One week and five days have passed since it happened. Today, I stood outside the home that my parents bought when I was six years old. It was the home that I lived in until I was in my twenties. It was the home that I spent many years growing up and making memories and it is those memories that made me who I am. It was my experiences while I lived here that have shaped me into the woman that I am today. This was no house to me. This was no arrangement of bricks into an organized floor plan of rooms filled with things. This was the beginning of my life and who I am today.
As I stood in the driveway and stared at the space where my room once was, I was surprised that with the gentle breeze that there was still an odor of smoke. It was the odor of charred wood, charred belongings and charred memories. I looked up to the second floor where my room was, growing up, all that was left of it, that is. There is a piece of the torn screen from my window that just blew in the breeze. It waved at me and taunted me to come closer. It begged me to stare a little longer.
I walked around to the back of the house, still focused on where I had spent so many years sleeping in a twin bed placed too few feet away from the twin bed of my sister. My eyes are fixated on the sky that is rudely peering into my home. It stares down with torment through the gaping hole that was once a roof. It really isn’t even a hole… it is just gone. The chimney stands so proud in the corner of my room laughing at me. “I made it”, I hear the stupid thing say. The chimney won’t be so proud when the excavators come in and rip it from its foundation.
Out of the back window, where my bed used to look out, I could see the magnolia tree in full bloom. It always looked so close from my window, but I knew when I was outside that it was farther away than I thought. We’d play under that tree, in that tree, around that tree and with that tree. I remember the bug hospital that we made there one summer. We were ready to save any bugs in need. I think we squished more than we saved, but it was a good memory.
I remember the pool that sat just below my window. I was of course on the second floor and always wondered if a jump into the pool was possible. It was surely not, as it was only a four foot pool, but I still had to ponder it. That pool we spent many hours in creating whirl pools and having raft fights. I’m pretty sure there was a couple skinny dipping episodes too. On senior skip day, I cut out of school early and ended up home by myself. I laid out in that pool on the most perfect sunny day. I floated for hours and enjoyed life.
I can remember playing outside in that yard like it was yesterday. We had so much fun. Before we all got older and moved away, where the garden is… was, there stood a basketball court. Not regulation and yes it was a grass court but we played some serious games of horse there. I remember my friends being there for a party and all joining in, until one slam dunk and the glass backboard cracked someones head. Party was over and a couple of stitches to seal the deal.
The stairs below my window that led up to the porch were always a good place to rest. My brother was stung in the finger by a wasp as he ran his hand down the railing. The wasp was just sitting on the metal railing and he ran it over with his hand. I guess he deserved to get a nip. The same stairs, I dropped my younger brother on as a baby. He couldn’t have been more than a year or so and I daringly tried to carry him up the concrete steps to give him back to Mom. I dropped him right on his head only two steps from the bottom. I felt terrible. Later it became a joke, “if Cherise hadn’t dropped you on your head as a baby… such and such wouldn’t have happened.”
Up the stairs to the porch the weber grill always sat. I can remember how many barbecues my Dad would douse with lighter fluid to get them going. There were several times that cars would stop as they drove by to check and see if the house was on fire. “Thanks but we are just grilling some burgers.” Car after car would think we were in distress as the waft of smoke circled out of the grill and around the corner of the house right past my bedroom window. If I had the air conditioner on at the time it would suck the smoke right into my room. Lessons learned, I guess.
One week and five days ago, cars drove past and stopped also. This time there was no guess of a barbecue. They just dialed 911.
When I first arrived, my body was shaking. This is what you see on the news and in movies. It is not what you see in your own life. It is not what you see happening to your home, your parent’s home. Every day the news has reports of another fire. I don’t know a single one of those people. They can not be real. I know those people now.
This is the moment that I drop to my knees and pray that it will be alright. As I stare all around and the noise and sirens and horrible racket pierce my ears, it is quiet in my mind and I pray that it will be alright. My parents are alive, my brothers and my niece are all safe. I pray that it will be alright. I pray that this maddness will stop. The seconds take an hour to pass and the firemen move at a snails pace while I pray that it will be alright. The world is on pause for that moment as I pray that it will be alright. Suddenly, I am sucked back into reality and the noise returns with the smoke that is so thick it covers the sun. It blocks it’s smiling face from over my house. The smoke tells that sun where to go and who is boss, and it becomes darker.
