4:30 AM

Because of the fire, we had to evacuate our dorms
and we have been stuck in the campus library for eight hours.
For the umpteenth time, she tells me that she feels sick,
nauseous, and that she feels like vomiting. I stand up –
me in my sweatpants and hoodie, her in her leggings
and her sweatshirt – and I pull open the glass door,
lead her out from our study-room-turned-bedroom,
make our way towards the restrooms… painfully slow,
painfully weak, her weight light and sickly against me.
I leave her at the women’s restroom door and I wait
for her to reemerge.

When she does, she has vomited
and is with a certified nurse: her lungs
are suffering from smoke inhalation. We have to take her
to the mobile medical center to treat her properly.
The nurse and I have an unspoken agreement:
I stay out of her way when she examines her patient,
but she does not complain when I wordlessly insist
on staying at my girlfriend’s side.

A quick phone call later and they’re settling her
into a wheelchair and rolling her through the halls
and towards the library exit. I walk beside her
as she rolls, my hands in my pockets and
my mind empty, racing, and numb at once.

We wheel her out of the library, and into the open air
thick with blinding, suffocating smoke. Red embers
drift overhead, waiting to ignite what they might.
Rats race before us, scrambling from their lost sanctuaries
to seek solace elsewhere in the scorched earth.
One stops behind a stone table, squealing frantically
at its family. Perhaps saying that the ashes
are thinner under the table, or perhaps saying
that it is in pain and that it is terrified.
If only I could comprehend the terror I should feel.
Less than half a mile away, an inferno roars,
but the smoke screen is such
that I cannot see this hell: I can only breathe it in.

I am well aware that it is 4:30 AM and it should be dark,
but the smoke holds bold red light in it, illumining our path.
We walk down the ramp to the cafeteria. There,
in the small conference room next to the dining hall,
they have prepared a mobile medical center
in case any student or faculty were to fall ill.
I run ahead of the nurse pushing my girlfriend
and I pull the door open. We plunge into the darkened room,
weave through the huddled figures attempting sleep,
and finally come to the conference room.
Just a moment after bursting in, a nurse spots me,
asks me if I need help, and when I say I’m okay
he tells me to get out of the room. They leave me
in the dining hall, watching after her
as the door closes between us.