Monday, February 22, 2010

Life: One Year Later


Today marks one year since The Fire that came and burned down the home where I grew up and tried to take my parents and their dogs along with it.

This has been a hard year for me, it's been full of ups and downs. I will never forget that night...when I went to bed and the world was normal and I woke up and an entirely new era had begun.

I don't mean to dramatize things and I know that there is a seductive allure in telling our own stories so much that they become Epic Tales but this really was a big deal in my life. It's everyone's worst nightmare: to hear the phone ring in the middle of the night when no one is pregnant so it can't be good news.

That's what happened to me a year ago. Only my phone didn't ring, Ryan's did. Why? Because I had absentmindedly left mine on silent, something I never do anymore. Leaving your phone on silent all night is a luxury afforded to those who have never gotten calls like this in the middle of sleeping. It's a luxury I miss but I am glad to avoid now.

When Ryan's phone rang at 2:30 in the morning and he saw who was calling he handed it to me to answer. It was my mom and when I said, "Is everything okay" she said "No." and sobbed.

I remember snippets of the call, mostly her saying the words "the house is gone" over and over again and telling me that Heather (my sister) was on her way to pick her up and she would be at Heather's house (which was then across the street from my own house) soon. I remember collapsing to the floor and then, like a frantic bolt of lightening I darted out of our room, out my front door and across the street where I collapsed onto Heather's front steps sobbing in my nightgown in the middle of the freezing February night. All I knew was that my parents were on their way and that our house was gone.

Ryan came out to try and bring me back inside but I couldn't move from there, I had to wait, my mother said she was on her way and I had to see her, to touch her, to know she was truly okay. He  brought clothes out to me and I dressed on the porch and shivered.

When my mother, father and their two little dogs arrived I burst into tears. My mother looked stunned, my father kept shaking his head.  I wrapped my arms around my mom and buried my face in her hair. It smelled like a campfire, a scent that would linger around all of us for weeks to come.

A few hours later, my siblings and I congregated at Heather's house with the exception of my other sister. My brother, Heather, my mother, Ryan and myself set off to make the trek down to our family home to see what was left. I know I went mostly to find out if this was all Really Real or not. I had to see it, I just had to know.

When we turned onto our street I thought that it had begun to snow. I was wrong. Ash fell from the sky like tragic little snowflakes. Ash. Remnants of our old lives falling all around the car, coating the street. I put my hand to the window and stared.

The house was still standing, but it was still completely gone. Charred and collapsed inside, there really was nothing left.

I remember saying "No, no, no, no, no" and falling to my knees in a pile of rubble that was once my mother's desk and bookshelves and a chest I had made that housed all of our family photos. I dug and dug and dug through broken glass and wet pieces of wall just to try and find anything that I could in that pile. There was nothing there.

Smoke still hung in the walls like the ghosts of our memories.


and as we all looked around at the place where we each used to lived, it dawned upon me: this is Really Real.



For weeks afterward, everywhere I went I had the morbid ability to imagine whatever room I was in transformed to it's post-fire skeletal form. I knew what lived underneath of plaster and drywall and I could picture anywhere in ruins. It was terrifying. I felt like the little boy in the Sixth Sense: haunted, stalked by the dead but in my case it was dead rooms and not dead people.

We would make return visits to our house, some things in the attic had survived, some things from the dining room and an old guest bedroom were in tact still. Every time we entered the house, we had to wear masks and don our 'Fire Clothes' - articles of clothing my father kept in the trunk of his car. These were items that we would only wear into the house because that smell never comes off.

It was post-apocalyptic the way we looked. And in many ways, for us, that felt appropriate.


But this isn't all bad news, I promise, it's not.

Over the time that has passed between now and that morning I spent digging on my knees through the ash of my old memories, there has been a lot of growth.

For one thing, we have all learned to cherish every day and one another very much. I never take any moments with my loved ones for granted anymore. Not even a little bit (like a woman at my book club joked the other day, "you never screen mom's calls again!" how true that is). 

For another, we've had the chance to really define for ourselves just what it means to have a Home.

A house is one thing. It's a building where people live.

A Home however...well, a Home is something else entirely. A Home is a magical sort of thing, alive in the same way that memories are. A Home is a place that holds you, it keeps you, it's where you belong, it's where part of you always is, even if the rest of you has moved on.

And over this year I've had to really come to terms with myself about what A Home really means to me and what it means to lose a Home. I've had to learn that I can lose my Home and not lose the parts of myself that used to live there as well.

Sure, some of it is gone. There was a death in our lives after-all, the death of what used to be, of where we used to live. I had to mourn that death, I had to grieve for it and let it take over me and let myself go through all of the pain of having to figure out just what it all meant. I had to write a letter saying Goodbye to my Home and to those photos and moments that are forever lost.

But in doing that I was able to really clarify for myself just exactly how valuable a Home really is, how much meaning and power it has. A Home: the family member i didn't even realize I had until it was gone.

And now I am aware of what a gift it is to even HAVE a Home, to have a family, to have people in my life that make me feel like there is somewhere I belong. I only felt so empty because I once had felt so full. That is a blessing, truly. A gift like that is one that nothing can ever destroy, not even a hungry fire in the middle of a February night.

So I am grateful. I can truly say that now. I am grateful and I am at peace. I understand that what has been has been and that it is important to honor your past, to respect it and to move on when it is gone. I also have learned that it is equally as important to cherish the present, to absolutely revel in it, to roll around in it and wrap it around you like a warm blanket because that is when all of life is happening: right now at this very moment. And not to be all doom-and-gloom but it is very true when they say that no one ever knows what tomorrow may bring. So live and love today for today. Plain and simple.

As for my parents, they are doing well and are so grateful for the outpouring of love and care they have received over this year. Their house has been rebuilt and while it is very different from the old place that used to live within those walls, it is still theirs nonetheless. And every day it moves farther and farther away from being a House and gets closer and closer to becoming a Home again.

Thank you to everyone who has been there for me and for us this year. I am eternally grateful to you. <3



  1. I'm following you now! Yay!!
    I'm so glad they have their home back, ready for new memories and pictures!

  2. I remember when you posted about this right after it happened. I can't believe it's been a year already. Even though this isn't the first time I've read your account of what happened, I have tears in my eyes. I'm so glad that your parents and dogs are safe and have their home back.

  3. My life changed 9 years ago in the middle of the night too. Ever since then, I have never on purpose turned off my phone or put it on silent. I can't. It's scarier to have me not be reached with circumstances like that are lurking around.

    I'm glad your parents are able to have a home again. It may not be the old home, but at least you can add new memories to this one. Home is where the heart is.

  4. I'm incredibly impressed at your ability to grow and learn from such a traumatic experience. I continue to look up to you.