Leaving “Barry, a friend gave me your number. I told them it was an emergency.”
It was 5:30 a.m. Although I knew the caller, the early hour concerned me. Whatever the news, I reasoned it wasn’t good. The caller hesitated.
“I had to call you, because your house is on fire. Firemen are there now…”
That’s all I remember. The home my children and I had lived in until a few days before, was ablaze. Mostly empty, it had not yet sold. Nonetheless, we had moved into our new home, miles away.
Twenty minutes later, I parked in front of the home we had loved. And left. An electrical fault had caused the fire. The inside was destroyed but the outside was almost untouched. I saw a fire marshal near the front door.
“Be careful,” he said, “floor is gone in a few places.”
I nodded, then stepped into a charred, unlit interior with the ambiance of a nightmare. Once sacred spaces had taken on the color of charcoal. Stairs and doors appeared to have been gnawed on by the fire.
In a daze, I walked out onto the front yard. Without warning, I began to cry; I sobbed uncontrollably. I wondered where my tears had come from. This was just a house; everyone and almost everything had been spared, moved out days before. But I was a wreck.
Days and months passed. After a while, I didn’t feel sad as I drove past; inside, the house was being renovated. I’d sold it to my neighbor across the street.
That was more than thirteen years ago; I’d almost forgotten that feeling of sudden loss, my altered environment, its new address.
Quickly, I adapted. It wasn’t so difficult because so many familiar faces followed my children and me there. Even more important was the fact that my folks hadn’t moved; I still had the key to their home. It was mine too.
At least it felt that way until a few days ago, before the hailstorms of how to sell it and what to do with the vestiges of our parents’ lives. Since Mom had lived and died there, almost everything remained where she wanted it to be. There was no head start, no gradual packing of boxes, no emptying of rooms that would never be used again.
Overnight, that changed. But, because everything in the house had its place, there seemed to be a resistance to acting on that change. Every room seemed to argue with us.
Eventually, it drove me crazy. I had to mourn double time. I had to see clearly into the future through a vale of tears I didn’t know how to cry. Were it not for such forgiving family and friends, I’m sure my behavior would have caused them to desert me. I’m afraid one of them, J., did.
Eventually, thoughts of my children and all that I have left to do for them, restored my balance. Although I grieved for my possibly lost friend, I was able to face my changed, if not distorted future. It felt as if I had made a passage similar to the one years ago when my home had gone up in smoke.
Now the remnants of my family home were being scattered and sold. All I had to hold onto were pieces, relics that really didn’t fit into my new home. That thought has troubled me for days.
Finally, I know what to do, how to address my envelope of sadness. The idea is not new; it was taught to me by my Chinese brother long ago after he lost his parents. Now that I’ve lost mine, I will create a tribute to them, perhaps in a small box big enough for pictures, a few trinkets, an old love letter, a piece of chocolate, a kiss wrapped in tin foil that will last forever.