Family stories are universal. We all have them, and they fall into two categories. There are those that showcase us at our finest: acts of great courage, intellect, or devotion to mankind. And then there are those that suggest it is truly shocking that most of us manage to dress ourselves on a daily basis.
Welcome to the Holy Grail of category number two.
We had been married only six months. This simple fact does not alleviate me of any of the wrongdoing to come, but it’s a ploy for sympathy to claim the role of a newlywed. Ignore the fact that I was far beyond the age of majority. Think “Gidget” and I will come out better.
At the time, my beloved was chief of our city’s fire department and a state fire instructor. It was April, a month in the northeast that can contain scattered days of sunshine and warmth.
This was not such a day. It was cool and overcast. As I tended to the dishes after dinner, Bob was headed to the garage. “The state sent me new turnout gear. I want to look at it.”
Simultaneous to that statement, the phone rang. (Pay attention, children, and you will learn some history. Back then it was a wall-mounted device with a tethered system that only let you go so far.) It was my sister. I have two, the first friends I ever had in life and still incredibly dear to me, and we like to talk.
Our garage was not attached to the house at that time. There was a space of maybe six feet between the back kitchen door and the one-car structure. It was an old building. Can we agree that, to this point, you haven’t heard anything that could possibly be blamed on me? Good. That’s about to end, so let me find a bit of warmth in this moment.
I currently have an ache in the bottom of my belly and my hands are starting to sweat. We must be coming to the good part.
Bobby raised the garage door, stepped into the darkening interior, and started toward the large box next to the car. A moment later, the aging overhead door popped a spring, jerked off its tracks, and slammed shut behind him.
You are already ahead of me here, aren’t you? Well, stay with the tour. It’s better than your imagination.
Bob could not lift the door without the mechanism being in place, and there were no other doors in the garage. The only windows were the line of small panes in the door itself, facing the rear of the house. Through this glass he could clearly see into the kitchen.
After a moment of examination of his situation, my ever-logical husband resigned himself to the fact that he was truly, completely, and inarguably trapped. No problem, he reasoned, for my bride of six months—remember that?—will come get me out as soon as she realizes what has happened.
This is as good a time as any to let you know that my husband was garbed in only a t-shirt and shorts. A minute turned into fifteen, fifteen turned into thirty. As if the universe was taunting him, Bobby could see me, bathed in the warmth of the kitchen, steam from the dishwater still dissipating from the windows. I walked back and forth, phone firmly to my ear and mouth running like a Porsche 911.
He weighed his options. He could beep the car horn to get my attention. Then what? I had less chance of opening the door from the outside than he did. If he did catch my eye, what action would result? Calling the fire department? His fire department? “Hey, Chief! (Giggle.) Need some help in there? (Snort, guffaw.) I’m glad we brought the camera. (Hee-hee.) You taught us how important documentation is. Smile!” Nope, a 911 call was not the answer.
Time rolled on. Pacing and analyzing can be strenuous activities, but they do not produce warmth. Bob’s feet were icy and his legs were starting to tremble. He took the only action available to him. He broke the seal on the box from the Empire State and donned his professional uniform: bunker pants, turnout coat, and boots.
Perhaps it was the act of dressing like a first-responder that reminded Robert of the only tactical advantage he had: the chainsaw.
Bobby cut a hole in the sidewall of the garage. I don’t mean a modest hole that he could shimmy out of on his hands and knees. I mean a huge, gaping slash that Abraham Lincoln could have walked out of, complete with top hat.
How much would you have paid, dear reader, to be there when the blade of a chainsaw thrust out from inside the sealed garage and a fully dressed firefighter emerged?
Total time in the garage: one and a half hours
Status of new wife: clueless.
Yes, I was still on the phone when Bob dragged back up the kitchen stairs, in his turnout gear, lugging the chainsaw. A fine layer of dust was splattered around the world’s bluest eyes as he stared at me and said nothing.
I stared back in complete astonishment and confusion. Having no idea what had happened, I did make my only decent decision of the night and ended my conversation.
“Joanne, I have to call you back,” I said with forced cheerfulness. I hung up and turned back to my silent husband. There was enough dead air between us to sing two choruses of “Stand By Your Man.”
Then he spoke.
“Would you like to know where I have been for the last hour and a half?”
“Sure, if you want to tell me.” My voice sounded as thin as cheap vodka.
“I’ve been trapped in the garage.”
(Give him two arms to cling to,
And something warm to come to,
When nights are cold and lonely...)
None of what I was looking at made sense to me, and I was calculating like mad in my head. Of all the routes I could have taken, I went with, “Why are you wearing your turnout gear?”
“Because,” he hissed through clenched teeth, “I...got...COLD!”
With that, he clunked his way back down the steps and out into the now dark night.
The evening ended in complete silence. He spoke not a word. We went to bed and the light was snapped off. I laid in the gloom, wondering if an annulment was still in play at the six-month mark and dreading the hassle with the DMV of changing my name back.
I felt a vibration and realized that his side of the bed was shaking. I leapt for the light and turned to find Robert in the throes of a classic case of silent laughter. Every inch of him shook, but there was yet no sound. A moment later, he erupted in a noise of pure glee and propped up on his elbows.
“I felt like such an idiot!” He roared. “I got laughing so hard I couldn’t pull the starter cord on the chainsaw!” He spilled over like flood water for the next half hour; thinking about the fire department responding, scouring the garage for anything to use, watching me act like a teenager with a first phone while his toes went numb.
Visions of returning wedding gifts dissolved as my eyes watered from laughter. We settled down to sleep, holding hands.
As a coda to this epic family tale, when we built the new garage, Bobby included three—count ’em, three—doors, multiple windows, and what I suspect is an ejector platform to get out through the roof.
As for my phone call? I hit her back the next morning. We still had stuff to talk about.
Hey, I kept Bob in sight the whole time!