The alarm went off on my phone, it was time to pick up Issa. I was wrapping up a phone call with a friend and closing up shop for the weekend. I closed the curtains in my office grabbed my purse and keys and walked out the door.
It took me 10 minutes to drive to my daughters school. I tried to call my mom on the way to discuss weekend plans.
I was walking into the school when Bill called.
“Babe, our house is on fire.”
“Oh fuck the candle,” I said loudly at the entrance to a catholic daycare with kids all around. A parent pulled their child closer and threw me a dirty look.
“Get the fire extinguisher from under the kitchen sink.”
“No babe, you don’t understand, our house is on fire, flames are coming out, I barely made it out and I can’t find Sam.”
I ran back and forth in the entryway to the school, like a crazy person, trying to decide if I needed to get Issa or if I should just go. The assistant director came out with a look of worry on her face.
“My house is on fire.”
“Go, we have Issa.”
I made it home in less that 5 minutes. I drove 70 in a 30. I ran stop signs while beeping at cars to get out of my way. A man on a bike gave me a dirty look, it was such a dirty look that I’m sure he flipped me the finger, but I was going too fast to see.
When I turned on Louetta, the main road before my neighborhood, I could see the smoke. Two seconds later when I turned into our neighborhood I could smell it. Two stop signs in, the last of at least 6 fire trucks came barreling into the hood. I rolled down my window and waved them past and then followed them closely, speeding through the neighborhood right with them through the last three stop signs to my street.
They parked in the road, without even turning on my street. I pulled behind them, in front of someone’s driveway. I opened my car door and saw it, flames were licking the pine trees behind our house, I could see the flames shooting out of my daughters bedroom window. There was so much smoke, breathing it’s way out, billowing from every crack and crevice; the weep holes in the bricks, the seams in facia that I had so lovingly and tediously caulked last spring. I was watching the fire take over my house. I cried out, I wailed.
Later, hours after the fire had been put out, a woman met me on the sidewalk and handed me a small bag and said, “I don’t know if you remember earlier today, but I was there when you got out of your car, and I heard the sound you made, and that sound hurt me to my core, and I had to do something. I know this isn’t much, but I had to do something.”
I vaguely remember her on the road as a fell to the ground outside my car, another woman approached, wearing a pink bathrobe. She said some things. I don’t know what they were. I just kept staring at the fire fighters and it seemed like they were just standing there, moving in slow motion like the fire had captivated them to a point where they couldn’t function. I kept screaming, “why aren’t they putting the fire out”. Then I scanned the crowd for Bill, and I couldn’t find him. All the people watching my house burn, all the emergency personnel, fire trucks, ambulances, police, I couldn’t find my husbands face. I turned to the woman in the pink bathrobe, and the other woman who had black hair, they were holding me at this point, and said “I have to go, I have to run, I have to find my husband.” I handed the lady in the pink bath robe my car keys.
I’ve been training for the last few weeks for a 5K, I used to be a runner in my early 20s and averaged a 9 minute mile. I loved it. But then I got married and a little lazy and there were a 100 other things going on in our lives and I stopped running. Any runner will tell you, you hate it, until you love it. I am still at the hating it point, but there is nothing that is a better motivator to run than knowing your house is on fire and you have no idea where your husband or dog are. I left my car, right there in the road with my purse and wherever my phone had slid in my madwoman drive back to my home, doors open, and I sprinted down my street in my jeans and Toms, the fastest I’ve ever run in my life.
I came to a halt across the street from my house, between two fire trucks, where a woman in a red EMT uniform stopped me. She grabbed my shoulders and looked at me right in the face with such intensity that all I could see was her. “Mam you can’t go over there”. I must have been starting to run towards the house when she caught me. “That’s my house and I don’t see my husband or my dog.” “Mam the firemen are trying to put it out, they will find them, but you have to calm down.”
I don’t remember much past this. I remember yelling a lot. It’s the kind of yell when you’re sobbing except there are no tears. And I do remember that being confusing.
I fell to my knees, she was holding me up and saying something. And then I went limp and everything was dark.
I’ve never passed out before. I had a friend once that would pass out on the regular, like it was a thing for her, I never really understood that. If you’ve ever passed out before then you know what it’s like, but if you haven’t it’s kind of like that weird twilight before you’re fully asleep. You can hear people around you, but everything is dark and still and I remember it being so much better and more calming than everything else I was witnessing. I remember hearing her ask for a stretcher.
When I opened my eyes again I was strapped to the stretcher and being wheeled away from my burning house. They’re far more comfortable than they look you know. I looked at the same woman right in the eyes, just as she had done to me and said, “you can not put me in your ambulance it is far too expensive and my insurance won’t cover it. And this,” I pointed at my burning home,”This is going to be expensive enough.”
She basically told me to shut up because I had just passed out on the ground. In reality it was all much nicer than that, but in my head, that’s what I heard her say.
I thought it would be much more bumpy, that whole part where they get the stretcher into the ambulance, but it was pretty smooth.
They started taking vitals. Whatever that is that they do. And from the gurney I had a perfect, front row seat to my nightmare. I watched the smoke move through my house, exiting every crack it could find from one side to the other, it breathed its way out. I watched the tree on fire in the back yard. I still didn’t know where Bill or Sam where. I watched it all happening and I kept asking where he was and why weren’t they putting out the fire faster.
A man was in the ambulance, along with the original woman from the road. He was the one checking things. I could hear a door behind me, opening and closing and people muttering things that they didn’t want me to hear. We were parked close enough to a fire truck where I could hear their radios. I heard them call for a shutoff of the gas and electricity. I heard them call for each other. It was an eternity before anyone told me where Bill was.
Then the EMT from the road did that super power tunnel vision thing again to me.
“Mam, they found your dog, they’re working on her. Please know they’re not vets but they are doing everything they possibly can to save her. Your husband is out of the house, he’s in the back yard, he’s ok, but he’s just in his boxer shorts. They’re trying to find him some clothes, but they have to put the fire out first.”