My neighbors' house burned down today

It's funny, how the everyday stops being everyday when it leaves the internationally networked news media and you've got smoke coming in from your kitchen window because your neighbor's life is on fire.

People are screaming in terror, and a lifetime of accumulated memories is going up in smoke. Thank God the family lived through it--the mother was brought to the hospital after she attempted to rescue the family photo album from a closet in her bedroom. She had minor burns; I think she's already been released, though I'm not sure. That's just rumor. It's all anybody can talk about.

I wonder if she ever even looked at those photos, in years?

She must have. They're the only family I know that still kept a physical album of pictures. She probably put a lot of time and effort into that album.

The memory that will stay with me the longest is that of a 6-year-old girl crying on the edge of the sidewalk, then her family coming over and huddling up with her... and, I feel suddenly guilty.

I shouldn't say "the family" survived.

Husband, wife, and children survived, and thank God, but there were two cats sharing their lives. One hasn't been found--the fire officials said it's common to see a cat flee a burning home, in which case it probably won't return--in lieu of seeking a safe life elsewhere, you know? They don't understand what's happened, but that place is no longer safe to them. 

The other one was found. It died of smoke inhalation. Apparently, it tried to hide in a high cabinet of one of the rooms that, of all the unfair irony, was actually saved. If it had stayed on the floor of that room, it would have been a wet, bedraggled, but living cat. Except it didn't. One of the firemen tried to give the cat oxygen, tried to revive it, but it wasn't coming back.

So, that's how your life's story turns... you're in your mid-40s, married, with three great kids, and one day you're sitting on the edge of the sidewalk, holding on to each other, and sobbing in fear and misery as everything--every "thing," at least--goes up in smoke and fire. The photo album, the favorite shirt, the furniture, the computers, the games, the home movie collection.

The necklace that you bought your wife on your twentieth wedding anniversary--you know. The one you remembered. You were so proud of yourself. You spent the whole day grinning like an idiot.

The urn holding someone's ashes on the mantle. I never did ask whose they were, but I've had a relative cremated, and I recognized the urn. They had their ashes prepared at the same place that we did, apparently. Odd thing to remember.

The roast that was going to be that night's dinner.

It must be hard, not to feel like life is over--how many years of hard work and saving went into what they had? 

The family pets that were supposed to see your children through high school and college are gone; one is dead, and the other vanished into the night. Will the cat find another family, or live out its days as a lonely stray? 

I'm going to try to do something for them. I don't have much, but I've got to try. Maybe I'll cook a pot roast. That's not supposed to be funny; some semblance of normalcy, "here's that dinner you were expecting; it'll take time, but life does go on." 

It must be impossible to fully process what's happened. I can't imagine what they're going through, but for some reason, I feel like I need to make the effort to do so. I'm not sure why.

User Comments

I think it's wonderful that you want to do something for your neighbors. Most people wouldn't make the effort, and to me that's a sad thing. We've become so isolated from each other in the information age. We put a small clique together and then hop on our computer most of the time. Good on you :)