The House Was Gutted

I walk home from the bar. The owner, shaken and jittery, had finished talking to Channel 2 news. Pouring drinks, she was alternately embarrassed from being on television, and devastated that all her regulars, her community, her neighbors were coming in shell shocked asking for water, while they wait to see what their homes look like when they are allowed back in by the fire fighters.


I was working from home. It was a long day, starting at 6:30 am with deadlines and expectations to co-workers. I was finishing my last email when I smelled a campfire. There were no alarms in the back of my mind. Instead, I wondered why someone would have their fireplace going well into spring when the weather was finally starting to warm up. It wasn’t until I heard the fire truck sirens…one…two… five that I realized what was happening.

I ran outside in my jammies long enough to see the black cloud and the flames reaching above the buildings. I stayed long enough to see the fire blowing from the west, and not the north. Long enough to see the devastation strike three buildings, three residential places: not Dinkle’s bakery where I get morning pastries, not headed towards my apartment. Then the road was blocked off, and the news trucks arrived. Not wanting to be filmed in my jammies, I headed back inside, where my house smelled like a summer bonfire. I called my sister and talked to my niece and nephews, telling them how much I loved them. Then I sat in the front room and watched the spectacle from my living room window, feeling safe from the brunt of the damage.

When the power went out, I wandered back outside. I decided to wander until I found someplace open, a haven until they dealt with my problem. My neighbor, coming back from working out met me on the street.

“Power’s out” I said.

“Let’s go to the Green Lady,” he suggested.

And so we went to wait for the lights to come back on.

There we sat. The craft beer was delicious and it was a prime spot for firefighters, police officers, and the power company workers. But it was also where I met the people who lived down the street from me. The people who waited tensely for word that they could see what had happened to their high school basketball trophies and photos of kindergarten graduation.

Several hours later, I saw the lights come back on. I had never lost my phone connection and the only discomfort I had experienced was the residual smell that reminded me of summers at the lake.

At the corner I turned right instead of left to go look. The front house was gutted like an open wound. The brick house next door was black on the third floor where the apartment there was also gone. A man in a Steelers jersey stood watching.

“I remember when the neighbor downstairs left her heater on. Me and my brothers had to jump out of the second floor. I was seven, they were nine, six, and three,” he said. “I had to see it. My people are here now because of it. I don’t even know what I looked like when I was a baby- no photos. I don’t have that any more. Those people… they lost just stuff, but it’s more than that, you know?” he said.

I walked the half block home, and I was gutted too.

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