Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Uncle or Swathed in Gratitude

I was seriously torn about what to call this post.

Last Friday morning, I was having trouble sleeping. I think I had been awake since 3am and none of my tricks for falling back asleep were working.

I was thinking about my sister -- and worrying about how we were all going to deal with her first birthday in heaven.

I tossed and I turned as my alarm started my radio at 5am.  I heard what sounded like a distant smoke alarm, but I reasoned it must be coming from the radio.

Then I heard a loud bang.  People are always using the dumpster that is right outside the back of my apartment to dump things early in the morning.  So, I thought it was just someone aggressively throwing something away.  Then the apartment shook as if someone had run into the building -- this sometimes happens when people are pitching things into the dumpster -- just a loud sound, not someone actually running into the building.

When there were two more of these louds booms, I decided to get up and see.  I looked out the front window first because I thought it might be someone really running into the cars.  Nope, nothing.

Then I walked into the other bedroom to look at the dumpster, but as I stepped into the room what I saw were flames. 

The carport was fully engulfed, and what I heard must have been something on the cars exploding -- either the windows blowing out or the engines or gas tanks exploding.

I realized I didn't have my phone near me and ran to look for it.  I fumbled with the phone worrying about calling 911 with an out of town number ... but I didn't have the fire department's number loaded into my phone.  Note to self.

I do have the police's non-emergency number.  But this was definitely an emergency. 

I told the woman who answered about the fire.

And then I was confused about what to do.  I decided to move my car.  I think I figured it would be in the way when the fire trucks arrived.  I ran out in my socks and pjs and moved the car to the next block.

As I re-entered my apartment, I could see the flames coming closer and closer to my apartment.  With no time to really think, the first thing I worried about was the irreplaceable data on my computers -- and the fact that most of what is irreplaceable is not mine.  I gathered three computers and cables and put them into my bag. 

I brushed my teeth.  Weird thing to worry about -- but there you have it.  And shoved my mouth guard also in the bag.  I grabbed the computer bag and my purse and started towards my car.

I realized I still didn't have clothes on or shoes -- but no time.  So, I took my cozy socks off, shoved some pants into my bag and pulled on some shoes.

As I got closer to my car, I heard a small child wailing.  It is a neighbor's daughter -- I have seen them but not really met them, so I didn't know their names.

The mom said she had called the fire department twice ... what was taking them so long.  The daughter wailed. I offered to take the little girl to my car so she could feel safe.  She took my hand and we walked to the car in the dark and cold. 

I loaded all my stuff in the trunk, fumbled for a blanket I have in there and tried to settle the little girl in.

Then it struck me ... MY TURTLE!

Never mind anything else, she was irreplaceable. 

I got the little girl to promise to wait in the car and I sprinted back to my apartment.  I grabbed the turtle and my grandmother's beaded necklaces and went back to the car.

The little girl and I talked -- she wanted to know if we were going to be homeless.  I told I hoped not... but as the fire fighters had still not arrived, I thought I might be.  We looked at the turtle and talked about other things.  I wanted to get her mind off of the scary position we were in.

When the little girl's mom finally joined us -- the fire fighters were arriving -- and I realized that getting some clothes for myself might not be a bad idea. 

Once again, I ran towards my apartment, not wanting to waste time.  I asked the fire fighters for permission since they were evacuating the building. 

This time when I entered the building, I could feel the heat from the fire was really warming up my apartment.  This could not be good. 

I grabbed clothes for two days and ran out of there ... not even stopping to put on the clothes.  As I exited my apartment, there were two fire fighters there to make sure I came out and that no one else was in the building. 

I saw another neighbor whose name I don't know come out of her house across the street.  I asked if I could borrow her bathroom to put some clothes on. 

She wondered if her place would be safe.

When I got back to the car, the girl and her mom were going into a house with another neighbor.  I grabbed my turtle and joined them. 

It was a lucky thing to be able to sit in a warm house and chat idly with someone rather than watch and worry about whether or not everything else I owned was going up in flames.

What a lovely thing that neighbors you have never officially met would allow you into their homes, trust you with their daughter and help you to feel safe in a very scary situation. 

I worried about the firefighters even approaching those cars engulfed in flames ... what if a car exploded?

About an hour later I was back in my apartment -- the cars were totaled, 16 in all.  But the buildings were safe. 

My apartment stayed warm until about 11am.  I can only imagine how hot it had gotten in there.

As I calmed down, I recognized just how fortunate I was to be safe, unharmed and relatively unaffected as my car did not burn. 

The thought crossed my mind, just give up ... it has been one thing after another for over a year.  What more could happen.  Should I just cry, "Uncle!" to the universe.

Instead, I decided to just be grateful.  I sent an email to my family to ask them to say an extra prayer of gratitude this day.  I sent out positive thoughts to my neighbors who had lost vehicles -- hoping they could also see a silver lining -- that they were safe even though their cars were not.

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