May 12, 2010

the stuff of (my) nightmares

Just as we were drifting off to sleep last night, I could hear the sound of sirens, and it sounded like they were getting closer and closer until the sound stopped moving, and I realized that it was because they were close. My eyes snapped open at the realization, and I saw an orange glow in the hallway, reflected on the white wall. I jumped out of bed, my heart racing, and through the kitchen window I saw it: a wall of flames towering fifty feet tall and shining as bright as day.

I croaked out something along the lines of "oh my god- monkey" and David joined me in the living room to see what was happening. We watched in silence and awe, David holding me tight from behind, as the flames shot into the sky and illuminated the night.

The home sits in the same place on the block below us that our house does on ours, and because we are up the hill, from our deck the view is not unlike one you would have in the balcony of a theater. We watched from this too-close vantage point as the firemen battled the blaze, and in less than ten minutes, the giant wall of flames was replaced by billows of thick grey steam. Ash and smoke flew through the air and I shook with nervous panic and terror.

Unfortunately, last night was actually the second time we have been in such close proximity to a devastating home fire like that, yet I still find it impossible to really describe the scene. It's one thing to see a home burning on the news, or in a movie, where the screen buffers the reality and tempers the horror. When you're close, as close as I ever care to be again, it's simply a nightmare. The heat, the smell of the smoke, the flying ash that blankets the yard. You can hear the panicked voices of the neighbors and feel the rumble of the trucks. When I close my eyes I can still see the flames.

I checked on Lincoln- made sure he was breathing and the horror of the night wasn't contagious, and we returned to bed. My mind raced and my body twitched and quivered, my anxiety assuming a physical form. We don't know the people who live there, but I wondered about them and hoped that they were okay. I had visions of arsonists, and of faulty electrical wiring, and I got out of bed to make sure that I had remembered to unplug the iron downstairs. I thought about what I would do if it had happened to us- and I knew in my gut that there would be no wall of flames too tall to prevent me from getting to my baby boy. I thought about what I would grab in the mad rush out the door, and I realized that there was nothing, or rather no thing, that I think I would bother to stop for. Lincoln's baby book? Maybe, but only if it was on the way. It's not the idea of losing stuff that terrifies me about house fires (and they have terrified me my whole life), but the violent unpredictability of it. As a person who enjoys her life neatly organized and P-touched, the sheer chaos of fire and the inability to control it is for me, easily the most horrifying part.

I lay awake until after one, and Lincoln, blessed boy that he is, didn't wake up until almost seven this morning. I thought about how grateful I am that he's small, and he didn't see what I saw last night and doesn't have to try to understand it. I'm grateful for his innocence and a little bit mad that someday he's going to have to see awful things and experience the shit that life can throw at us, seemingly at random. I found a story of the fire in the news, and learned that the family of three was all safe. I can see for myself that their home is destroyed, and the fire crew remains there as I type this, sorting and investigating. I can see clearly now the three triangular holes in the roof that I heard the firemen cutting at one in the morning, the roar of the chainsaw interrupting the quiet night.

Most of the time I think I just cruise through life, believing that everything is good and easy yet thinking that as good as it is, there still must be more that I want and need. Then something comes along and, like a slap in the face, forces me to be present. And despite the sleeplessness and the nightmares, I find that I'm absolutely grateful.