Sep 3, 2007

September 4, 1997

By September 4th my little family was feeling pretty good. Settled even. My grandparents had recently visited and during their stay we had made amazing progress in our unpacking. So much so that the previous weekend we had hauled the last boxes out to the trash. It was such a great feeling.
IMG_1731Not only were we unpacking our history, we were also moving forward. My DH was just days away from his 30th birthday and we'd bought a new grill for him to celebrate. There was a surprise party being planned too - back home in New York. Because I love to put stuff together, I had spent the preceeding weekend putting the grill together and a new bookcase too. It was great!
On September 4th, settling in and planning for the future were on my mind as I went out on my errands for the day. I interviewed a pediatrician and took the long way home. We were exploring.
When we finally arrived at home we got the surprise of our lives. There were cars everywhere that had been displaced by the fire trucks in front of... my apartment building! It was one of those times where you approach the scene of some horrible occurrence with (morbid) curiosity while feeling sure that it must be affecting someone else. It can't possibly be you and yet... this time it was.
IMG_1733A complete idiot living on the 3rd floor had enjoyed a cigarette on her balcony (seen at left) before putting it out in a paper bag and taking a nap. Predictably, the bag caught fire as did the whole building. Coincidentally, that family was the only one not present at the scene. Imagine that?Everyone else was gathered outside -watching in horror. Most of them had no insurance. Thankfully we did.
That insurance was a lifesaver because there was so much that we lost that day. The fire didn't touch our apartment on the first floor but the water certainly did. Most of our furniture was destroyed but there was some that was salvageable. Our pictures were all unscathed and, more importantly, we were all safe.
The building was in really bad shape and there was a fear that the ceilings would collapse so the fire department allowed me just one quick, escorted trip inside to grab stuff quick. I got some of the important stuff - DQ's blankie and some jewelry - but it was limited to what I could carry in one trip. I learned that you get a peculiar brain freeze at times like this. That's why I grabbed a basket of random dirty laundry rather than anything helpful and clean. That's also why I forgot my necklace (studded with diamonds from my grandmother's wedding band) that was laying in a fairly obvious place and was never seen again.
The stuff that you remember from a traumatic time can be weird. I remember staying in a hotel room supplied by the Red Cross that night and wishing for my PJ's - anything to sleep in except for the clothes I was wearing that day. At the very least I wanted fresh underwear. Ewww! I recall going to the rental office a day or 2 after the fire and finding tons of flowers. They were from memorials left at the British Embassy as a memorial to Princess Diana and the Red Cross was redistributing them to folks like us, who needed a little cheer. I loved those flowers.
Remember the party in NY that I mentioned? I remember that too. Specifically, I recall talking on the phone with family in NY who were asking me to make decisions about the party - decorations, catering, etc. - as if I had nothing else to do but plan parties long distance as I took up residence again in the hotel and began dealing with insurance and other issues. I finally got so exasperated that I blew up in a fit of frustration and told hubbo to act surprised at the proper time.
Driving up to the party a week after the fire was bizarre because we were able to put all that we had in the car again but this time there was no assurance that we'd ever see the rest of our stuff. After the fire, anything that survived was boxed up and taken to a facility to be processed. Electronics were checked to see if they still worked. Anything fabric was dry cleaned and sent back eventually on hangers. This included all of the maternity clothes that had been boxed, outgrown baby clothes, every single napkin, every tie. Everything came back on it's own hanger.
Through much of the fall we waited for the stuff that could be saved to be returned to us and we moved 2 more times before settling in a new apartment. We lived for weeks with nothing in out living room but lawn chairs while we waited for delivery of the new furniture. Through it all I commuted back and forth to New York for a class I need for my MLS. Planes, trains and automobiles - oh my!
There was more that happened that fall and looking back it's amazing to think that we got through it all. It's not surprising though because the fire made us realize that we needed to connect with more people in our new home. We are not super religious by any stretch of the imagination but the day after the fire, we started going to the synagogue we still attend and many of the friends we've made there have become like family to us. A decade later I can say with certainty that with good friends you can get through anything! I'm not being Pollyanna when I say that, while we lost some stuff, we gained much more. In the end, the fire changed a lot for us and most of it was for the best.

This concludes my trip down memory lane. Thanks for allowing me to share and, to all those like me with kids returning to school today - hooray!


Margene said...

Reading your forays into the past are so rewarding, sometimes heart-wrenching and always fascinating.

Cursing Mama said...

GAH! That is on my list of "worst nightmares" - freakin' me out on a Tuesday that feels like Monday.

Carole Knits said...

That must have been so overwhelming and frightening for you. I'm glad you can look back on it now and talk about it and see what you learned from the experience.

Gnat said...

That is an amazing story. Thank you for sharing. It's wonderful to hear that everyone was safe though.

Stephanie said...

Wow - what a story. I'm glad everyone was safe. I bet you are happy to be looking back on that from a distance and not living through it!