3am Friday morning my house is on fire.

So many coincidences occurred that I believe are the reason, my son, my dogs, and myself all still here safe and sound.

I went out with a girlfriend Thursday evening.   We were only going share a bottle of wine at Sonoma but we hadn’t spent any time together for quite a while.  We were having such a good time so from there we went to Twist then up to the cigar bar ending the evening with Scotch, cigars and little Grand Marnier, needless to say “fun night”!

When I got home my son was watching an old movie on TV.  Any normal Thursday night we would have already been in bed at 2:30am. I went in the kitchen to heat up a bowl of chili, ate it talking with my son. My son asked if I recognized any of the actors in the movie, I said, “That’s Sammy Davis Jr.”  He said, “The whole rat pack is in this one.”  The movie was the original Ocean’s Eleven.

I put away the chili bowl, my son started making popcorn, another thing safe to say we have probably never done at 3:00am in the morning.  I asked my son, “Are you going to pop popcorn at 3:00am?” He said, “why not?” so I said, “ok, I’ll stay up and have some with you.” We pop our popcorn on the stove, we use virgin coconut oil it’s what really makes it good!

I was grabbing a glass out of the cabinet and was getting some bowls, my son noticed the lights flicker, and then again.  A few times over the last few weeks our electricity has shut off, and we had to turn breakers back on.  My son thought something might have been going on with the breaker box so he opened the garage door.  He saw the fire though the side door on the house. He said, “Oh my God, there’s a fire on the side of the house.”

At first it was sort of like we were just calm, surreal I guess.  I had such a good day, a great evening with friends, and was having a nice 3:00am with my son, it just didn’t seem possible and was hard for my mind to fathom the words I heard him say. I said, “what?!?”  I went to the garage door and immediately started to scream, “get the dogs!”  I ran upstairs to get my phone dialed 911, I screamed into the phone, “my house is on fire send someone now.”   While the phone was on my shoulder answering the operators questions, I picked up my laptop, and without really thinking, there was a rack of clothes at the end of my bed, I grabbed a huge hand full of the clothes on the hangers.  I ripped my blow dryer and curling iron from the wall and went in the bath room and got my tooth brush.  Mind you I just grabbed things that stood out I didn’t really know what I was doing somewhere in the back of my mind I just started thinking quickly what do I need that I can get in a matter of minutes.  I ran down the stairs threw everything in the car, went back in the house got Gypsy we just put her in the back yard while we were making popcorn.  Sophie is always on your heels, you don’t even have to call for her and my son had

already gotten Sampson, his guitar and banjo.  I went back in a third time, put 2 baskets of laundry I had a done a few days ago that I hadn’t put away on top of each other and reached the 3rd basket down to my son.  All this took about 5 to 7 minutes max and smoke was pouring through my room, I breathed in very little of the smoke and didn’t have a voice for at least 2 or 3 days.

Hindsight being what it is, I realize now I should not have been worried about getting anything out at all but I was in a sort of panic, a daze, I guess it was shock.   I just couldn’t help but try and get some things. I had seen the fire on the outside of the house it wasn’t in the garage so I felt I had time.  It was amazing how quickly the fire became huge and completely devoured the garage and kitchen.

It seemed like the fire department was there in seconds, but realistically it was probably around 8 to 10 minutes.  Me, and my dogs, were in my car in the driveway blocked in by the fire trucks and ambulance.  I was wearing a strapless long orange and red dress that I changed into when I first got in from my evening out and no shoes.  All I could do was sit and watch the house burn.

It took 15 minutes for the fire department to contain the fire.  They had to take a chainsaw to the garage door because we had the entire back garage door covered with a piano, dressers and storage boxes.  I watched the sparks fly.  The flames engulfed the entire inside of the garage.  They pulled out the piano it was on fire I saw the fire escaping the garage, overtaking it, and start running up the side of my house.  Firefighters were everywhere.  On the roof chopping holes in the bedrooms upstairs, behind the house, on the side of the house, in the garage, going in the front door. I watched them work efficiently, affectively, and quickly.  I watched them do a great job.  I felt pride in our fire department.

