Today is my brother?s birthday. It?s also the anniversary of the day my family home burned down 6 years ago. To make it even more interesting, the day spa that Baba and I owned was in that family home. For the cherry on the cake, the friend I called to come to while I watched the house burn, was also my housemate. She arrived so high on drugs and had to leave because she needed to sort out her crashing need for another fix.
Clearly that day changed my life.
Half of my personal belongs were destroyed in the fire as I was storing stuff there. My business was partially destroyed and wasn?t burned was water damaged. I couldn?t go back and live with the drug queen.
Our precious parrot lost his little life in the fire. My brother was so super brave and tried to save him, but saved the house from totally being destroyed because he was the only one home when the fire broke out. My dad stood there and watched it burn with his oxygen tank by his side. The fire would have been a lot more contained if his other oxygen tanks had been found and hadn?t exploded. ?The explosions were so bad that they shattered windows a few blocks away.
I remember seeing the smoke from about 10 minutes away and having to drive while my foot vibrated like crazy as I drove to get to my family. I was blocked off 2 blocks away and had to throw a tantrum to get the attention of a fireman in order to be let through all the barricades.
I remember standing in the centre island because we live on a main road. My family all huddled together with nothing we could do but stand and watch the fireman do the best they could to save as much as they could. We were surrounded by flashing lights of about 11 fire trucks and hundreds of spectators who shared their attention between the burning flame and the family whose home was ablaze.
Amazingly, that?s now what I remember most of all about that day. I can?t seem to shake the thoughts of the person that I on that day.
I hadn?t even imagined ?project me? (that started in the January of the next year).
To describe myself as I was 6 years ago today, I would have to use words like neurotic, pathetic, fearful, depressive ? um, there are a lot more but I think you have the picture.
The fire was a peak in a crazy journey of change that had started in the January of that year. I had already started to realise that there was a deeply spiritual side to me and I was working very closely with an incredibly spiritual and liberating woman.
If you think the fire was bad then you should have known me before I was introduced to this amazing teacher and I had built a bit of belief in my life and myself. Incredibly, at the same time I was going through a change of friends and had a certain number of people who didn?t like due to my slight empowerment.
Really ? today was the best and worst day of my life all rolled into one.
You know what ? I have a better way of describing today.
A few years later, after I had begun ?project me? and had begun to blossom into the woman I am today, I did a writing course. In that course I wrote a story about the day of the fire and the other night my mother reminded me of it. I had totally forgotten about the story and even had to do some searching for it ? but here it is, in memory of today 2004!
?Ma?am, we can only allow you in for a minute, please get only what you?ve told me an? stick with the fireman? Was the fixed stare of the Forensics Specialist meant to calm me or warn me?? ?Ma?am, it?s not safe, I need you to be quick, ok, Ma?am??
His observant blue eyes softening to meet his patient tone ?You don?t have to do go in, you can tell the fireman what you need and they can get it out for you?, his firm hand touching my shoulder and jolting me back to the daunting task I had set out for myself.
?No thanks, I?d prefer to get it myself?.? Through glazed eyes, which I always blessed for being so blue, tranquil and open; that in that moment looked like acid had torn at them, I focused on my destination that was less than eight feet way.? Before I got there though I had to cross the threshold that for ten years had led me back and forth between my family home and the outside world; and for the first time, the outside seemed safer.
?Would you like a mask Ma?am; the smell of smoke is very strong??? The new voice seemed less concerned about the rules and more concerned about my obvious mission.
?You were here yesterday afternoon, weren?t you?? Grateful that the distraction had given me a moment before I crossed the black well of water that cover the once crystal clear marble floors.
?Yes Ma?am, I?m Eddie, I?ve been on standby to make sure the fire?s completely extinguished.?? His thick skin and dusty blonde facial hair wore a film of ash that seemed to have slowly stained his skin in memory of each fire he battled.? What possessed them to dodge death with such an awareness of the anguish and fear they must instil in the ones who loved them?
?Is the fireman who got hurt in the blast ok??
?Yes Ma?am, he was discharged last night already?, if his body was average in build, there was no way of telling through the mammoth layers of clothing that protected him from what I could only imagine to be a heat that would singe flesh from your bones in one breath.? A faint line of lighter skin traced his overly thick brow; where a helmet must have rested for endless hours.