I watch for hours as the firemen battle back and forth with the devil in my parent’s home. They get a step ahead and the demon laughs at them and begins to destroy more. It has a mind of its own and it rips through room by room spitting ash and flame on the life and the memories that we all shared in this home. It sneers at all of us while we watch through bloodshot, smoke filled and teary eyes. It laughs at us for thinking that it will allow us any chance of having those things or memories back. This fire was a monster.
I used to have nightmares of this monster when I was little. I remember running downstairs after being put to bed. I’d be crying because I was so afraid of the house being on fire. Mom would point out all of the fire alarms. She would reassure me that it was safe and she would tell me to stop thinking about fires. “The more you think about something, the more it can happen.” After that, I was too afraid to think about fires, so I didn’t. Until now.
As I stare at the despicable remains of my once home I feel vomit rise into my throat. That fire toyed with my home, my parent’s home. It tormented all of us as we stood there and froze as we watched hose after hose shower into our home. The fire ripped through the place like it owned it. It knew what it was coming for and it wouldn’t dare leave until it got every last bit. It took my parent’s and brother’s home, their pets, their belongings, their hopes and their dreams along with every single one of my memories and it scorched and singed them all until they were unrecognizable.
The dinning room floor melted into the basement. Where we ate Thanksgiving dinner at the table, I look now and see it leaning down into the pit where there is no longer a floor. A few chairs are tipped against the table, using it to hold themselves into the room and to save them from falling into the hole as well. The rest of the chairs are in the basement black as tar and brittle from the scorch.
In the days after, we were able to tip toe at our own risk and look at what was left. A few things were pulled out. Some dishes and jewelry. A few pictures. Nothing that can even compare to thirty years of life. There were six of us that shared that house for many many of those thirty years and we couldn’t pull out anything to add up to that.
I am, we are all, grateful that this past week was spent mourning a house, a home and a landslide of memories instead of attending funerals. I am thankful that I was able to help my parents with phone calls and emails and fundraisers instead of addressing their last wishes. I am more than aware that the things in that home are meaningless without the people, I am happy that I still have my family.
Nonetheless, I am sickened by the sight of that pile of bricks that once was my home. I am sickened by the hole in the floor in the dinning room and even more sickened by the hole that is in my mother’s heart. I look at her and see broken. That fire ruined my home and it has put a scar on my Mom that I am not sure how long it will take or if it will ever heal. I look at the emptiness inside of both her and my Dad and I realize what has truly been lost.
The things don’t matter. Sure they don’t, but fires ruin far more than things.
I know, our memories will always be our memories. Ya but sometimes you feel comfort in driving past them once in a while.
I know that this could’ve been so much worse, but it is bad enough.
I know that some good will come out of this. I believe with all of my heart that there are reasons and plans behind everything in life. It isn’t my job to question them or second guess them so I do not, but even still, I do not have to like what has happened.
I am not ok with what has happened and I don’t think that I ever will be. My Mom and Dad are not ok with what has happened and I don’t think that they ever will be.
We are all broken from this. Each and every one of us that lived in that house, we are all broken by this.
The news reports fires daily, and I don’t know a single one that they’ve happened to. Until now. Now I know all of them. I promise you, that they are all broken.
I pray that day by day my family may heal from this tragedy. I pray that someday the pain and fear would lessen in each one of us. I pray that the blessings that my parents so deserve will be showered upon them in the coming year and the sun begins to shine over the place where my home once was. I pray for each and every person who has ever suffered from a fire. I pray that they also would find peace and healing with time and that their lives be made better with the blessings to come. I pray that our brokenness will guide us in the years to come to be the people that we were meant to be and that we let it help us to help others who are suffering as well. I pray that if you have never experienced the loss of a fire that you never do and I pray that you would keep the rest of us in your hearts.
If anyone would like to make a donation to benefit my parents please use the link below. All donations will be used to rebuild their lives one day at a time. Thank you all who have already supported my family through prayer, love and your donations. It is all of you that are making it possible for my parents to keep moving forward when it would be so easy to give up.