door that will be occupied by some spoiled little rich girl who spent her entire boat ride slumming it with some homeless Leonardo DiCaprio look-a-like in order to piss off her family and test the limits of her trust fund.

In the event of a fire in our building, I don’t think my anxiety will allow me to remain calm so that I may advise the one percent of our office to, “Please evacuate the building and immediately get into your BMW Z4, drive to your 4000 square foot home and relax as you smoke a cigar on your patio, which looks out to the golf course you live on. Hopefully, me and my 1998 Honda Civic will make it home safely to my one bedroom apartment so that I can feed my cat, make a delicious peanut butter sandwich on bread that expired 11 days ago and finish my laundry in the coin machines at my building, but if not, no biggie. It is my honor to perish in order to protect those who are financially superior to me.” I’m just not cut out to be a noble Emergency Fire Coordinator. I wasn’t raised to be the person who remains on a sinking ship playing the violin with my orchestra because it was our job to entertain the passengers at all times…even in tragedy. Instead I was raised to be the person who questions the intentions of the orchestra. Were they the reason this boat is sinking?  Are they some sort of Jim Jones weirdos who want us all to go down together?

Despite my noble title, at the first sight of fire, my anxieties will most likely give me the speed of Florence Griffith Joyner (Flo Jo).  I’ll be the first person sprinting out of the building. I’ll get into my Honda and drive to the nearest Marshall’s because the only thing that has ever calmed my nerves and anxiety is retail therapy.