NOTE: You can read part 1 here
“I need to call my mom.”
“Mam, we need your ID.”
“My phone and purse are in my car.”
“Where is your car?”
“It’s in the road, the lady in the pink bath robe has my keys.”
I suppose they sent someone to find her. I don’t really remember. I do remember the way my heart felt, heavy, crushed, but also like it was exploding. My breath was short and heavy. I was gasping for air. It was like there wasn’t enough in the ambulance for all of us.
“Mam, what’s your mom’s number?” The male EMT was holding a black flip phone. Part of me wondered if we’d time traveled, and maybe it really was a dream, like that flip phone was the one out of place thing that causes your unconscious brain during sleep to stop and say, “heeeeey wait a minute, this isn’t right.” But it wasn’t a dream.
The only number I could think of was her home phone number, the one she’s had my entire life, since before we had to dial area codes in Houston. I rattled it off like it was nothing. It rang.
“Hello?” My mom’s intern Caroline answered.
“Caroline, my house is on fire, I need to talk to my mom.”
“Christina, she’s already on her way.” I couldn’t understand how she could already be on her way, who could have called her, how she knew. I said a lot more things to Caroline, I don’t remember any of them except the end, “Caroline, I’m watching my house burn and I have to go.”
Then I dialed my dad, again, on the ancient flip phone. I was surprised that I’d remember his cell number. As the phone rang I remembered the last time I called him in this level of panic, except that time I couldn’t remember his number. It was September 11th, I was sitting under a desk on the floor of the main art room of my high school, watching the horror that was that day on a small old school tube TV. After we watched the second plane hit, almost instantly I remembered my dad was flying that day, and I couldn’t remember exactly where, but that it was in the North East. I immediately burst into tears and they escorted me to the principal’s office to make a call (this was before most people had cell phones). I stared at the numbers on the phone, unable to put 10 of them together into his number. I ended up having to call his girlfriend for the number. But this time, while watching my house burn, I remembered.
“Papa, my house is on fire.” That’s all I remember saying. I asked him later and he laughed saying I used my normal panicked super calm voice. “It’s the same tone you have when you’ve called me after a car accident.”
“Your mom already called me, I’m on my way.”
It was then that I saw the screw on the ceiling. It was perfectly round and ridiculously shiny and had a black rubber gasket around it. If I focused on that screw, everything else was gone, it was quiet, and peaceful and then they shook me, because apparently I had passed out again.
I looked up and out the windows and I could see my dog laying lifeless on the ground and a fireman working tirelessly to save her life. My mouth was so dry, they gave me a tiny bottle of water and I immediately wanted to throw it up. I dry heaved and they gave me a tiny bag. Apparently they only have miniature things in ambulances.
I would dry heave a few more times and every time that bag would be nowhere to be found and the male EMT would jump up and search for it with the most determination and speed.
Then I saw Bill. He was wearing a shirt that was at least two sizes too small, and had a sheet wrapped around his waist. They let him in the back door. Our eyes met and I just started saying how sorry I was. The whole time in the ambulance I repeated a lot of the same things, where is my dog, where is my husband, why isn’t the fire out, we’ve worked so hard for all of this and I’m watching it burn, this is all my fault.
While I was completely falling apart, Bill was a pillar. He was the strongest I have ever seen him and I couldn’t understand why. But it was what I needed, because I couldn’t handle what I was seeing and everything I was experiencing, my body was literally shutting down from the trauma. People often say, “Oh this or that is just too much.” But watching your house burn and watching your dog lay lifeless and not knowing if your husband is alive, that is quite literally, all too much.
Another woman EMT entered, one wearing black. She had my keys, purse and phone.
They began to run tests on Bill.
He said a lot of things to me, how it wasn’t my fault, that he loved me, that he was ok. That he was alive. But I saw the screw again and just watching that screw was so much easier, so much simpler than even coming close to attempting to process the things I was currently experiencing. If I stared at that screw it was ok.
The guy checking Bill’s vitals started snapping in front of my face. I only know this because later that’s what Bill told me he did. Bill shook me, “Babe I need you to stay here, you can’t go away.”
It felt like I was in that ambulance for hours.
“Mam, we need to take off some of your clothes off so we can take some pictures of your heart. I also need to prick your finger. Mam, have you eaten today?”
I couldn’t remember. Not my normal breakfast, we were out of eggs. We were on whole30, I ate a lara bar. Oh and the last of the chicken salad. I’d left the dirty empty container on my kitchen counter, I imagined it burning and melting away.
