I nearly burned down my building. Not on purpose. Actually, poor wiring and a bad Wi-Fi job sat like a ticking time bomb slowly overloading my power box melting the black hard-plastic casing. No one seemed to notice, or care, to investigate the smoke billowing out of a room behind a small reception desk. A room that holds all of the power in the building, supplying electricity throughout the tall grey building, black boxes covering the left wall from floor to ceiling in a long skinny room smelling of burning rubber.
My box looked like Darth Vader’s melted helmet, evil and distorted, but ultimately useless now.
I awoke to no power and thought that the whole building was shutdown. Thanks to years of living in the path of tropical storms and hurricanes for my entire life, I knew that if I keep the refrigerator closed, my food would be fine for several hours. The water is working – good sign. I walk out my front door, the motion detector turned on the bright hallway light, proof of power. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe my boss forgot to pay the bill. He forgets about me often. He’s a busy man running a school. I understand, of course, I do.
I text my boss and he instructs me to look for the main power switch. It should be by the door. Nada. He tells me to look around the flat for the power button. Check in the cabinets and by other doors. Nothing. He sends Sofia over. She’s my neighbor/coworker. She lives on the 6th floor in bloque C. We both look, and again, find nothing. I’m told to wait in the dark flat, the sun rising sluggishly through the tacky curtains that came with the flat – I am excused from my morning classes. I have no Wi-Fi, an iPhone with a terrible battery, and no books. I just sit quietly in my shabby living room. Alone.
Sofia returns an hour later with another neighbor, a nice older gentleman, who is eager to help me find this power switch. At this point, I start looking behind paintings in the hopes of finding this mythical switch. He walked in the kitchen and motions to an etching of various mushrooms behind the glass door that separates the kitchen from the hallway. He closes the door with himself behind it and carefully plucks the mushroom pictorial off the wall to reveal the power switches for the flat including the main power button. We try them all. Off and on. On and off. Unplug everything and wait for 10-minutes, then turn back on. Nothing. Sofia calls our director and he tells me to return to school. He’s on the phone for three hours. The soonest someone can come out is 8pm. I return to my flat to wait but still hopeful that his will all be resolved soon. Just have to wait in the dark a little longer.
The repairman is an hour late, and by this point, the solitary confinement is starting to get to me. When he arrives, in short order, he tells me that there is nothing he can do tonight. A new battery is needed and it will take 2-3 days to order the part. He calls my director and then leaves. I have 3% battery on my phone and no way to charge it. My boss says he is working on a solution and to hang tight. This is when I have my first panic attack in nearly a decade.
I don’t know how long I sat on the floor sobbing and gasping for breath in the darkness of my foreign apartment. But I knew that my food would go bad if I didn’t transplant the items fast. I pack up my perishable food and flee to Sofia’s flat wearing my slippers.
Her mother made me a sandwich while I sobbed in her kitchen. My phone long dead – Sofia’s phone was ringing off the hook. Our boss had found a solution and was at the front door. Next thing I know, still in my slippers but keeping my tears to myself, I see the cavernous room holding all the black boxes for the entire building. We’re all in the lobby. My boss fuming mad. He made a complaint. It smelled horrible and metallic. Another man replaced the battery, my box crumbling at his touch. I can barely keep my eyes open.
The next day, with my temporary battery in place, I have power but cannot have multiple machine running or two lights on at once. And certainly, the heat must not be on. The heating unit uses a lot of energy. How do people stay warm in the winter? I’m from Florida I think anything below 65 degrees is cold. How do I maintain and keep warm? I was told to get these special flannel sheets, a portable heater (but those can be dangerous), and a hot water bottle (which I had to Google). Again, I’m from the South. We know little about keeping warm. In fact my blood is thinned to deal with sub-tropical temperatures not an actual winter. I bought sweats and thermal socks in the interim since I was leaving for Portugal that Tuesday. I lost power on Thursday.
It’s only three days with little power and whilst I was away my box would be permanently fixed. I decided to use my power wisely and to wash my clothes for my upcoming trip. After my second load, I discover my toilet won’t flush. Then my kitchen light starts to manically flicker like a mad strobe light. I put a lamp in my kitchen. I tell my director and four hours later I learn that I won’t have a toilet for the entire weekend. All of a sudden the urge to pee is overwhelming.
When Monday rolls around and yet another repairman comes out, I am beyond hung over (one beer to relax after a chaotic couple of days turned into 5 somehow). Since I don’t have a toilet, had to puke in the sink. While the man was working on my toilet, I had to barf in the kitchen sink since I could not stop vomiting. That’s why you shouldn’t drink alcohol on antibiotics, kids!
The entire innards of my toilet had to be replaced. It was very old. Just like everything else in this flat: old, outdated, and teetering on inhabitable.
I used to say, to be funny or irreverent, that I’d rather die than deal with car repairs. Replace ‘car repairs’ for any other repair, i.e. computer, toilet, HVAC, and you get he picture. I really cannot deal with fixing things or calling to have something fixed or simply being alive and having to deal with anything. I would have my dad call for me. I’d have my dad do all the work and I’d just wait. I know, I know. This is pathetic. I am a grown ass woman. I’ve traveled the world solo and do standup comedy on occasion, yet calling a repairman or my landlord is unbearable. It’s the pushover in me. The procrastinator. The reason why I was sick for my entire first trimester in Spain was because I don’t deal with things right away or at all. I wait until its impossible and then ask for help. This only makes things worse.
And again, I am relying on a man. But this time due to the language barrier and cultural gender roles. A man is trusted over a woman every single time. My word is not taken. I have to prove myself trustworthy over and over. I have started to document with photos and video. Since I am assumed guilty, greedy, and wasteful – and must prove myself innocent. I joke that I swear I’m not wrecking the place. Yet that is the assumption that I am up against every time something goes amiss, which lately, is too frequent to be normal.
While away for two weeks I forgot about all the drama in my flat. I just wanted to sleep in my own bed. It was nice those first few days. But of course, my key to the building failed to open the door. in the pouring rain and howling wind. Luckily, Sofia was returning from school and let me in. Her old key still works. They changed the lock. Tomorrow I have to make a copy of Sofia’s key. When I compare the two, there is a slight but markedly, difference. Something just a little bit off. Like my entire experience in Spain: mostly great but a little bit off.
If my life were a movie it would be The Money Pit meets It Follows. If only I had a young Tom Hanks to commiserate with.