I bought a new rug yesterday – a small charcoal 5x7 to go under my new writing desk. It was $19.99 at Aldi’s, and I love it. My old rugs, considerably more expensive rugs, lie buried beneath the charred remains of my once roof in my once home. It’s been over a month now, and I can finally cull all the rambling journal posts from just after the fire. They were written in late night with a little too much wine racing through my veins or early mornings - I still wake at 4:15.
On February 12, 2011, a Saturday, at 4:15 a.m. I wakened to the screech of the smoke detector. “Damn, did I leave a candle burning?” ran through my mind as I raced down the hall to the living room. No. The smoke was coming over and around my front door to the landing I shared with my friend and neighbor, Mark. I could barely see across the room, as I rushed to get the phone and dialed 911, I tucked my nearby laptop under that arm and reached out to touch the door. It wasn’t hot, so I peeked; the front stairs were not an option.
I quickly pulled it to, and as I passed into the next room closing the living room door behind me, the operator finally answered, “911 what’s your emergency?”
I shouted my address first followed by we’re on fire, as I slipped on my shoes, pulled on my coat and stuffed the laptop and purse into a handy Publix ecco-grocery bag hanging nearby. I couldn’t believe, the operator said, “hold please, I’ll transfer you to the fire department.” Then the phone went dead - not good, have to hurry. I was still in motion, shoved my cat, Jazmine, unceremoniously into her carry cage, and with the bag over my left shoulder and her cage in my left hand, I dug the cell phone out from its resting place next to one of the girls. I dialed 911 again, as I headed toward the back door.
We’re on fire I shouted and you just put me on hold. I blurted the address again and as she apologized saying they were on the way, I could hear the sirens coming. I hung up on her and banged on Mark’s back door, but thick smoke was already pouring out his back door, too.
Keep moving was all I could think to do - down to the next landing. I was grateful that the doors were so close together. I set Jazmine’s carrier down, and banged and screamed fire at each door at the same time. It seemed forever before either door opened, but they did. Half awake, Jackie on the left was first. She ran back to get something, but came back quickly. Then Ms. Louise, an elderly lady in a panic yelling 'my babies, my babies', ran back into her place to wake her granddaughters and her son who were staying with her.
Assured, that they were coming out, I took the cat carrier and my bag to my car at the bottom of the stairs to free myself up to help where needed. The firemen started coming, and I pointed to Mark’s place and told them he was still in there. The fireman told me to keep back and get to a safer place. They ran up the stairs to get Ms. Louise and the children down more quickly than they were coming and prevented Jackie from returning for whatever it was she wanted to go back for.
I got in my car and pulled it around by Wilsons Market, to get it out of the way and keep my Jazmine nearby – she was really upset and incessantly meowling piteously.
Jackie, Ms. Louise, her grandkids, and son were soon there. While we stood on that parking lot corner by my car, several neighbors came with blankets for everyone. We stood and watched as 3 engines fought the fire. It would take over 2 hours to put it out. We couldn’t look away; we knew Mark had not made it out.
Next: The kindness of strangers.