I remember at some point they said my blood pressure was in some 300 hundred over something range range and I’d remembered feeling like this when I was in labor.
Bill tried to hug me but it felt like he was crushing me.
I stared at the screw again.
“Babe, you need to stay here, stay with me.”
I looked at the ceiling, trying to secretly search for the screw. Maybe they wouldn’t notice.
“I fucking hate candles, why do they exist, all candles need to be destroyed. But then jews would be mad, because they need them for Chanukah.”
The male EMT laughed.
“Why are all these people just standing here watching my nightmare?”
“Because people are assholes.” I knew I liked that female EMT.
Bill looked away from me for the first time in a long time toward the male EMT, “Can we close these windows?” He grabbed a hospital gown and started to try to string it in front of the windows.”
“No, I need to see this.”
“Babe you don’t need to see this.”
“Yes. I do.” I looked him right in the eyes “Bill I need my mom.”
“I know I talked to Caroline, and I said a lot of crazy things to her.”
They took Bills vitals again.
I looked for the screw on the ceiling. “Babe, I know this is hard, but you have to stay here.”
I was still holding the gauze on my finger where they’d pricked it. I asked if I could take it off.
A fire marshall came in told us that the fire was out. They were going to keep working to secure the house and make sure all the hot spots were out. They were still working on Sam.
People came in and out of the ambulance. A fire marshall, other EMTs, a police officer. Then I saw my mom’s face through the window, staring in at me. The look she had on her face, of hurt and concern and sadness and horror all mixed into one is burned in my brain. And the EMTs told her she couldn’t come in.
“That’s her mom she’s coming in.”
Bill got out to let her in. I found out later that they EMT told her she couldn’t come in unless she calmed down because I was in such a fragile state.
Through the ambulance window I’d seen the director of Issa’s school wandering in the road. I didn’t understand why she was there. Again, it felt like a dream. As Bill got out I saw two of our friends, neighbors from the front of the neighborhood who live right around where I started following the fire truck. They were crying. And then through the window I saw Bill cry for the first time and hug them, and I knew he had held it together for me. Because when you love someone deeply, and they are losing every part of their being, that’s what you do. And he is a good man, who happens to love me just like that.
My mom hugged me. I cried that tearless cry and told her all the same things I’d told Bill when he first got in my box of horrors. And she said all the things Bill said to me, “It’s not your fault, we’ll figure this out together, I love you.”
A police officer came to the doors, “there’s a car blocking traffic.” I handed him my keys. He said he couldn’t legally move my car. My mom said she would move it.
Bill came to sit down to take Mom’s place next to me. The male EMT grabbed him by the shoulders hovering above me and said, “I know this is hard but you are doing great.”
He looked at the male EMT, “This isn’t the first house fire I’ve survived.”
“Really?” He seemed shocked.
I looked at him square in the face, “I had nothing to do with the first house fire he was in.” He laughed.
“Yea it was when I was a teenager, my buddy’s house. I’ve survived two house fires, I guess that makes me fucking super man.”
Bill was signing wavers about not going to the hospital in the ambulance, because I’d made it perfectly clear that it was far too expensive. I looked her in the face, “Do you see this, this is going to be expensive enough, we can’t afford an ambulance visit on top of all this.”
Sometimes my weird financial brain triumphs over all of the emotional spiraling.
I could see our friends standing on the sidewalk outside our home, holding each other and crying.
Fire inspectors showed up, and said they needed to speak to one of us. Bill left. The EMTs checked my vitals again. I looked at the female EMT and touched her knee and said, “Thank you for all you have done, thank you for caring for me. You are amazing.”
“Mam this is my job, to care for you. I’m glad to be here. But if you really think I did a good job, tell this lady because she’s the one who gives me raises.” We all laughed and I looked at the EMT all in black. “Seriously, you need to give this woman a raise.”
My mom had gone into mom mode, where you just do all the things. She’d found Bill a black bathrobe and a pair of shorts from one of the neighbors. Actually she found two pairs of shorts, one of which looked exactly like a pair of shorts Bill had already owned. He actually asked her if she’d gone in the house to get them.
It was good to see him clothed. Especially in the black bath robe, because apparently bath robes were the dress code for our fire. I however, did not get the bathrobe memo.
I stared out the windows again. “Is that my dog in that bag?”
I heard the fire chief call out to the female EMT in the red to talk to her. She came back in and held my hand. “They worked on your dog for over 15 minutes, sadly they were not able to revive her. I’m so sorry.”
I looked at the screw again.