CJDaily's Blog

September 14, 2009

And every cliche about your heart stopping or time freezing came true…

Filed under: Uncategorized — cjdaily @ 11:15 pm

Jesse was working late at the restaurant on Friday night.  I drove up with Belle after dinner, and put her to bed at his house.  His parents were there and happy to keep an eye on her, so when it got late, around 10pm, I headed down to Edge to sit at the bar and keep him company until he closed.  The place was busy, a rehearsal dinner was determined to party as hard as possible, so I sat and had wine and chatted with his brother and sister-in-law who had dropped in before me for a few drinks. 

We didn’t get out until almost 1:30am.  It was pouring down rain and we both took my car home, with Jesse driving, since I’d had some wine.  His house is on a small street, with just one lane in each direction.  We were almost to his house when we came to a bend in the road, less than a quarter of a mile from his driveway.  Through the wind-shield wipers and the steady rain we saw an emergency vehicle blocking off the road, and two guys in ponchos over their uniforms standing in the road.

Jesse groaned.  “I wonder how far back this goes?”  I was thinking of how long it might take us to go around the back way to the other end of his street, and hoping a little friendliness might go a long way.

I rolled down the window on my side, as Jesse pulled the car up alongside the SUV with flashing lights.  I couldn’t tell if these guys were cops or EMT’s but gave them a winning smile anyway. 

“The road’s blocked off,” the older guy offered unnecessarily. 

“Yes, but our house is really only just up the street,” I said sweetly.  I could see flashing lights reflecting off the wet trees up ahead, and figured the accident was probably at the small intersection just past Jesse’s house.  “It’s before the stop sign.”

The younger guy shook his head as rain splattered off his poncho.  “No, that’s where it is,” he said.  “Just up ahead.”

“Oh,” I sighed in frustration.  Jesse was inching the car sideways, preparing to turn around, and for lack of anything better to say I asked idly, “So, it’s a car accident?”

“Oh no,” the older guy looked grave.  “It’s a house fire.”

The car jerked to a stop.  I grabbed Jesse’s arm in horror.  A house fire.  Just up the street.  Just up the street… before the stop sign.  Oh my God.

Oh my God. 

“What house?” Jesse demanded harshly.  I couldn’t even turn my head to look at him.  I was staring in terror ahead through the rain, at all the flashing lights in the near distance. 

The young guy shook his head.  “We don’t know,” he started to say but was cut off by the older guy who’d muttered something into a radio in his hand. 

“Fourteen something.” 

Jesse cursed and slammed the car into park.  Before I could even breathe the door slammed and he was running up the street through the rain, towards his house, number fourteen-twenty. 

I don’t remember getting out of the car but I was somehow standing in the rain, totally frozen.  My mind raced from the unthinkable to the mundane.  Oh my God, Annabelle.  I wonder if they’ll let me leave the car here while I go see what’s happening?  This rain is coming down so hard.   Oh sweet Jesus, please please please NO. 

I turned to the men who looked wary and uncomfortable.  In a remarkably normal tone of voice I managed to ask if they would be so kind as to watch the car for a moment.  They seemed relieved to be of service and told me that was fine.  And then I was running.

I’ve never had a moment like that in my life.  It seemed ripped out of a movie, the rain, the flashing lights in the distance, the sound of my feet pounding down the slick road.  All I could hear was my footfalls and my breath.  I was half blinded by the rain as I got closer, dodging a police car, then winding my way around a fire-truck parked askew across the road.  The trees lining the street made it impossible for me to see anything and the flashing lights blinded me in the darkness.  As I raced towards the yard, all I could see were a group of people watching, maybe fifteen neighbors standing out in the rain.  They were blocking my view, but they were staring right in the direction of Jesse’s house. 

I didn’t slow down, was about to thrust myself into the crowd, screaming for them to get out of my way, and I collided with Jesse.  He grabbed my upper arms to keep me from falling, as I stared desperately over his shoulder at his house.

 “It’s fine,” he told me, his voice a tight mixture of fear and relief.  He looked over his shoulder towards the house and repeated, “It’s fine.  It’s the neighbor.  Our next door neighbor.”

I took it all in.  There were fire-trucks, police cars, and ambulances all around, parked in front of his house, beside it, lining the street in the opposite direction.  The night was lit up with flashing lights, and a spotlight was trained on his next door neighbors house.  I could smell burning wood, but saw only smoke.  Lots of smoke, backlit by the lights and undeterred by the rain. 

My heart was still pounding.  I realised I hadn’t seen what I needed to see.  I wound my way past the gawkers and up the soggy lawn to Jesse’s house, taking in the solid, safe, not-on-fire structure of the walls.  I walked inside and through the living room, which was lit up with light from outside, despite the curtains being drawn.  Through the window I had a perfect view of the neighbors house and the firemen coming and going through the front door, but I didn’t even slow down to look.  I turned at the staircase and took the stairs two at a time, my heart still thumping in my chest, my breath still coming in gasps.  I stopped only when I got to Annabelle’s closed door.  I put my ear to it and listened, trying to slow my breathing, trying to hear anything over my own rasping exhales. 

Slowly, I turned the doorknob and peeked inside.  Letting my eyes adjust, I saw her dimly silhouetted in her crib, fast asleep.  I took her in for a moment, not trusting myself to go any farther than the doorway.  When I could make out the soft rise and fall of her chest, I relaxed my grip on the knob and quietly shut the door.  Backing away, I went back to the top of the stairs and with shaking legs, sat down on the landing.  Everything was fine.  No one was in danger.  Belle was safe.

I burst into tears.  I cried a full minute, cried into my hands like a child.  Then I went downstairs and found Jesse, and made him hold me.  We watched in silence through the window as his neighbors house smoked.  From the side you could hardly see any damage at all.  We found out later that everyone got out safely, that even the cat and dog were rescued.  But I wasn’t thinking of them at that moment.  Dripping wet, my nerves humming with sheer relief, I was thanking God for sparing my family.  I was thanking him for reminding me how precious life is, and how fleeting it all can be.  In an instant, it can all go up in smoke.



  1. CJ, just wondering, did you reach out to the neighbors at all?

    Comment by karen — September 21, 2009 @ 2:09 am | Reply

    • The neighbors had already been put up at a hotel by the time we’d arrived. I believe his parents have spoken to them, and they are all doing fine.

      Comment by cjdaily — September 21, 2009 @ 4:29 am | Reply

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