Writing while sleep deprived

I’ve been converted. I will no longer make fun of people who systematically change the batteries in smoke alarms at Daylight Savings time.

We have a nice house in a new development. We were required to have a sprinkler system built into the ceiling in every room. Our smoke alarms are hardwired into the house’s electric. They emit eardrum-piercing sirens and actually scream, Fire, Fire, Fire, when deployed. In fact, the alarm on each floor screams, Fire, Fire, Fire, offset by about half a second so if you missed it the first time, you’re sure to catch on quickly.

And yet, these smoke alarms still have nine-volt batteries for back-up in case of power outage.

Just after one o’clock in the morning, one of those blessed nine-volts decided it had spewed its last juice. It began beeping once every thirty seconds. No warm-up time where it beeps once every hour to give you a heads-up. Just full-on, nightmare-inducing, Chinese water-torture-level single beeps every thirty seconds.
It is difficult enough to locate the precise device emitting the beep after two cups of coffee and a game of sudoku.  Beep. Narrowing down the culprit while sleep-deprived and naked is something entirely different.

Luckily the offender was on the second floor, where only a step-stool is needed to reach the ceiling. Beep. I remember to twist the device’s face counter-clockwise to detach it from the ceiling mount. Of course red and black wires still prevent me from bringing the smoke detector close enough to actually read the six-point-font directions. Beep. After five minutes of excruciating, close-proximity beeping, I figure out how to open the battery compartment and remove the offending corpse.

I twist the case of the detector back onto the ceiling mount and fold up the step-stool so no one trips over it the next morning. And then… Beep. The damn thing beeps again. Beep. And again.

We have cases of double-A, triple-A, and C-sized batteries. Beep. There are even a couple of D-sized batteries in the cupboard for heaven only knows what reason. Beep. But do we have even so much as a single nine-volt battery anywhere? Of beeping course not.


I marvel that the drive to Wal-Mart is quicker in the middle of the night. I don’t know if I feel more sorry for myself, or for the husband left at home to endure the beeping.

In record time I return home with enough nine-volt batteries to ensure restful nights for the next four years. Beep. I climb the step-stool, insert the battery, rescrew the device, and breathe a blessed sigh of relief. Beep. What? Beep. I must’ve put the battery in backwards somehow. Nope.

It won’t reset until I push the “Test” button. I can’t do it, I think. Beep.

I close my eyes and grit my teeth in a way that makes the ear canals tighten up. I push the button, and I’m certain that Glen Rock Hose and Ladder Company is going to rev up the engine six blocks away at the station. Fire, fire, fire. I push the button again to silence it. Blinking lights and excruciating beeping, and a high-pitched voice… The button’s stuck. Fire, fire, fire. My son begins to roll and grunt in his sleep, just six feet away from me in his bed.

After thirty seconds more, I give up and start hitting the thing. The button pops out, but the noise continues. I hit the button again, with less timidity, and when the sounds stop I realize I’ve been holding my breath and turning purple. I wonder if I will ever hear anything again. Like, say, a rock concert.

Meanwhile, my son rolls over and snores…

2 thoughts on “Writing while sleep deprived

  1. I know full well of that sound. My hearing is ultra-sensitive to any sudden noise, but the constant rapid repeating at that frequency is quite literally, maddening.

    In 1988 I decided to get a car alarm installed. It was so sensitive that when the Harley’s were in town, the vibration from the noise would set off the alarm. One night this pattern continued. I’d have to go my car unlock the door and press a button inside to release it. By the fourth time, my frustration flustered, and I took scissors with me and cut the wires for the alarm. I returned to my bed and had a peaceful nights sleep.

  2. I had a similar situation except it was a roof leak that triggered the smoke alarm at 3am. It was bad enough for my husband and myself but the dogs were really going crazy. Glad you finally got it resolved.

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