Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What we lost in the fire...

A few weeks ago, right around the second week of the month, I had this grand plan to write a blog in honor of Thanksgiving. You know, something slightly cheesy but heartfelt about the people in my life that I think about and am thankful for. Like the elderly woman who worked at the daycare my daughter attended, who made her beautiful dresses and did her hair, like she was one of her own. Or to my first editor who made me cry but also taught me to be a writing Jedi.

That's how the blog was going to go. But then, on Saturday, November 10, while I was snapping risque photos of burlesque performers and the kids were at home with my gentleman friend (most likely full on corn dogs), there was a raging fire just down the road. It only took an hour for the flames to engulf the entire house and everything in it, every piece of clothing, every precious painting, every bed, everything. Not so long ago, I lived in that house. That was the house that me and my then-husband decided to raise our children in. That was the house where we struggled as a young family, made strides, took steps back, and ultimately, it was the house that I fled, taking very few of my things, so that the kids wouldn't feel the sting of the imminent divorce. Everything, their whole childhood, right down to the little figurines lining my daughter's bedroom walls, burned up in an instant.

My ex called me from the road, he had been visiting his father in New Hampshire, when he learned that his (our, the kids') house was a giant bonfire on a quiet road.

"The house is on fire," he screamed. "Our house is on fire."

We only chatted for a moment and thanked god that the kids were with me that weekend, in our little rental in farm country. There was no sleep to be had that night, wondering how we were going to tell the kids that the house had burned. How their toys were just melted plastic and ash. How their winter coats, the new ones, were blackened and stank of smoke and flame.

That was a Saturday night. On Sunday, as luck would have it, we had planned a small birthday party for my son (at the rental). That morning, looking at the kids' faces, I felt so guilty not telling them the news. But me and their father agreed that, best to tell them after the party. We didn't want to ruin their day. As if...

I went to the house before the party, under the guise that I needed to go to the store and get balloons. I could smell the smoke and char from the road as I parked the car. The police were there, fire men, my ex-husband, his girl friend. But I didn't really see any of them when I got out the car. All I saw, all I saw, and it will haunt me truly forever, was the charred remains of my daughter's bed in the driveway. Tossed, flaming, out of the second floor window. A whole had been cut in the side of the house where her bedroom was, and that was as black as the bed. All of the windows were broken and glass crunched under my shoes. Everything, everything was gone. Of course, I had the mother moment, I went there in my head. What if the kids had been there? It made me sick inside, to think that the story, through one turn of events or another, could have been quite a different one, one that no one would be able to write.

We told the kids after the party. Anna cried, Lucian said nothing. It wasn't until we took them to the house, a week later, when Anna's room had been cleared from the driveway, that the reality set in, for all of us. We knew, between the sobs and the thankful praises, that we were looking at a coffin. The coffin of our lives, laid bare and burned to dust.

Now, all that remains is a burned out shell of the house. The baby pictures, the foot print cards, the locks of hair, the videos of their innocent first steps, the oil paintings I did of Anna's first ballet lesson, the wedding albums, the amazing school art projects, the custom-sewn dresses from Anna's sister in Africa, all are gone with the house. Buried in a violent pile of ash and peeling paint.

It's been a few weeks now, the house will be rebuilt, my ex has found an apartment that the kids will call "home" for at least half the time. But the air is heavy here. Still. Nightmares plague me every time I try to sleep. Anna cries anew whenever she realizes that yet another treasured thing is lost. Lucian kicks the dirt a lot and shows little interest in the trampoline. At one point, at dinner, Anna spoke out of nowhere.

"Oh no, Ma, my flower girl dress from your wedding..." Her voice trails off.
"It's OK, baby," I say, trying to keep my composure. "It's OK, because we still have the flower girl."

When I am old, and the children are grown, there will be no albums to look back on to remind me of their faces when they were young. There will be no videos to show my grandchildren of their devilish parents and their first steps.

I keep those memories that much closer now, filling in details so that I won't forget a single thing. It's a bittersweet inventory.

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