His gesture in contrast to the breadth of his shoulders and the stern shape of his well defined jaw; engulfed me in safety and held me with his piercing brown eyes, as if having said all there is to say to a victim experiencing his reality.
?He?s done this before, he?ll keep you safe?, the coaching voice in my head reminding me of the sleepless night I had just woken up from, curled up with my weeping mother in my five year old nephews? bed.? You?ve got to love the innocence of children bursting with excitement because Granny is sleeping over, and in their ROOM!!? The luminous stars on their ceiling mimicking the night sky had held my sleepless gaze for hours as I lay huddled under racing car duvets and Spiderman blankets.? The bickering voices of rowdy twin boys arguing over which toy their aunty should sleep with; calming everyone?s nerves even more.
The sun had barely broken over the smouldering resemblance of what was once one of the most lavish double story homes on a very prominent street in the Northern Suburbs.? No wonder the double lane road had been lined with hundreds of spectators in the midst of the battle between eleven fire trucks and one angry fire.? Had it been the bellowing smoke that filled the Sunday afternoon sky for miles and miles; spreading the news of gloom and destruction like an ancient American fire signal? Was it the deafening explosions of the oxygen tanks that were obviously overlooked by the initial team of firemen who thought it would be a contained fire; having no warning that the room where the devastation began housed my fathers? lifeline for his ailing lungs?? Was it the orchestra of sirens and flashing lights that danced against the bellowing smoke that rose 5 stories high; that had drawn the neighbours and passers by?
Thinking back at my foot shaking against the break pedal as my trembling hands steered me in the direction of the smoke I could see from miles away ? the unimaginable depth of the fire was not only eating away at my family home ? ?Oh God, my business took up more than half the ground floor.? Had I started it? Had I left a heater on? The end of July is always freezing and there was a gas heater too ? did that explode?? As if that fear were not enough; the first fire truck to blockade the road was three blocks from where I needed to be ? urgently!
?Ma?am if you ask me, I don?t think you should do this.? The stuffs right there isn?t it? I?ll grab it for you? Eddie?s voice jolting me to either face it or run like it had done so many times before; whenever bravery beckoned.
?Come on, you went through this for hours.? You didn?t come this far to chicken out?. The braver part of me cheering in my head as if inspiring my body to take the first step.
I didn?t expect the water to be so deep and watched my white and pink trainers scatter the soot filled puddle in the once grand entrance hall.? The glimpse of the clear white marble was the only resemblance of familiarity; if only for a fleeting moment.? As I felt the water fill my shoes and soak the ends of my jeans; a cold shiver sent a wave of reality up my spine.? Pulling my hands into my oversized black tracksuit sleeves; I held my fist tight to hide the evidence of my trembling body.?? The damp stench of cremated wood, glass and carpet make it difficult to breathe; as I took in the depth of the destruction I had witnessed the determined fire consume.? To the left of me was the staircase that led to the upstairs living area.? My mothers? precious antique chandelier lying in pieces in the middle of the winding staircase; on the partial remains of the once beige carpet that had not been consumed by the blaze.
The suns? rays luring my attention to the top of the stairs where I witnessed nothingness.? Blue skies and the tips of the trees replaced the completely demolished ceiling as vivid images of fire ladders lined by powerful black clad angels pumping gallons of water into the monstrous flames in an attempt to salvage the sternly built structure.? Relenting to the blaze and shielded their bodies, they redirected the never-ending water pumps to floor level; as the thundering crash rang through the dusk sky. ?I saw myself back their, holding my hands over my ears and dropping my head to take in the shapes the cracked pavement formed as the ceiling that stretched over two hundred and fifty square meters surrendered to the blaze all at one time.
The curiosity held my attention long enough to feel the arm of Eddie usher me to the only space I was allowed to occupy.
?Good girl, you did it ? now just walk over to the reception desk and take what you need? my own voice saying the things the fireman needed no words expressing.
