Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hold the ones you love close, even if they are in your closet

I have been a very bad blogger! Work/ life has gotten a little stressful so I haven't had much free time, but its no excuse. This post might is a bit of a downer but I was just talking with my mom and she told me that their neighbor down the streets house was on fire. This is immediately sent chills down my spine.

My senior year of college my friends and I were living pretty good, drinking and partying almost every night having the time of our lives, not really concerned about anything else. Real life was on the horizon but it seemed far enough away that we could enjoy ourselves until it was banging our door down. 

Well we had, a particularly wild weds night which lead into the wee hours of the morning. I awoke for my 8am art history course at about 7:45 on the couch in our living room still wearing the outfit from the night before. So I get up my throat feels as though I spent the night in the sahara dessert and I may well still have been intoxicated. I wearily went into my room and grabbed the first thing I found to wear to class, this ended up being a pair of black sweatpants (the only sweatpants I owned, but at least the relatively nice gap ones) and a navy blue sweatshirt with our college insignia, which to this day I still have no idea where it came from cause it was not mine. Now, just so you know our school was not the, roll out of bed in your PJs and go to class type of campus. We used to joke that when we went to breakfast in the morning it was like going to a fashion show. However, it was 8am and nobody I knew was up as this ungodly hour as only freshman usually had 8am class. So I figured I could get away with it and I would go home sleep it off and get properly dressed from my next class at noon. 
So I suffer through my class and hurry back home, ready for a mid morning nap. 

I walked in the house and my roommate was awake, which was completely out of the norm. Her first class of the day was at noon so there was certainly no need to be up a 9am especially considering the night we had. As was normal for us we start into a convo about the night before laughing hilariously about how I ended up on the couch (that's a story for another day).  As we are talking, the fire alarm in our apartment goes off, now our school is notorious for fire safety and we were constantly having fire drills (like at 3am, not fun) so considering my state and the fact that it had started snowing out I told my roommate I was not going to stand out there and wait for the firemen to come and tell us it was just a drill. She says, no she is going to go, so I figure ok well if they come in here I dont want to be the only one here and get in trouble for not going out for the drill. So I walk into my room to grab my jacket. 

As I walk into my room the door to our bathroom is open and black smoke is pouring out of it. I scream "Oh My GOD!" and my roommate comes running over and says what the hell is going on? My first though was, oh no somebody left their hair straightener on and we are going to get in so much trouble cause it caused a fire. Then I walked to the doorway and noticed that the smoke was coming from the shower. I wondered why would the shower be on fire? So I whip around and as I do I glance at my desk that has my computer, my wallet and my cell phone on it and I remember thinking I don't need to grab them the firemen will be here any minute and they'll put the fire out. So I keep walking and am still wondering why the shower would be on fire. So I walk into the kitchen and there is a door that connects to the back of our apartment leading out to the garage so for some reason I opened it and saw that the wall connecting to our apartment was on fire and that there were wires sticking out of the wall. I yelled to my roommate oh my god its in the garage, then I remembered that there was a fire extinguisher in the house somewhere so I am running around screaming "where is the fire extinguisher, where is the fire extinguisher?" Then as I am looking in the kitchen for it, the boy that lives next door to us comes in and says "Girls you gotta get out this is for real" I said " I know its in the wall." 
I remember running to the front door and passing my roommate who had her cell phone in her hand and was running in to grab her bag I said " Call 911" I run out the front door but somehow when I got to the driveway she was in font of my and my back was to the housed and as I looked at her face she had a look of pure terror and started screaming, I turned around as a huge fireball ripped through our apartment and engulfed everything in flames. 
That's when I lost it and began screaming "where is the (expletive) fire department?" The kids that lived upstairs from us came running out and everyone was asking if there were anymore people inside. We all assured everyone that there was nobody left in our apartments. Then the fire department arrived and ran to the front of our apartment. I started yelling to them "Its in the garage, its in the garage" Then run to the outside door that connects to the garage and as the fireman opens the door there is a huge explosion and something comes flying through the roof (we came to find out it was the heater for the building, and that when he opened the door it created a back draft) 
I dont know how long I stood there for but I was frozen in my spot I could not move I just watched as the flames grew and ripped through the building, they always say you never know how powerful a fire can be and that day I understood.  It quickly became very clear this fire was completely out of control. The firemen were yelling that they needed to call all the fire departments in the area and that everyone needed to get out of all the surrounding buildings. One of the firemen walked up to me (I later was told he was the chief) and he said "you have to get out of here this is really bad and the building will come down any minute" I looked right in front of me and realized the only thing I had left was my beloved Land Rover Discovery, Nigel
I said to him, please can you save my car, he said we are trying but its gonna be hard, you gotta get out of here though. So I walked up the hill and found that everyone who lived in our building (which was an old carriage house) was there and the scene was overwhelmingly heartbreaking. Everyone was crying, and completely devastated. I burst into tears because right at that moment I realized everything was gone, all I had were the clothes on my back. I crumbled, I asked my roommate if I could use her cell phone, and walked outside to call my parents. Its was only like 6:30am in california and I didnt want to scare them but I left a message hysterically crying that said " I'm ok but our house is burning down" My dad called me right back and said "Everything will be ok, as long as you are ok and everyone is out, its all replaceable" I was sobbing "But daddy they said the house is going to fall down and Nigel is parked right in the front, it was destroy it" he said " None of that matters, its just a car there are more out there, it will be fine" I said " I know daddy but, you know how much I love Nigel, and right now he is the only think I have left" (as you can tell I was totally obsessed with this car) he said " Don't worry about it, you are ok and your friends are ok, that's all that matters." I said "You're right, I love you. thank you" just then all our friends who lived off campus were walking up the porch and they hugged me and said "We cant believe this happened to you" I was numb I didnt know what to say, my knees went weak and I just sat on the steps and cried.  

