Smoke Chokes, But Fire Breathes Part 2, by Bill
If you missed it, Part One can be read here.
At this point I’m still standing about 10 feet from the flames and smoke near the fence we share with our next door neighbors. I’m on the phone with the emergency operator trying to get them to send the damn fire department. I swear I had to tell them my address 10 times before they got it correct. During this back and forth with them I realized Sam was still in the house. I couldn’t let my dog perish in a fire, so I grabbed the first thing I could find which ended up being an old piece of a bed frame my wife was going to use to support beans and smashed the double paned window in our back door. I tried to get back in the house, but the smoke poured out of the broken window and drove me back. I started screaming Sam’s name, hoping that she might hear me and follow my voice out the door. I was not so lucky.
I finally got off the phone with the 911 operator and called Christina. I told her that the house was on fire.
“Oh fuck, that candle! Go get the fire extinguisher and put it out”
“No babe, you don’t understand. The house is on fire and I barely made it out. And I can’t find Sam. Get Issa and go to Lauren’s. You don’t need to see this. I’m gonna try to get Sam out.”
…… All I heard was silence.
“Please go to Lauren’s I’ve already called the fire department. They are on their way.”
At this point I saw my back fence toppling. Some of my neighbors from behind our house saw that I couldn’t get out and broke the fence down to get me out. They also grabbed water hoses and started spraying the trees around our house to stop the fire from spreading beyond. I saw this happening, but my brain was on autopilot. I was making calls like a madman. I called my insurance agent. Then I called my mother in law. Then my father in law. Then my parents.
I cannot say where the clarity of mind came from in all of this. It’s like someone else was inside my body controlling my fear and anguish and giving me the focus I needed to get things done. You always wonder how you will react in emergency situations. Will I be a ball of tears? Will I be the hero? Will I even know what to do? I’ve always imagined myself as the hero. The one who charges into the fray and saves the day.
I did not feel like much of a hero that day. I can’t believe how selfish I was to get myself out without a thought for my family or pet. All I cared about in the moment was my life. I’ve been told that I did everything correctly. I got myself out. Verified the whereabouts of my family. And did not charge back into the flames to rescue my dog. But honestly, I feel like a coward. I feel like I should have gone back into the house to pull Sam out. I feel like I should have risked my life to save hers, because that’s what she did for me.
My brain went into autopilot again as I saw the firemen arrive and start to fight the blaze. Some kind neighbor had given me a shirt (at least 2 sizes too small) and a towel to wrap around my man bits. She also gave me pair of those sports style flip flops so I could get to the front of the house. I saw a firemen in a crisp white shirt and slacks standing in my back yard talking into a walkie talkie. I approached him and told him that I was the homeowner. He immediately grabbed my arm and said, “we need to get you to the ambulance”.
I was not aware that Christina had arrived on scene and was having her own mental breakdown. All I can remember is standing in the yard, in my red boxers with skunks passing gas on them, and not caring that my neighbors probably saw my man bits. I am usually a very self conscious person. This stems from being an overweight child and being made fun of by my classmates. On this day, none of that mattered. All that mattered was my house was on fire, my dog was probably dead, and my life was completely screwed up. And I still did not know where my wife was. I knew she was alive, but that was all.
The fireman rushed me to the front yard where I was met by a female EMT, the same one who had been working with Christina. I asked her if she knew where my wife was and she informed me that Chris was in the ambulance because she had passed out. Again, my brain kicked into auto mode overcome with concern for my wife. I ran to the ambulance and slammed open the door. I saw her on the stretcher and my heart fell. She turned to look at me. Ours eyes met and I saw the look of horror and guilt in them. She began telling me she was sorry and that she did this and she was so dumb. All thoughts of my own health went out the window and I jumped into the ambulance and wrapped her in bear hug. I went into Super Husband mode and started trying to calm her down and reassure her that this was not her fault. It was a terrible accident. I was alive and she was alive and Issa was alive and that was what mattered.
I honestly have no idea how I was able to keep my composure in all of that. My wife was literally losing her shit on the gurney and I was completely calm and composed. I was able to answer the questions from the EMTs. I was able to keep my wife from losing herself in the screw. I would see a glassy look come over her eyes and I knew she was going to that place in her brain where life wasn’t real. I knew this was not a good place to go, so I would start to shake her or grab her hand and tell her to come back to me. One time I almost slapped her across the face to get her attention. I was eventually able to get out of the ambulance and deal with one issue after another. Again, it was like someone else was controlling my body.
I knew I could not lose my cool in front of my wife. She needed me to be strong while she was losing it. I know adrenaline was coursing through my body. Between that and God’s hand I was able to focus and get things done.
I did lose it a bit my first trip out of the ambulance. We saw the director of my daughters’ school walking dazedly in the street in front of my house. I got out to talk to her about Issa, who apparently was still at school. She told me not to worry that they would stay with her as long as needed. I thanked her, then turned to get back into the ambulance when I saw my good friend Chris (not my wife) standing in front of my house with his wife, crying. He approached me and grabbed me in a big hug and I broke. I started bawling right there in front of everyone. He hugged me for a few moments until I was able to regain my composure. I climbed back into the ambulance to help with my wife.
You can read some more of the ambulance story in Chris’s posts, but for me everything was kinda a blur so I don’t remember as much detail as she did.
The next thing I remember is the fire chief informing us that they could not revive Sam, but when we were ready they would cordon off a section of our front lawn for us to say goodbye, away from prying eyes. When Chris was able to handle it, we left the ambulance and walked toward the area the firemen had laid Sam. She was wrapped in a tarp lying completely still on the front lawn. As we approached her, a fireman approached Chris and started talking to her. I don’t know what he said, because I was tunnel vision on Sam’s body. I saw my friend Chris approach and hold my shoulders as I started to sob. I saw my Father in law Mike grab Christina and wrap his arms around her as she started to wail again.
Friends, it is at this moment that the dam holding back my emotions broke. I fell to the ground and started crying that cry that has no tears, just raw emotion spewing forth. I felt my FIL grab me in a hug and I started screaming that I was so sorry I couldn’t get her out.
“I tried to get to her. I swear I did.”
I don’t know that I will ever be able to forgive myself for my actions on that day. I don’t know that I agree with all of my friends and family who say I did the right thing getting out. I don’t know that I will ever feel deserving of a love like Sam gave to me. I hope one day to be able to get over these feelings, but for now…