The week I moved into The Apartment was stifling. My apartment had two giant windows, one in each room. My bedroom window was occupied with an air conditioner that was the size of an old tube tv from the fifties. My kitchen window was met by the fire escape.
It was the first time I lived on a floor high enough to warrant a fire escape, and I frequently inspected it with curiosity. There were only a few speckles of black paint that remained; the rest was covered in rust. The metal had aged from the elements and looked fragile. It was a long ways down so I knew if it came to a life or death situation, I would step out without hesitation but until then, the mere thought gave me anxiety.
Even though I was skeptical the fire escape would remain intact if any weight was put on it, I was paranoid to open my window. What if someone climbed up the escape to get me? The thought ruined any possibility that I would open the window for air. I couldn’t sleep knowing there was a potential entry way for intruders. So the only option left was my bedroom window.
Just as I inspected the fire escape, I also stared frequently at the air conditioner from the Middle Ages. As part of my lease, I was supposed to pay an additional $200 during the summer if I wanted to use an air conditioner. I moved into the apartment in September so it didn’t make sense. But I was suffocating in the stale, stench of the building. Every breath was a fog of heavy air, dead skin, hair, the dying old and cigarettes. I couldn’t let myself go that way.
I sat on the floor of my bedroom in nothing but panties and a tank top. Sweat was dripping down my face – even my legs were sweating. I didn’t know if the guy before me had paid the fee, and I was guilt ridden at the mere thought of using the air conditioner if my landlord didn’t have the money. But I didn’t have a choice. I was going to suffocate otherwise.
With the guilt defeated by my will to live, I flipped the switch. A sudden whoosh of air blew dust in my face but it was cold air. It felt so good. I stood in front of the unit arms outstretched praising the electricity Gods. But as fast as the cold air came, it left within seconds.
Shivers ran down my spine. I blew the fuse. My apartment was pitch black.
I was on my hands and knees frantically trying to find pants. I had no idea where the fuse box was. If Patrick wasn’t going to show me the laundry room, he certainly wasn’t going to give me the privilege of knowing the location of the fuse box. But I had to find it. I couldn’t let him know I turned on the air conditioner.
I walked up and down every hall of the building. I couldn’t find the fuse box. I had to tell Patrick. I needed power so I reluctantly knocked on his door.
The door opened so that I could only see one eye and a partial face. This would become the normal greeting for the next three years.
“Yes?” He whispered.
“Uh, so, uh, I, uh…Do you know where the fuse box is?” The door opened further so I could see his petite frame. I mustered up more courage.
“Patrick, I blew a fuse.” He stepped out into the hallway.
“What were you doing?” Oh god. He’s asking questions.
“I had all of the lights on…” I couldn’t look him in the eye.
“Were you using any electronics?”
“Are you sure? Lights shouldn’t blow a fuse.”
I licked the sweat beads that had formed a mustache on my upper lip. The salty taste made me grimace. I wasn’t feeling good about my second night in The Apartment. I was damaging relationships before they were even formed.
“Well, I did turn on the air conditioner.” His solemn face quickly turned red.
“You can’t do that.” He said hurriedly.
“Well, it’s – “
“It’s broken. You can’t turn on that air conditioner. Don’t use it.”
I was relieved that he wasn’t upset I turned it on but I wish he would have told me up front.
“Patrick. It’s really hot. If the air conditioner doesn’t work, please remove it. I need to be able to open my window.”
“I’ll take care of it.” He said as he walked past me to fix the fuse.
Every day for the next two weeks I walked into my apartment eager to open a window. To my dismay, the air conditioner was still in my window taunting me with its cool ways. It was complete and utter misery.
“Patrick. I need that air conditioner out.” I was running down the stairs on my way to run errands.
“Let’s do it now.”
“Let’s do it now.”
“Oh. Well, I was leaving…you want me to help?”
“Yes, let’s go.”
I turned around slowly to climb the four flights of stairs to my apartment. I was nervous about what he expected me to do. The air conditioner was very large and heavy.
We walked into my bedroom. I was towering over Patrick.
“So what’s the plan?” I asked.
“I will hold the air conditioner. You lift the window.” His little arms were wrapped around the unit as he looked up at me.
I looked back at him skeptically. There was no way this was going to work. I took a step back. “Are you sure about this?”
“Lift the window. I’m ready.”
“Okay. 1….2…3,” I put all of my weight into the window pushing it up a few inches.
“OH MY GOD! PATRICK.” I jumped back startled. The air conditioner fell out the window. It fell four stories to the ground below. I was mortified and concerned. I was pretty sure we killed someone.
I stepped closer to the window. I wanted to look outside and confirm my worst fear – the air conditioner landed on someone.
Patrick put his hand out stopping me.
“Shut the window.”
“Shut the window.”
“But Patrick.” I objected.
“I think we hit the other air conditioners. I’ll clean it up tomorrow.”
“Wait. What? We ruined other air conditioners? Patrick?”
“Weren’t you leaving?”
“Um, yeah, I guess I was.” Patrick followed me out of my apartment. I couldn’t get out of my head what had just happened. My emotions were running wild.
“What’s up, hon?”
“The window air conditioner just fell four stories out of my window. I am scared I killed someone.”
“You didn’t look? What did it hit?”
“I don’t know, Dad. I’m pacing the block. I’m at wits end. How could Patrick not want to look? And I don’t know how to get to the back of my building. Shoot. I don’t even know where the laundry is.”
“Elyse, find the back of the building and go look. And don’t worry; you’re not going to be evicted. I know you’re worried about that too.”
“You don’t think so?”
“It’ll be fine. Now, go find the crash site and make yourself feel better.”
I set off to find the broken pieces. My building was strange in that it had a fenced in backyard and no way to get around the sides of the building so I was going to have to wander behind it. I went to the nearest alley the next street over but I still couldn’t see where it could have fallen. Finally, I decided to go back to my apartment and lean out window now that Patrick was gone.
I hesitated before I leaned out. I said a brief prayer preparing myself for the destruction I was about to witness. I slowly peered over to see a steaming pile of metal on a piece of grass. Relief spread through my body knowing no one got hurt. The air conditioners below me were in one piece as well. It seemed the only damage was my air conditioner.
I leaned out my window every day after the fall to see if Patrick cleaned up the mess. It would take him two months to remove the debris.
His sense of urgency, or lack thereof, explained a lot about the smell of the building.