When I was 18, our house burned down. It was at a point in my life when I didn’t have much, but everything I owned, other than 2 laundry baskets of dirty clothes which had been in my car, disappeared on a beautiful summer day. The memories of that day have faded, like the photos in the albums which were pulled from the ashes, but the lesson that will always remain me with is the knowledge that stuff is just stuff. Replaceable, forgettable, unimportant.
My brother was home sleeping when the fire started, but thankfully escaped without injury. I’ve always felt that he lost more than I did in the flames – he had an impressive collection of pewter figurines he had painstakingly painted which were turned into a puddle of metal from the heat that day. He had albums and books and other collections that were important to him. I had clothes, lots of clothes, outfits that I continued to miss for months, if not years. I can’t tell you how many times I was drawn up short as I planned my evening’s outfit only to remember that I no longer had that dress or skirt. I got used to it. I moved on with the sense that none of it mattered all that much, and the knowledge that what I truly considered necessary in my life had been forever redefined.
This morning, I awoke to the sound of engines running. I live on a small, narrow street and the noises weren’t going away. Reluctantly, I got out of bed and looked out my window to see a street filled with emergency vehicles, yet still surprisingly quiet beyond the hum of the diesel motors. I assumed it was a medical call until I picked my head up and looked directly across the street – to the house I will always call “George’s house,” and saw the flames licking the dark sky.
After putting on a robe, I went downstairs and outside where the temperature didn’t even register as cold, much less frigid. I think I became aware of the extreme cold and the fact that I was crying, simultaneously. Nearly three decades had disappeared in an instant – at a speed that surely rivaled the rate of that fire’s rampage through the second story of 12 Arcadia Avenue. As the owners of the immediate neighboring houses were evacuated, we made contact with each other. I invited them inside, offered coffee and a bathroom, a refuge with a bird’s-eye view of the devastating flames. Texts were sent between other neighbors. We connected and consoled each other with the fact that other than two dogs, the house was vacant at the time of the fire.
The firefighters were impressive – focused, thorough, professional and, despite the limitations placed upon them on such a narrow street, they battled the fire and contained it in a remarkably short period of time. The sun rose and it was over. But was it? More vehicles arrived, vans emblazoned with K-9 Ashes on their side. Police and more fire officials and some media. Word started to spread – the loss of life wasn’t limited to canines, horribly a young woman’s life had been extinguished by the smoke and the flames. Irreplaceable, unforgettable, important to those who knew and loved her, and always to be remembered, may she rest in peace.