Turning my head and staring down the short hallway, I felt my body slowly follow the direction of my gaze as the harsh reality set in. ?What if it?s all destroyed? What if I walk past the treatment room and there is nothing left?? Fighting back tears from my already drained eyes, answered the question I had asked and repeatedly answered from the moment I had heard.? ?Then you start again, you?ve done it before and you?ll do it again?
Eddies reassuring arms hovered by my waist as his eyes held my every step; psychically keeping me in balance, but just as ready to catch me if me legs eventually gave way. He ushered me yet a few steps further, my heart pounding, knowing that in just a moment I would be facing my own reality; as my parent, my sister and my brother faced theirs in the mid afternoon sun of the previous day.? Not bad for such nurturing parent to have two out of three still living at home; even thought they were well over the age of twenty.
Deciding to live on my own seemed like the wisest idea at that moment ?Thank you God, Goddess, All that is for making me brave enough to have spread my wings?.
?Not far enough ?? this was not the time to be having this conversation with myself; the damage was done and there was no point beating myself up any further; especially now.
I had told myself the truth a while ago; it was never a good idea to move my day spa to my parents? home.? Belinda and I had thought of many ways to set ourselves free from the tangled web we found ourselves in.? We had been inseparable friends for eleven years and taught together at my mothers? beauty school for seven of those bonding years.? The fear that riddled me when I thought of taking over the family business turned me into a quivering wreck.? I would panic at the thought of my mother slipping out to buy milk; for fear of her dying and leaving me with the lifelong burden.? I had hated it for years, but was too much of a coward to ever tell her.? What would she do with it if I didn?t take it over? How disappointed would my parents be in me if I walked away from something she had put twenty years into? What would I do with my life? I knew nothing beyond the very building that I stood in that fateful day.
My father had built an entire extension onto the house and my mother had run her internationally acclaimed beauty school from there.? The burden of being expected to be on call twenty four hours a day just because I lived on the same premises; or was employed by my parent became too much to bear.? Thinking moving out would make it any easier, truly made it worse. As an icy splash hit the back of my leg and the black stench seeped up my calf, the reality hit me.? ?You resigned from your mothers? business to get away from the family clutches, to open YOUR business on your sisters premises, only to cause chaos with her; to get yourself kicked out ? by your sister ? to move back to your family home ? to cause the biggest family feud experienced in your thirty one years ? This is it, accept the mass destruction, go behind the reception desk and get your stuff ? and then do it ? walk away ? from the control of the family ? from the anger and resentment ? from the blame and betrayal ? this is the beginning of your life ? remember ??
My father, being the stubborn man he is, with his ailing heart and deteriorating lungs; refused to be taken to the hospital while the house was still ablaze.? ??The island that divided the main road opposite our melting reality was occupied by the select few ? my entire family, some precious friends who had either heard the blast of the exploding oxygen tanks that had clearly rang out for miles; or had been called for support; and the paramedics who were attending to our frail giant.? My father had always been a heavy man until he realised that the excess weight would only shorten his lifespan.? Never loosing the power of his presence, with is piercing blue eyes and strength of character; that day he seem to be melting away by the distant flames. ?I imagined his heart fighting overwhelming emotion at the duality of his realisation; everything he owned was being ripped away from him before his eyes, while at his side his estranged oldest daughter stood for the first time in eight months.? Her embrace meant the world to me as the warmth of her shoulder length brown hair brushed my wind stung fingertips; it had grown since I had seen her last and colour burst of rich autumn days.? The tenderness of her support; from wherever she had mustered the courage lessened the chill of the gloomy winter afternoon.? The thought of being separated from his reunited family must have made the pain in his chest even worse to bear; yet the determination to not be separated won the battled.
