Saturday, October 27, 2007

Is that all there is to a fire?

Days have been long of late, bleeding into nights, all of the above mostly spent hunched over the computer, working on an endless stream of schoolwork...Last night was no exception, and I finally fell into an exhausted slumber around 3am.

Twas not fated to last, that sleep. A pounding on the door downstairs woke me. 4:30am is no time for visitors, and a chill ran through me as I shook Chip awake. "What is that?!" He stood in the darkness, "I'll go check." I lay there, momentarily terrified, and before he made it down the stairs he shouted, "You need to come down here!"

I threw on my robe, and as I descended the stairs the window over the landing emitted an eerie, flickering orange light. Fire. Shit. The pounding on the door was frenzied, a woman's voice yelled, "You need to get out of there!"

I complied.

For a moment, like a terrible dream, I stood transfixed, afraid to round the corner into the alley-convinced that my garage was being consumed, and the house next.

Staring down the alley, heat radiated from the flames that licked the garage of the vacant house next door to death, I stood paralyzed, in disbelief. Another blaze cast a hellish, dancing light further down the alley. My heart beat in a way that made me feel sick, and slowly the firemen made their way towards the blaze.

The overhead powerlines caught the flame, and it slithered along them crackling with an eager, sinister sort of glee. The houses all went dark, leaving the fire alone to light the night like some evil, cackling star landed.

We got the animals, and the flames moved across the alley to another garage. My palpitations continued, and I stood amongst neighbors, faces all lit up with dread and a ghostly orange light.

I watched the firemen hose it all down, peeling off layers of the ruined structure like skin from an onion, hosing each in turn. I wondered at these brave fellows who speak the language of fire, who know how to put it to sleep. We all speak secret languages, I suppose.

Eventually, we climbed the stairs through our dark house, shaken but unscathed, we fell back into an uneasy sort of sleep.

*** *** *** *** ***

I'd been feeling melancholy for weeks now, purposeless and lonely. In a place where life is so much work, and all my life's anchors distant and lost at sea, perhaps I sometimes find it too easy to feel forgotten, as though my own trajectory has finally set me on a course destined not to cross paths with loved ones ever again.

This is, of course, silly self indulgence.

Last weekend, distracted from yard work, I wandered to that derelict garage, ran my hands over the artifacts there, the abandoned memories and keepsakes of someone else. Today, all that is remains is a blackened heap of detritus.

Somewhere in the midst of this, I remember that all of this we hold dear is terribly temporary. We are precious, you and I and all the things that pass between and amongst and around us. I smiled a little more easily today.

Would it be wrong for me to secretly thank the fire (if not the arsonist) for jarring me back into being, and reminding me to breathe a little deeper, laugh a little more, take all this a little less seriously?

Thank you Fire. For sparing our little piece of this place, and giving us the opportunity to appreciate it all for just a little bit longer.


Anonymous said...

Glad to hear you and Chip are safe and sound.

seven months to go, there is light at the end of the tunnel, honest.

In just a few month this semester will be over and you'll be surrounded by the people that you love. Hold on.


Kathy Hernandez said...

It sounds as if the culprit was a downed electrical wire, but one cannot, must not, ever rule out arson. That scares me more than mother nature's fury, because it is evil and done with malicious intent. I hope you didn't lose too many things, although if they were in the garage it probably means there was no room for them elsewhere. I, too, am glad you and Chip are okay. Because it is the first I hear of this fire, I didn't spend a moment worrying about you.