That’s what we’ve come to call it, the fire. And everything on the timeline of our life is either BF or AF, before the fire or after the fire. And nothing since that day has been quite right, except for the birth of little Piper.
Tuesday, Novemeber 2, 2004 will forever be a marker of time in our memories. It was the last day I lived in my favorite little house in my favorite little town on a quiet little street near the ocean. It was election day and I, being a political junkie, was flying high after exercising my right to vote. I don’t even really remember the whole day. I wish I had enjoyed it more and taken notes, if only I had known what a few more hours would bring. I stayed up really late that night, watching all the election returns come in. The returns and the drama went on and on that night and I stayed up to see it, convinced that one way or the other we’d know who had won by the end of it. 5:30 a.m. rolled around quicker than I expected and I finally decided to leave it all in the hands of the 24 hour news guys. I needed some sleep! I turned off the TV and dozed off, only to awake an hour later to the sound of the smoke alarm.
The sound of a smoke alarm awaking you from sleep is a bit surreal and not something you ever really think you’ll have to face. I sat straight up in bed and said to my husband, “What’s that noise?” And immediately I answered my own question “It’s the smoke alarm.” At that moment we saw it. The smoke was entering our room. I remember it so vividly. It was white and resembled tendrils or fingers creeping in. It looked the way a cartoon artist draws an alluring food aroma that lures the character to itself with one finger as if to say “Come here.”
At that moment I shouted, “There’s smoke in the house! There’s smoke in the house!” I got out of bed and like a pre-programmed machine I ran to my little girls’ room. They were 5 and almost 4 at the time. We had recently practiced fire safety drills and I said to them “Girls, there is a fire in the house. You need to go down the stairs just like we practiced. I have to get Connor (he was 2).” I grabbed their most special possessions, cow blankie and beavoo, while they ran out of the room and slid down the steps and presumably out the front door. I ran to the back of the house to get Connor out of his crib. I remember how hot the smoke was on my skin. It was hotter than anything I had or have ever since felt. As I breathed it in it burned my throat and my lungs and I felt as though my body was screaming at me not to let that poison in.
Once we were gathered at the curb I thought of all my scrapbooks into which I had put so many hours of love and effort. I had to get those books. So against all logic and sensibility and fire safety instruction that I had ever heard I went back into my burning home and, with what Chris (the hub) has called Herculean strength, I picked up the huge storage ottoman where the scrapbooks were stored and carried it out of the house.
While all this was going on Chris had run down to the kitchen. In his shock he thought maybe the smoke was being caused by the toaster oven and he ran to check it. I remember being out front and screaming for him. All I wanted was for us all to be together. I wanted him where we were. He called the fire company and finally came around front.
The police came first and then the fire engines. I was told later that it only took the engines 4 minutes to arrive at our home, but in the moment it felt like an eternity. My mother passed away when I was 19 and the only pictures and keepsakes I have of her were up in that attic. I remember being on the porch during those few minutes and thinking that all the tangible memories I had of my mom were going to be gone.
While the firemen worked, we made phone calls. We called our parents, Chris’s work place, friends, telling them all this unimaginable bit of news, “Our house is on fire.” Not a sentence I ever wish to have to repeat. The minutes went on like years as we stood out in our pajamas and socks and watched the life we had come to love evaporate into the air with the smoke. The neighbors came out of their homes to see what was going on and we all stood together, frozen and helpless. But the firemen worked amazingly fast and by the end of the ordeal, our home was badly damaged, but still standing. And so started the AF chapter of our life.