I’m writing my November “novel” about my second year of Peace Corps, which of course means I’m writing about some of the challenges I faced as a Peace Corps volunteer while living in Armenia.
As though simply writing about them weren’t enough, it looks like my life decided I need to relive some of those difficulties so as to better remember them—and thus make the story come alive.
California isn’t as cold as some places in the world right now, but it is supposed to get down to 45 degrees F tonight, which I would consider chilly even if I still lived in upper Michigan. My windows are brand new and seal tightly. My door is completely on the hinges, latches solidly shut, and is properly caulked and sealed so air doesn’t come through around the edges. I normally get a lot of sunlight in my kitchen and living room windows during the day, which warms the place up nicely.
But evenings cool down, and I’ve been running my gas heater for an hour or two every evening for the past week to stay warm and comfortable while I write at my desk or read on my couch. I love how straight-forward it is. Go over to the thermostat on the wall and turn it up. Heater kicks on. At night before bed, go back to the thermostat and turn it off. (No need to get too crazy and keep the place warm while I’m snuggled cozily under my covers!) Mornings are a bit brisk this way, but totally manageable. They are absolutely nothing compared to the bone-chilling deep freeze that used to live in my body in Armenia from October to April.
But how well do I remember the cold? How well do I remember the familiar sight of my own breath as I did dishes or taught at school or worked out? Not. Well. Enough., I guess.
I was working on my novel this evening as usual, and the heater was on next to me. I didn’t even notice when it shut off—but it does that sometimes when it gets up to the set temperature. But, it started to cool off in the next half hour, and didn’t automatically turn itself back on. I went over to the wall to crank up the heat. No responding ignition of the heater. I turned it all the way off and all the way to 90 degrees. Nothing. I put it halfway. No dice.
After a little more investigation, I realized that the pilot light wasn’t on anymore. Strange.
Like a good PCV who has learned that sometimes you just have to deal, I put on my sweater, covered my legs with a fleece throw, and brewed a cup of hot tea. I figured, “It will be bedtime soon enough. I’ll go snuggle under my covers to warm up, and call someone in the morning to figure out what’s going on. No worries if it doesn’t get fixed right away. I’ll make do. I’ve learned how.” (Just as long as my electricity doesn’t go out; I’m still scarred from that one.)
Then I sat at my computer and wrote about “the coldest day ever.”
When I was done writing, I stared at my heater again. I hated that I was cold. I hated that my heater didn’t work. I hated that I didn’t know why. Then like a good PCV, I decided to take matters into my own hands and do some investigating.
I opened the bottom hatch of my heater. I found some instructions. I found a lighter. I turned the knob to “Off” to clear the gas. I turned the knob to “Pilot,” and held the lighter flame up to where I thought the pilot might be lit from. Nothing happened, but I could hear gas coming through. I turned the knob back off and waited. Then I tried again. Still nothing. Again? I put held the flame up to a different spot. Still no dice. Dang! I was so close!
I re-read the instructions. I hadn’t missed any steps. I remembered a scary incident from when I was younger of someone who got severely injured from a heater explosion in their house. I think it was because they were trying to light a gas heater. That almost scared me off.
But then I also remembered what I had written in my Peace Corps memoir just days ago, about how I’m not scared of the little “pop!” that comes from manually lighting gas stoves anymore. This heater was just like a little gas stove. I could do it!
I turned the knob back to pilot, held up the flame, and the pilot caught! Following the instructions to a T, I continued to hold in the pilot knob for a minute, then turned it all the way to “On.” I went over to my thermostat, cranked up the temperature, and…
Voila!!!!!! Success! And now my apartment is heating up quite nicely.
It’s so appropriate that my heater stopped working while I was writing this evening. The heater problem was a real manifestation of my story. Sometimes you just need a little reminder of where you’ve been and how far you’ve come.
That is so interesting, don’t you think?
How’s the weather where you are? And the temperature inside the house?
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