I promise, I will tell the story about the two-foot flames licking at the burners when I cracked open the oven door.
But first, a word about Sandra Bullock, snow days, unemployment, and luck.
Have you seen Sandra Bullock’s new movie Bird Box? It’s a suspense/horror flick with some similarities to A Quiet Place. Bullock plays a mother desperately striving to protect her children against monsters who, when seen, compel the beholder to kill themselves. Those who wish to survive live blindfolded. Though long, it’s good viewing material for day two or three of being snowed in during a polar vortex, when you start to wonder about rationing, everyone starts camping out in the living room, and the outside landscape is decidedly reminiscent of Dante’s Hell.
It occurred to me that the characters in Bird Box aren’t fighting monsters. They are fighting for control of their own minds.
Constant vigilance. Do whatever you must to stay sane.
It proved to be good advice for surviving the last few vindictively unlucky weeks that I wish I could say culminated with the kitchen fire. Unfortunately, that was only the beginning.
Let me explain my luck. When I was ten or eleven, I won a banjo, which I never actually learned to play, from a drawing at a music festival. I have not been lucky since.
Something horrible always happens to me in January or February. In 2017, I stood up from reading in front of the fire and heard horrific sound like the “snap, crackle, pop” of Rice Krispies at an explosive volume. I’d broken everything in my right foot. I’m nothing if not thorough. How did I do it? Well it wasn’t user error. Feet are, in fact, for standing.
In 2018, I spilled water on the computer containing the only copies of all my written work for five years. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so hard in my life.
In 2019, oh boy…It was my last week working on a temporary basis in my dream job at a publishing company, or at least, the entry-level version of my dream job. That morning, I’d taken an impromptu sled ride (sans sled, plus dress slacks) down my freezing-rain covered driveway and, unable to stand and get my balance in my heels, crawled into my car through the passenger side with what must be described as Stooge-like elegance. After a less-than-stellar job interview, I broiled some salmon for myself and the senior couple I lived with. Opening the door to check the fish, I was greeted with dark smoke and flames. I’m proud to say that I did not join the smoke alarm in screeching like a parrot who’s plugged her foot into an electrical socket, but I could empathize. In the moment, I calmly asked where the fire extinguisher was and prayed I had not ruined the oven and my relationship with my landlords.
Inside, I knew the end was upon us. My annual winter apocalypse had begun.
Over the next few weeks, I moved (a change mercifully unrelated to the oven fire…to my knowledge…) and watched job opportunities I thought would be perfect fall through. After I dug my car out of a snowbank to move it five feet to comply with Michigan’s alternate parking law, it died in the middle of the street. Car repairs sting when you’re unemployed. Then, we lost power for six hours on two consecutive days.
After I wrung out the towels used to mop up the water when the dishwasher flooded our kitchen after I started it, I clicked the dial on the washing machine and listened to the motor grind. The cycle would start, but the machine still won’t drain.
“Now I’m going to have to explain to my new housemates I am cursed,” I thought. Honestly, I wasn’t really being funny.
Of course, even ovens on fire, treacherous spark plugs, and the inevitable disappointment of searching for work are far from apocalyptic. I ain’t got nothing on Sandra, I recognize that. But I also suspect that, like her, the battle against the apocalypse is in my mind. Inconveniences can become catastrophes so easily in my head. My real trouble with this time of year is depression and anxiety exacerbated by a deficiency in sunlight. The uncertainty of job searching and polar vortex cabin fever probably don’t help. I don’t talk about this mental struggle because it feels “mild” compared to the oven fire or slide on the ice to a dead car.
But honestly, it helps to shut out trapped, hopeless feelings as if they’re monsters. It helps to see this story as a valiant struggle against a curse or tell it as a comedy. (Thanks for listening.)
So here’s my advice for your apocalypse. Put out the oven fire; shut your eyes; tell your stories. Do whatever is necessary to keep the monsters out. Whatever kind of story we need to tell ourselves about today is a perfectly valid way of keeping it from making us crazy.
Emily Stroble is a writer of bits and pieces and is distractedly pursuing lots of novel ideas and nonfiction projects as inspiration strikes. As an editorial assistant at Zondervan, she helps put the pieces of children’s books and Bibles together. A lover of the ridiculous, inexplicable, and wondrous as well as stories of all kinds, Emily enjoys getting lost in museums, movies old and new, making art, the mountains of Colorado, and the unsalted oceans near Grand Rapids. Her movie reviews also appear in the Mixed Media section of The Banner and her strange little stories of the fantastic are on the Calvin alumni fiction blog Presticogitation. Her big dream is to dig her hands deep into the soil of making children’s books as an editor…and to finally finish her children’s novel.