Only long enough for his daughters to boycott his plan and secretly call the ambulance that came to fetch him as late as we thought it was safe to push it.? Once the cold had become too much to bear and the moon had sucked the last of the flames to her side, we all gathered in the warmth of married sisters home.? She had always been the good Samaritan, the calm one, the rational one, the mender; and once again we found refuge in her safe space? ?Daddy, mom?s going to sleep now, the fire is out and look, everyone?s safe and sound.? Please go daddy, we?ve been afraid enough today, please let?s all rest easy knowing you are being properly looked after?? The sound of my oldest sisters voice, one that I hadn?t heard in far too long made us all sob with a dozen emotions compounded into every tear.? His twin grandsons seemed more disappointed that their grandpa would not be sleeping in their bed; as they clung to him; being the only two who seemed carefree enough to trust that his heart would have been just fine as long as he was snuggled in their bed with their granny.? Four sobbing daughters, one sobbing son and one sobbing wife outnumbered the wisdom of two angelic children; as his final decision brought a familiar outburst of laughter ?I?m not getting in that bloody thing, I?m walking to the ambulance?? Dismally loosing the battle and being overpowered to paramedics that we were sure my father called ?Kids? through all his sobbing; we all lined up one at a time and kissed his tear soaked cheek with ours before he was wheeled away for what was sure to be the longest night for us all.
?Look after your ? mother ? please ? and ? don?t let her ? sleep ? alone?
With a lump in my throat so painful that I thought it would stop my breath, I used my last bit of energy to send him of his reassured way. ?Promise Daddy?, forgetting that I had a safe home to return to; expecting nothing less of myself but to stick with my mother who went beyond her role and overlapped as a dear friend.? How could I leave the only person who got me, the only person who was proud of me ? how could I leave the one person who needed me?
The voice in my head, snapping me out of the vivid memories that still felt like a dream; and continuing to coax me past the fateful scene.? Eddie?s hands no longer hover near me as a safety net, his left hand pressed gently against my back where the warmth of the protective glove seemed to be exactly what my emotional and water soaked physical body needed; his right hand pointing above my head.? ?Be careful Ma?am?? As I saw it my heart sank and my instinct was to run as fast as I could, as far away as I could.? ?It?s safe, the structural engineer cleared it this morning? his reassuring voice in contrast to his eagerness to move me past the gapping hole in the ceiling that once formed the base for my fathers study.? The water dripping a constant film of black rain that got lost in the depth of darkness that already surrounded me.
?That was where your fathers oxygen tank was, quite an impact hey.? The boys an? me haven?t seen somethin? like this in our day.? Such a pity, we could?ve saved her ? the building ?? I felt myself smile for the first time in hours as the glimmer of embarrassment let on to a secret attachment he must have endured for every building he tried to save.
?Hhhh? an icy cold splash taking me completely off guard as it hit the tip of my nose and filled my senses with even more reality.? The taste of destruction jarred me as the one droplet of water was pulled into me by my unexpected breath.? It burned at the back of my throat and sent a piercing pain to the back of my eyes as I felt my hands engulf my face in safety.
?Ya, I just got a fright?, the lie seemed safer for fear of being escorted out of the building before my task was done.
?Hurry up and get it over with, if you can pass gaping hole in the roof and swallowed that filthy water, you can look to the right and see how bad it is?.? My braver self once again wishing I would get this over and done with so I could be dry and warm and back in the ironic safety of my family.
Had this destructive fire actually done that? Had it bought my family back together? Had I just said; that my family was a safe place to be?
I hated the building until the moment my mothers? hysterical voice initially told me of the destruction.? I wished I had never moved my business there and I certainly wished I had never listened to my father who told me my older sister would be ok with the move.? How stupid was I to think we had ended in a feud and that she would support my parents in allowing me open my opposition business two houses away from hers?? As if that were not enough; expecting her to accept it being run from the house she would have to walk in and out of daily to see her family.? I hated that my parents knew what was going on in my business; especially since Belinda?s father had to financially bail us out once before.? I hated that on some months we could not pay the rent in full as we tried to recover from the initial move from my sisters? premises.? I hated that it had taken me so long to move out of home and I had so sheepishly gone back because I was too afraid to brave it on my own.? I hated that building; only until I realised I had lost it.
He must have been so warm under all those layer; realising how freezing I was as I stared directly in front of me at the gaping wall where the French doors framed the once fairytale garden.? I had spent hours out there; in between doing massages or healing treatments; chatting to the Gods or anyone else who had heard my silent prayers.? I tried to find my bearing as to where the log I loved to sit on would have been and gave a moment to the trees, bushes and flowers that were crushed and shredded, pitch black with destruction and uprooted for eternity.
More than anything, I was grateful for the excuse to not look to my right and take in the destruction that I would financially and emotionally have to bear; all the while my confident side determined to make it an experience free of fear.
