There’s a sort of foggy surrealness in the moments of waking—in that long and clunky brain boot-up when sleep is done (or done-ish). For me, this sense is heightened when I’m sleeping in a bed that isn’t mine. That night, I’d slept alone in B’s room, and I’d slept hard. We’d had a roaring fire the night before, and I’d sat close, baking a particularly ground-glass case of carpal tunnel. The heat worked wonders for my hand, but it had sapped me dry of energy and put me right to sleep.
Through the fog, tucked into the middle of a nest of fleece sheets and down comforter, I heard voices—no clue what they were saying. I’m rarely the first up, so it seemed a normal thing. Then voices louder—still no coherent words taking shape in my brain. Footsteps, fast and uneasy. Sleepy eyes opened and fixed on a blue ceiling and walls.
WHERE’S EVERYBODY SLEEPING???? I heard Madz through a closed door, totally frantic.
I sat up.
ABBY!!! I heard Tyler call up the stairs. Not in a “breakfast is ready” sort of way. Meaning business.
I bolted out of the bed (fully clothed, praise baby Jeebus) still in a sleep stupor and opened the door. There was the smell of smoke and a terrified Madz who looked at me and said something to the effect of “get out, the house is on fire.” I don’t remember what she said exactly, but I knew her meaning before she finished her sentence.
I know I went down the stairs, but I don’t actually remember my feet touching the floor. I’m a pretty gentle and deliberate mover in my life (though not always graceful), and there’s not a lot that makes me hustle (rogue fireworks, a momma that’s bleeding, a baby that’s not breathing), but I was FAST. Madz thanked me later for having the presence of mind to shut B’s door and save the room from smoke damage, but I swore that it must have just been the draft of that much ass moving that quickly that sucked the door shut behind me—I don’t remember making that call.
When you hear that a house is on fire, you want more information, but you can’t make the words come. HOW on fire is it? I bolted down the stairs not knowing if active flames were taking down walls or if something was just smoldering. When your only other way out of a house is out a second story window, you don’t waste time making use of the one set of stairs.
When I hit the hardwood, my heart was beating so hard all I could hear was the rush of blood through my ears. There were no flames visible from the living room, but black smoke poured out of the basement door and the fireplace, flowing out the open front door into the cold. Madz was coming out of her skin and rushed by with a wooden box. “…putting this in your car!”
My mind raced. ARE THE KIDS HOME? No, they were at a sleepover.
WHAT SHOULD I GRAB? The portrait of Madz’s mom, the other pictures and albums, important papers?
Shane passed me, moving quickly and with purpose. “Are we grabbing things??” was all I could make come out. “No, not yet.”
Shane disappeared into the black smoke of the basement. The power was out, so the stairwell was more like an extinguished dragon’s maw than hallway. Tyler, Madz and I went out to the front yard. Madz paced trying not to come out of her skin “…I NEED TO HEAR SIRENS. WHERE ARE THEY??”
Shane came out and got the hose. The smoke was getting worse, pouring out the top of the chimney. WHERE ARE THEY??
The neighbor Jenny came bolting across the field at some point. Once she realized that everyone was ok and the kids were gone, she became the patron saint of needful things, running to Dunkin to get coffee and donuts for everyone.
I went back into the house, getting the first taste of just how hard it is to function in smoke. I walked to the basement stairs and stepped down, eyes burning, onto the first landing. “SHA….” Cough, gag. Goddamn it’s hard to yell in smoke. “SHANE—ARE YOU OK?”
Nothing. Nothing. I had a terrifying moment wondering if I could haul a grown man up a set of stairs. Weak arms, strong AF legs. Yep, I could do it as long as I could get him hoisted over my back, but damn it wouldn’t be pretty.
“SHANE, ARE YOU OK??” ………... “YES!” Thank Christ. Back outside.
Then, after perhaps the longest five minutes that ever was, came the whole brigade. Bridgton, Naples, Harrison. Fire trucks, tank trucks, ambulances, volunteer vehicles. Sirens blazing.
The to-do of the arrival made a sharp contrast to the first man out of the truck. Bless him, he didn’t move very fast and had definitely seen younger days. No one was hustling. I think they’d received an update (which was no longer valid) that the fire was managed and out.
Shane popped his head out the door. “We have active flames in here.” Still, everyone moved like molasses, not hearing him. “ACTIVE FLAMES!”
Then everyone hopped to, geared up, and went in. They were pretty amazing.
And then I realized for the first time, standing out by the cars with Tyler, that I was FREEZING. It was a particularly dreary and cold day, and I was wearing short leggings, a black short-sleeved dress, and patent leather flats. My coat was in the house, but I did have snow boots in my car, and that helped some. The fire team asked if we wanted to warm up in the truck, but my need for fresh-air-adrenaline-detox overrode my need to be warm. Shane gave me a coat once the fire team had taken over.
The rest of the day is a bit of a blur. The verdict from all involved was a rogue electrical fire. Everything was covered in toxic smoke residue, but the actual fire damage was relatively minimal—a portion of wall and floor, some joists, wiring.
All I could think of was how lucky we were both that Shane was able to manage so much of the fire before the department arrived and that the fire happened when it did. We were home. The kids were gone. It was morning and people were up. If the fire had happened the next morning at the same time, if it had happened just one day later, the whole house would have burned to the ground while people were at work and at school. I’d never wish this on anyone, but all things considered, I’d say thank goddess for small favors.