When Your Roommate Gets Fired

I’d like to think that being my roommate isn’t a job, but Nicole (my roommate, with whom I share a refrigerator, name, and lack of common sense) somehow still managed to get herself fired.

But to preempt the “isn’t it insensitive to air your dirty laundry on the Internet” concerns of the morally scrupulous, I’d like to say that a) Nicole approves of and reads my blog, or at least the posts featuring her, b) faithful readers wouldn’t mistake my characteristically subpar wordplay for me delighting in a layoff, and c) what would be so wrong about airing dirty laundry here? The dryers in my residence hall emanate an almost indescribable musk. It’s not like I’ve got many options.

To answer another question no one asked, I didn’t expect to continue the roommate saga; I just let things progress organically.

This time, it was on a Thursday night. Nicole and I had just returned from dinner—I’d suggested we go out, as we’d roomed together for nearly a full semester and barely done anything fun together, and Nicole suggested a sushi restaurant ten minutes away. The walk to and back was unbearably cold (“We’re wimps. It’s 37 degrees.” “Lets put 3 degrees Celsius, that’s more extreme.”), but we were content from quality meal time. Of course, little did we know that we had more bonding experience ahead. Or that our night was about to get a lot warmer.

I was just on my laptop, pulling up the playlist for the aural portion of my only final exam, Friday’s Jazz Appreciation, when I smelled something burning. The singed odor was familiar, but I couldn’t place it—was something cooking? We didn’t have a stove. I hit pause and turned around in my chair.

The sight that met my eyes was a lot to take in. Understandably, first I registered that my roommate’s hair was on fire. She was batting it out quietly, patting her head like one might smooth out stray hairs after a particularly inconvenient wind. All in all, she was taking the turn of events calmly.

Second, I saw the sizable blaze on the farthest corner of her shelf. The flames, tall enough to lick the bottom of the shelf above (third, I wondered what you call a unit of shelves if it’s not a bookshelf), obscured Nicole’s framed photo of her friends.

I leaped to my feet and action, in that order. Within seconds, I was at the door—which can be mostly attributed to how small our room is rather than any running ability—to call the RA. Nicole turned back toward me at my shout of surprise, her face ashen and hair miraculously intact/not afire. Small mercies.

She opened her mouth, then hesitated. “Wait.”

I stared at her, still standing in the doorway. The smoke alarm went off. There was an unspoken “never mind.” After knocking, panicked, on our RA’s door only to find that he wasn’t in his room, I ran back.

“Maybe we can put it out,” said Nicole. We both eyed my orange water bottle. “Yeah, put water on it.”

Exactly what went through my mind: fire + water = life. I dove for the water bottle, unscrewed the lid, and flung its contents toward her shelf. The water arced swiftly through the air and seemed to hang in suspension before its descent.

There was a sizzling sound as the water landed and the fire… exploded to double its size.

“AAAAAAAAUUUUGGGGHHHHH!”

“AAAAAAAAUUUUGGGGHHHHH!”

Realizing that we’d only fed oxygen to the flames (after the fact, I learned the fire arose from an overheated candle Nicole had blown on), I ran to the door again, paused, then ran back and grabbed my laptop, which has more value than my life. It’s moments like these, I suppose, that clarify what you truly hold dear. “Nicole, get your laptop!”

“Already did!”

At this point, nearly all the residents on our floor were gathered outside our opened door, dressed in assorted onesies and eyeing the spectacle with increasing worry and incredulity. “You need to use a rag,” one of our levelheaded neighbors advised. “If it’s an oil-based fire, you need to smother it.”

“Get a rag,” I said, “and I’ll wet it.” Nicole produced a towel and I again dumped the contents of my water bottle, past caring that most of it spilled onto the floor. With visible trepidation, my roommate walked over to her shelf, gingerly positioning the “rag” as though she were about to use it to trap a spider or some other bug, and quickly pulled it over the flames.

The fire went out. Nicole held up the smoking candleholder in triumph as our spectators applauded and cheered politely. “Only during finals week,” I heard someone say as the small crowd dispersed.

At this moment, our RA appeared. “Somehow,” I said mournfully by way of greeting, “it’s always us.”


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