?Coward? I murmured to myself as the black laced walls closed in on me.
?The distraction can only hide the truth for so long; I can?t believe you looked straight ahead when you could?ve known the truth already?
?I cant, I can?t look into those rooms and see total destruction, how are we going to survive this?? We?ve got clients in a few hours that I have to cancel and they are all going to find another spa, I?ve lost everything, I?ve failed?
?Oh this again? the shift from anxiety to bravery causing turmoil in my gut as the braver and weaker self fought the internal battle; ?Think about what you asked for ? think about the day you and Belinda sat on the couch and wrote the ten things that you wished for ? did you think you would get what you asked for all tied up in ribbons? ? OH PLEASE ? the Gods would never be stupid enough to wait for you to make the move ??
?This was a punishment for causing the problems in the family; this was the harsh reality the Universe chucked in my face?
?This was all the pent up anger that you and your family have carried for so long ? come on ? you teach this stuff ? this was the greatest gift ? everyone is safe and sound ? daddy has been discharged already? looking at the melted blemish on the wall where the clock once controlled our every move as we ushered clients in and out of the once living area that had been turned into our simple little reception.? It could have been no later than six thirty by then; trying to make sense of the time that had passed since I had left my mother in the safe care of nephews. Both they and I had wanted to begin our day at the first sign of light; they wanted to escape the clutches of their parents and wipe away any excess tears their granny had shed while I had to get back to place of devastation and begin re-building my business and my life by daybreak.
?Come on ? you have to deal with the insurance, but you can?t do that till you know what the hell to tell them.? How you gonna do that if you too scared to look to the God Damn Right??
Insurance, clients arriving in less than two hours, debit orders coming off the account in less than twenty four hours, revenue ground to a dead Holt ? staff ? they needed to be paid amidst all the other chaos.? ?What if there?s not enough money in the bank to carry us ? how does this happen on the first of the month ? and you think it?s a blessing ??
?I?ll get the hard drive Ma?am an? you take the book. Is it this one??? Eddie now stood behind the desk that began its journey as a bar and needed no alteration to fit the idea makings of welcoming reception.? Lifting his head after a few moments, eagerly awaiting a response; he repeated it ?Is it this book Ma?am?? The only sign of damage had just been imprinted on the appointment book as Eddies? fire smudged print lingered where he had eventually picked it up; knowing it was to overwhelming for me to stretch over the ivory painted wood carved countertop and collect the one thing I had set out to retrieve.
?It?s fine! Oh my God, not a drop of water ? Oh my God its fine?. As if feeling the warm embrace of a long lost love; I cradled the wire bound book in my arms and mumbled a silent prayer of gratitude.
By the time I looked up to thank him, he was at my side, hands too full to usher me along, eyes signalling his trust in me to follow him ??Ok, lets get out a here?.
The relief filled my being with a gush of bravery that blinded me to the fear I felt a moment ago and without warning I faced it ? the virgin room.? ?What??
?Sorry Ma?am? Needing to retract a few steps back in order to understand my outburst.
?It?s fine ? holy shit ? ?I stared at the oasis in bewilderment.
?Ma,am did no one tell you this entire area was untouched. I?m sorry I could a saved you the shock?? walking into the open plan treatment area where the two manicure stations and perfectly white leather couch stood as I had left it days before; he ushered me in with a nod of his head. Not even a drop of water on the floor, the treatment rooms stood as innocent bystanders; as the world melted around them.
?We don?t believe some of the stuff we?ve seen all round this place Ma?am, but the Angels you have everywhere must?ve been watchin? over you ? just look at that ??
My eyes etched the scene into my mind for eternity as I saw the burst glass of the windows scattered on the floor of the first treatment room; not a product out of place, the massage bed ready to pamper a client, the candles ready relax the senses ? and ? a hole resembling a heart singed into the water soaked curtain.
An echo of pride rang adjusted his tone as he realised for the first time what my mission had been ?For whateva reason, we stopped her just in time ? for whateva reason ??
?You see ? you were right ? it was an Angel you saw dancing in the flames? Never again doubting the voices I battled in my head, that spoke from my heart.