A Three Second Decision
In my Creating Nonfiction writing class, we had to write a personal essay. Except it’s not a personal essay. I know it sounds weird, but hang in there and I’ll explain it.
Write a scene in which you choose a US History event and play on creativity.
So basically, I had to find a semi-important event in US History and I had to write a scene within said event. My event was a horrific factory fire in New York in 1911. It was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. This fire was important because it led to a ton of safety laws be put in place.
Each place of employment now had to have fire sprinklers on the ceiling, fire escapes, and features such as this. The factory fire was actually pretty important.
My scene is a little graphic, but the whole event was graphic. So there is that.
A Three Second Decision
The smoke is toxic; I cannot breathe. I clutch my chest and stager to look around the room. Their screams are eerily loud, as I hear someone next to me yell out for help. She knows there is no escape. There are dozens more like her, who will not survive. But there must be a way out; I scan the room again looking for something, anything, to help me survive.
Clouds of gray smoke line the room so thick, that makes it difficult to see beyond the heads around me. We are all huddled close near the door, pushing on it. Our efforts have failed; the door will not budge. They are locked from the outside. Exhaustion floats around us, like a river bending to the rock’s will. My eyelids feel heavy, my focus is starting to shift; sleep wants to take me into a place where my body no longer exists. No, I must fight against it; I blink a few times to clear my head. I try to shrink away from all the other women crowded around me, my friends.
“Please, Mr. Blanck! Mr. Harris! Please…” A familiar voice shouts right next to my ear. I squirm away and look back. Betty is crouched down on the floor, trying to bang on the heavy door. She cries out with her last breath, and falls silent. There is nothing left for her to say. The smoldering gray smoke has filled her lungs to capacity, and she can no longer breathe.
I turn away and notice the noise has grown quieter. Am I going deaf? I cannot hear my friends, my family. Fighting through the bodies of lifeless women on the floor, I struggle not to cry. I struggle to remain calm, knowing I will be joining them in a few short minutes. It is becoming harder to breathe, harder to see and feel in front of me, harder to concentrate. This is what suffocation feels like; I always wondered what my final moments on Earth would be like.
The empty corner calls my name and with the remaining strength I have, I crawl over to it. Pulling my knees to my chest, I bow my head say a little prayer for all the women and their families. Tragedy has struck this factory in the worse way possible; once it is over, no one will recover. I lift my head up and something shiny glimmers in my line of vision, through the ashes that threaten to float within the smoke. I lean closer and realize someone has overturned and broken one of the metal table that are used to piece together the fabric, to be put in the queue of the sewing line. This piece of metal is sharp and just might do the trick. I do not want to die like this. Please do not let me die.
The flames are getting closer, and the smoke has become a black fog that fills the eighth floor of this dreadful factory. But there is a tiny sliver of light coming from somewhere. I see it! I stand up and stretch my arms out in front of me. I grab onto the sharp, broken leg of the table next to me. The metal burns into my flesh and it goes unnoticed. My only hope is in my hand.
Crash! I whirl around, hoping to see what caused the noise; no such luck. I squint into the darkness and make out the millimeter of light. I am holding onto it like there is no tomorrow; it lifts my soul ever so slightly. Stumbling into the room, a hand reaches out to grab my leg. I fall down and hear the whimpers around me. Some of these women are still alive; they are crying out, trying to be heard over the crackling noise of the fire. No one will get to us in time. We are all going to die here, all 146 of us. I scramble to my knees, knowing I can no longer walk. The room looks like the sky at two am: pitch black with just a crescent of the moon, before the first quarter. I must get to the moon.
Slowly, I make my way over to the crescent and realize it is not the moon at all. It is a tiny window, only big enough for a child fit through. Being eighteen years old, I stand at four feet, eight inches tall. I do not weight but one hundred pounds. Is this window big enough? I glance up with hope filling my eyes. The window in the side of the building is taller than I; I can feel my hope quickly fading.
Angrily, I heave the damaging, hot piece of metal at the window. Alas, it breaks! With all of my might, I use the wall to pull myself into a standing position. My hand stings from the pain, but my chest has suffered the worst. My breathing is slowing down, I might not make it. Fully upright, the window is only a foot and a half above my head. Maybe if I jump, I can reach it.
The broken glass lays scattered on the floor, and the jagged edges are stuck on the window pane. With my good hand forward, I jump up with great force and grab the window ledge. I can barely see the blood trailing down my arm, and the sting from the cuts is not any worse than my burned hand. I close my eyes and look inward in my soul. Please let me find the strength. I open my eyes, lift my head, and take a short, smoky breath. The muscles in my arms ache as they work harder than they ever have before. Strength comes to my body in a short burst, and I am able to pull myself up. I peer out the window and see how long the fall is, eight stories.
I have three seconds to decide.
One. Do I jump?
Two. Or do I die?
My voice is heard loudly as I jump out of the burning building; my eyes are tightly squeezed shut. As I hit the ground, I feel my legs twist and crunch underneath my torso. I hear another loud crash right beside me. No longer is the smoke polluting my lungs; the only thing I smell is the sweet, juicy strawberries that cushioned my fall. My adrenaline wears off and all I feel is broken. I scream out as I see firefighters running toward me. Off in the distance I hear shouting, are they yelling for me?
I vaguely notice myself being lifted onto the stretcher. The pain is crippling and is all I think about it. I hear the concerned gentleman asking my name, but I do not answer. Another voice cuts into his and soon I hear that both of my legs are broken. Again, I do not speak; tears slowly roll down my cheeks as I realize that I truly am alive. I survived this horrific disaster.
My heart aches with a numbing sensation that will never fade. My soul is broken, forever changed.
- May 9, 2016
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