I’m writing this sitting in my parents’ house on a rainy, icy, Woonsocket morning. The events of the past few days have been tough to say the least. However, even through this dark time, there is light. I will, as they say, begin at the beginning.
Friday morning was like any other morning in my life. I slept late, clicking the snooze button several times. Our bed was warm and comfortable, and I just didn’t want to face the day just yet. I planned my day in my head: go buy a live Christmas tree, go to work, come home, play some Rock Band, and go to bed early because I had to work first shift on Saturday for inventory.
I rolled out of bed a little after 11, soon followed by my wife Sarah. I fed and watered the cats, checked my e-mail, and got dressed while Sarah showered. A t-shirt and jeans; I resolved that I’d put a fleece on later, and then my coat. I also decided to eat after getting the tree. I puttered around the house while Sarah checked her e-mail after dressing. I cleaned the litter box, thought about lunch, and then heard an apartment fire alarm go off.
The alarms in our building were very sensitive, so I figured someone was burning breakfast. I decided I’d go see if everyone was all right anyways. It’s what I usually did. Mittens was walking around in the hallway; she was the cat from the apartment next to ours. Their door was slightly open, so I yelled asking if everything was okay. The woman, a babysitter, said it was okay, but that she smelled something off. I went down to the second floor and was met by Roland, the man who lived directly under our apartment.
“Is there a fire? Did you burn something?” I asked.
“It’s next door,” he said, pounding on the door to the apartment next to his. Wisps of smoke were snaking out from the door. He gave it the shoulder, I considered helping. Then, the building fire alarms went off. The strobes flashed and I knew it was time to call 911. I rushed up the stairs into our apartment and yelled “Call 911! It’s a real fire!”
I grabbed the cordless phone and dialed 911 as Sarah tried to wrangle our cats Dante and Isabella. I spoke to the operator, yelling “fire, 2nd floor, it’s real!” as I unhooked the computer’s tower. I could hear Sarah calling the cats. They decided to hide. It’s their nature. “Can everyone get out?” asked the operator. I replied yes and took the computer tower into the kitchen. I put the phone back on its caddy and went into the bedroom to help look for the cats. Sarah was looking under her side of the bed, so I went to mine. I told her to go.
I looked under the bed, but we had so much stuff under there I couldn’t see a cat. I glanced out the window and saw a tongue of fire lashing at the pane. Whooshing and smoke accompanied it. There was the sound of glass shattering. I had to leave. I had to leave my cats behind. I went into the kitchen and grabbed the computer tower. I looked around our apartment. The light was coming through the windows as usual. Our curtains filtering it just like I liked. Smoke was coming from the bathroom and a thin fog of it was starting to form in the kitchen.
Sarah, wearing her coat, was by the door that led out into the hall. She led the way and I followed. The hall was fogged with a smoky mist. I took one breath, smelling the scent of burning wood and plastic. Onward we went, until we were out of the house. The dogs from first floor were gathering together along with the owners across the street. I felt very calm. I looked at the house and I knew that we’d lose everything.
I realized I left my keys in the apartment, and was relieved that Sarah had hers in her purse which was slung around her chest. That’s when I noticed I had no coat, no shoes, and no hat. Quickly, some folks from down the street supplied me with slippers and a fleece. Soon after came shoes and a coat. We spent the afternoon being interviewed, wondering if the firefighters would be able to rescue Dante and Isabella, our cats.
News filtered to us slowly. We heard that they saved all the cats, we heard that some died. We heard accusations and allegations about the fire that I won’t repeat. We heard that the surviving cats were being brought to the animal shelter. We saw Dante in a crate bound for the shelter. He was shaking and wet, but alive. It was all very chaotic. At the end of the day, we had spoken with the police, firemen, the Red Cross, and reporters from 3 different media outlets.
We went to my parents’ house and tried to settle in. We cried on and off all day, and I felt a bit numb. My mom made us ham salad sandwiches for dinner, and they were good. I tried not to think about the stuff I lost. I was just glad that everyone was okay, and I wanted that to be enough. However, as a human, my mind kept dwelling on what we lost. Friends and near strangers began to show up bearing food and necessities. My sister took us out so that we could get new clothes.
Since then, everything has been kind of a blur. Kindness has flowed from every corner of my life. Literally thousands of dollars have been raised through a grassroots campaign headed up by Sarah’s brother. I have a lot of clothes now, nearly as much as before the fire, if not more. Sarah’s wardrobe is growing, but she could probably use more.
I’m just overwhelmed by all of the support we’ve received.