Archive for June, 2017

Trial by Fire

Posted in Personal Story with tags , , , , on June 19, 2017 by bigtuna185

I’m not quite sure how to write about this, but I know that I need to. Yesterday was one of the hardest days I’ve ever had to watch my family go through.

We were coming home from our vacation in Florida, away to be at a gaming tournament for my brother’s birthday. It was a great weekend for all of us, my dad, my step-mom, me, and my brother. It was one of those weekends where you felt the stress of the past year just kind of dissipate and evaporate into the humid Orlando skies.

We arrived back at the airport without any issues, and, being that we were in Newark, we had a long drive back through New York traffic in order to reach my dad’s house on Long Island. Save for a few expletive filled moments directed at the various idiots driving on the road (as there are many), there were also no problems driving home.

As we made the turn onto the street where my father lived, I put away my copy of A Game of Thrones that I was re-reading, carefully dog-earring the chapter that I had left off on. I know you probably shouldn’t do that to books, but it’s better than using a bookmark and worrying about whether or not you lose it. Then I have to worry about the bookmark instead of the book, and I refuse to e-read, so here we are. All I could think about was getting to go home and see my wife, who I hadn’t seen for the past four days, her parents, eat some good food, relax on my couch at home, and feverishly look and apply to jobs for the summer. I never got to do that though.

The funny thing about plans is that they are never real until they happen. What happened next was not planned.

The car coasted down the bumpy, neglected road, and the first thing you noticed was the yellow tape. You know, like police tape stretched along the fence and lack of fence where a tree had previously fallen a few months ago. Then you look up from the tape and see what appears to be a house, but it no longer is. It takes a few seconds for the brain to add up and process the situation. Charred black, windows and doors blown out, a skeleton of its former self, my father’s house was destroyed. Burned.

I can’t tell you how much it hurt to hear my step-mom cry out to God or anyone for an explanation. To see them walk among the ashes of their now former life, coming to terms with the fact that things would never be the same again. The tears didn’t come to me, nor to my dad, as shock started to set in. Duty took over as a first born son, moving to try and do anything, say anything that might alleviate the situation. But mostly I couldn’t help but just stand there and look at it all.

Brown leaves from the trees overhead swayed in the branches from the gentle wind that blew that day. Brown I realized because the smoke and flames had been so high that it had killed a portion of the tree in a neighbors yard, suffocating it. The surrounding homes were still okay. Luckily, the fire was contained to the middle of the house and didn’t spread. Luckily is a bitter word here. Neighbors came out, anxious to know that my family was alright, that there was no one trapped inside when it happened. They didn’t know we had been on vacation, but they saw that a car was missing from the driveway. Cars drove past trying to see the spectacle that was my family’s tragedy. And you know they went out of their way to look at it. The house is on a dead end street.

My car had been in the driveway when it happened, the entire front, passenger side of the frame melted and drooping into the ground. Cracks and bubbles covered the windshield, straining under the intense heat that surrounded it earlier. The interior was all completely unharmed, so I was able to salvage everything from it, but the smell of burnt plastic was thick in the air inside. My dad’s car, sitting next to mine, useless due to a flat tire for months, wasn’t so lucky. The entire hood of the car was melted and gone, the engine looked like an ice cream cone left out on a hot summer’s day, the fabric on the inside of the car was torn apart and burned, and the rear window of his car looked as if it had been blown out. I didn’t have a car anymore, but that was nothing compared to what my family lost.

They attempted to sift through the wreckage to try and find what little things they could: in the end a few photo albums and a lock box with all of the house paperwork were the spoils. Nothing else could be done for it though. Unfortunately there were some kittens inside that didn’t make it, but the other cats were rescued and taken by a neighbor. The outdoor cats, meanwhile, all wandered along the front lawn, specters from a past life sent to comfort the grieving.

There was a man who showed up at some point who specialized in home fire aftermath repair/consulting, and things of that nature. A tricky business to get into. You don’t want business to be good, but you also need to make a living somehow. It’s a fine line to walk across. This guy did not even come close to finding the line. We realized that at some point the night before, he had tried to call us and tell us what happened, but at 1 in the morning when a random number calls, you don’t pick up. And so we didn’t. Anyway, this guy gets out of his van and tries to shoot the ol’ bull with everyone, asking people where they went to school just to see if they knew the same people that he knew. He was extremely outgoing, and charismatic, and picked the wrong time to showcase these qualities. I didn’t know how to tell him to leave, because we kind of needed him in order to figure out the next step. Eventually one of my dad’s friends showed up and told him to give us at least 24 hours to work through this.

It was a weird process. The initial emotion gave way to focused responsibility on what to do next, followed by more bouts of emotion, followed by action. Family showed up to support us. It was all very strange. To add to it, we still don’t know how it happened. The fire marshal had no answers, and the only information that we got from the situation was a 40 second clip on the news.

I think the hardest part about all of this for me was that I knew that I got to leave and go home. For my dad, my step-mom, and my brother, they couldn’t do that. Home was gone for them. Home was now ash in the wind, and I felt bad. They had nothing left, and there was nothing I could do except go home to my still moderately comfortable life. I prayed while I was there because it was the only thing I could do. Through that time, I heard God tell me “there’s a plan in this,” and that gave me comfort. Our plans may not be concrete, but His are, and hearing reassurance that there was purpose and love behind this was enough. It gave me strength to be there for my family.

At one point I asked my dad how he felt, which was dumb considering the situation, but I wanted to get a handle on his stability. The words seemed to get stuck in his throat, like he was preventing himself from processing the situation: “I don’t know how to feel!” And I just left it at that. This mental portrait, of my dad, silver gray ash covering his shoes, with a streak of red that trickled down, blood from a cut he had gotten while looking for the lock box key in the remains of the house, functioning, yet broken at the same time. I would wish for anything to give him back what he has now lost. But for right now, all we can do is rebuild and remember.

And by the way, did I mention it was Father’s Day?

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