Then the fireman from earlier walked up and said " I heard you saw the fire" I said "Yes, its in the wall" He had a blueprint of the house and said "show me where, its a mess in there and we can't make out where anything is" I looked at the blueprint and because I was an architectural history major I had studied tons of these in class and I said to him "This is wrong, it doesn't show the hallway where the wall is" so from there I spent some time talking with the firefighters and explaining to them how the house was layed out. Then the same firefighter came back and said "I'm gonna get your car for you but we can't break the window and put it into gear because Land Rovers, wont let you do that" He said "Do you know where the keys to the car are" I said "They are on the coffee table right as you walk into the apartment, but dont go, its too dangerous." He said "Don't worry, if its, that close to the door they might be able to get it" 
At this point I was just standing on the hill watching the house burn in the snow, I remember looking around as pretty much the whole school was out there watching this unfold. I remember thinking, I just want to go home, I just want to go to bed. But I didnt have a home anymore, I didn't have a bed, right now all I had was the clothes on my back. I walked back into the house and said to my roommates, we gotta get out of here, I can't take it anymore. Our friends that were their said "We'll take you to our house, you guys can relax and calm down" So we went and calls were pouring in and people were coming over to comfort us. I will never forget though, one of my good friends coming over to the house and grabbing me in a big hug and saying "Oh my god, all your beautiful clothes, you loved your clothes." Its hit me, my clothes, my identity, gone. 
Now, in hindsight I know that I am not my clothes and they don't make me who I  am, but I was known for being the preppy girl. That's how people would describe me, "Do you know TWA?" "I'm not sure what does she look like?" "Oh she is the super preppy girl, collar always popped." "Ahh yes, I know exactly who that is" Literally, that is how I was described. And I had worked so hard to find some of my really unique things, and some of them had been passed down to me or given to me a extravagant presents, they were part of me. 
That night though when I went to bed, I hugged my roommate/ best friend and said "I'm glad you're still here" she said "Me too, we hurt now but its just stuff, we'll get through it, and we have each other" There is nothing I wouldn't give in order to make sure we are all ok, and if that was the price we had to pay to make sure we all made it out safe, it was a small price to pay. 

This is the front of the house, the entire first floor was our apartment

This was our front door 

This was our living room, you cant even tell that there was a TV, couch and table there. The room in front of it was BRL's where we were sitting when the alarm went off. The entire second floor collapsed into it. 

This was the kitchen, you can see that the door to the garage is still open from when I went into the garage, the wall behind it is where the fire started. 

I literally lost everything I owned that day. All my clothes, all my pictures, all my work from college, my birth certificate all my baby pictures, everything. My parents had just decided that they were moving to South Carolina and wanted me to hold onto all my important stuff so it didnt get lost in the move. 
So much for that.
However, remember how that firefighter told me he would get my car out for me. He went into the fire and hacked my car keys off the coffee table with his Ax. So I did get Nigel back, which in the end is a pretty happy ending. 
I will be sure to return back to more fun posts, tomorrow. 


  1. I cannot believe this! Seriously my worst nightmare! And here you lived through it! Wow! So sorry to hear about your parents neighbors! What a tragedy! Just glad you made it out safely!

  2. Wow...I can’t even imagine what that must have been like. Just goes to show we take so much for granted everyday! xx

  3. I've lived through a fire too. I was 16 years old, it was Xmas eve and we were spending the weekend at our home in Newport. Your photographs are strikingly familiar to mine. I too lost all my clothes (anything decent anyhow) as I was home for the month from boarding school and had brought everything with me. I was sad about the clothes because most could not be replaced. The images of the fire and smoke at night coming under the doorways continued to haunt me for years to come, especially once it grew dark out. But we got out safely. We were also hugely lucky that we had our home in NYC.
    Thanks for sharing such a personal story. XOXO

  4. HH- My parents neighbors are doing well and just looks like they will have to rebuild their garage and have some smoke damage to the interior but they all made it out safe.

    EAS- That's one of the great lessons I learned here. cherish the things you have and the people in your life everyday, life is uncertain and in one fail swoop it can all be gone.

    EM- Wow there must be something about Newport. The thing is though even though we had this terrible incident, I still love that place more than any other, I guess its just the charm of the island. I am so sorry to hear that you suffered the same tragedy. I understand where you are coming from, it was such a traumatic experience for me and the aftermath of still having to go to school and try to focus and take my finals was really difficult. Its something that takes a long time to get over. I will forever be grateful for my amazing friends being there for us and helping us to laugh through our tears. Thank you for sharing your story as well!

  5. Sorry for the late comment - I just found your blog (LOVE it, btw) - but I want to say that I totally understand where you are coming from. I went through the same thing my senior year of college, though I lost my things to a flood (and subsequent mold) instead of a fire.

    It's amazing how, once a few years have passed, you realize how unimportant those "things" were, and the few items you truly regret losing are very different from what you missed at the time (i.e. I miss the photos I lost far more than I miss any of my clothes and, like you, my clothes were my identity).

    Thank you for sharing your story. It made me think about something that, while unpleasant, is something I should take the time to remember. The important thing is that no one got hurt - no matter how sad losing my belongings was, it could have been infinitely worse had I lost my friends or family as well.