In Case of Fire

Originally posted on August 8, 2010 at 1:22 PM

It was sometime in the afternoon when it started to storm. It wasn’t raining, but clouds blew in and the wind picked up. Hub-a-dub and I were both sitting in the office at our laptops talking about finances when lightning/thunder (They’re the same thing, you know. They only seem different because usually it’s far enough away so that you hear and see it at different times. That day they were so near that I was forced to remember that they were one.) struck so close to our window that I screamed—one quick, girly sound before I could contain my shock. Then something in our house beeped. It sounded like the security system or smoke detector, and I initially assumed we’d lost power. But our lights were still on, so we kind of looked around and shrugged. Kyle said he thought it struck on the other side of our back fence. I thought it was between the office and the big tree.

About 10-15 minutes later, I heard the fire truck siren, but ignored it like I always do. I don’t mean to sound uncaring or jaded, but no one can have sympathy for every tragedy; you’d burn out and be unable to care for anything. It’s part of why I don’t watch the news. But soon Kyle looked outside and our entire block was filled with fire trucks, ambulances, cop cars, and the works. Our next-door neighbors’ house was struck; they weren’t grounded; the house caught fire. Their entire attic was on fire, smoke billowing out literally feet from our house. Not immediately knowing the damage and extent and danger, Kyle said, “We need to be ready to leave. I’m going to go talk to someone; you get ready to go.”

There are very few times that I feel words unable to serve me. That moment, that feeling, is one of them. I move fast in emergencies, and within probably 2 minutes I had put on shoes and my UT class ring (I was wearing my wedding ring) and gathered Buttons’ carrying crate and my zip drive with all of my writing on it. Then I was standing there in the middle of the house thinking, “What else? What else do I need to save?” I’ve thought about this scenario before, believe me, and made a mental list of things I would grab first. But in that moment, with my life’s work and my cat and my main memento of school and Dad safe, I couldn’t think of a damn thing.

“Value,” I muttered, “What has value?” but the word value made me think of money/expense, not emotional meaning, and my mind supplied the incredibly expensive business suit that I use for job interviews and stuff. Then I thought, “No, insurance will pay for that,” since I never really liked it anyway (it was the only professional suit I could find in my size). But what? What should I get? What should I save if everything goes up in flames?

Luckily, I didn’t have to think about it beyond that point, because Kyle came back in and said we were okay. They already had hoses in the house and there was no danger of it spreading to us. No one was hurt. At that point, we both went outside to watch, just like all the other neighbors did. We’ve never been overly outgoing people, especially as homeowners, and we don’t really know those neighbors. I would have liked to have gone up to them and told them I was sorry, offered a hug, and asked if they had renters insurance, but neither of us could do it. I hope they know my heart was with them and that we weren’t just out there to gawk. It was heartbreaking to think of all the things they probably lost.

As we stood out there in the light rain—the kind of rain so scattered that you feel like you could stand in it for hours and still not actually get wet—and watched the firemen work, random items kept coming to mind that I could have saved. My stack of scrapbooks. The box full of all my Dad’s mementos (because he’s dead and I couldn’t replace them). My wedding dress. Our laptops. Our insurance documents to make it easier to call. Some clothes to live off of. Because it all gets destroyed, you know. Even the things that don’t get burned are ruined from smoke and water from the fire hoses. Even now, two days later, that poor family has the guts of their home spread across their lawn and I keep thinking of things I should save if this ever really happens to us. We’re grounded, so it wouldn’t be lightning, and we have smoke detectors connected to our security company, so help would come fast, but something like this doesn’t just go away. You can’t “tune out” tragedies that are literally next door. It’s like a new handful of sorrow and worry in the back of my mind. What would I save from a fire?

What would you save?

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