No one could hear me, tears streamed down my face, I was yelling, “put it out, just put the fire out.”

12 years in that home.  My son went to the elementary school.  5 bedroom house, my x-husband and I bought the house because he had 2 girls and I had my son.  They each had their own room and we had a guest room.  It was a good size for us.  When we separated (while at the height of the housing market) I decided to keep the house.  My son had so many friends in the neighborhood I wanted him to be as minimally impacted by the divorce as possible.  I could not take him away from his neighborhood friends and possibly his school if we moved.  My house had always been the hang out spot for the kids.  I refinanced and took out half the equity gave it to the X and said our goodbyes.

Even though the house was much too big for just me and my son, and many times a financial burden for a single parent.  I have never regretted keeping our home. My son has been living on the west coast for a few years.  He went to live with his father and get to know his side of the family when he turned 15.  He comes back at Christmas and summers and all the same neighborhood kids come in and out those doors.

The garage was the mancave/music room amps, piano, cords, loop stations, guitars, bass, banjo, drums 2 TV’s PlayStation on one, and an old  Nintendo 64 game on the other. A futon, a leather couch and another flowered couch that was probably the most comfortable one I’ve ever owned.  Really cool rugs, cd’s, records.  All the eclectic stuff that didn’t match anything else but somehow worked in there, it was the hangout spot for everyone.

It’s been home, our home and took many years to get each room just right so that when you came through the doors you felt welcome and comfortable.  Home, it’s that place when I’ve gone out of town I start to miss.  It’s the place where I’ve cooked countless dinners and burned a few.   It’s the place that’s seen lots of love and joy and sadness too.

12 years isn’t as long as some people live in their homes, but it’s enough to fill with many things that hold priceless memories.

I know “it’s just stuff” and when it’s all just cinders and ash the last thing you are worried about is the flat screen TV.  It’s the things you can’t replace those are the things that really get you.  Those are the things that you suddenly remember and feel the stab to the heart.  My step mother crocheted beautiful pot holders that hung on my walls.  It was the only thing I had left from her.  She gave them to me one day when I said, “Wow, those are just beautiful.”  She said, “They are yours.” They were a treasure. I proudly displayed them in my kitchen.  My cookbook, a friend Vicki gave it to me as a birthday gift when I turned 21.  It was just a spiral book with kittens on the front, but it had years-worth of recipes some I had put an X through with “Yuck” written beside it.  I kept saying I was going to type those up on my computer but never got around to it.  The pictures, the pictures, the pictures!!!  UGHHHHH!!!! So sad!!  My vision board, I spent so much time on that mapping out my perfect future.  My antique cabinet that was one of my projects it was going to be beautiful when I got around to putting a few touches on it.  The bass guitar of my sons.  His father bought that for him for his 13th birthday.  The little things that are the biggest things.  That’s the type of loss of “the stuff” that just hurts.

I look at my handsome, talented, amazing son and pet my 3 fluffy loves and I know the stuff that matters most is right here, and I know I’m blessed so much more than so many that have suffered a house fire.

When you suffer a tragedy like this people share their own house fire stories and it helps to remind you that even though it’s a sad tragedy they got through it and so will you.  One of my friend’s parents had separated and his father remarried, the step brother never liked him and one weekend when he went to visit his father the step brother lit a match, threw it in his suitcase and burned his father’s entire house down all their family heirlooms burned to the ground with the house.  Another friend almost lost his mother and sister thankfully they survived but lost all their childhood memories overnight.  The real heartbreakers are the stories of the people who lost loved ones.  Only 3 weeks ago a plane crashed into a women’s home in Gaithersburg Maryland and trapped her and her children inside, she was found on top of both her children.

The stories of the losses are all sad and I can honestly say until it happened to me I didn’t really feel their pain.  Of course I cared and hurt when I heard a story like that of the mother found on top of her children trapped in a fire to burn, yes we all feel that pain.  But it’s the other stores of house fires you feel…”It’s just stuff”, but you know we really like our stuff.

We decorate a certain way, we picked the throw pillows for the couch, the curtains that bring the room together.  The table cloth for the dining room table.  We found just the right rug to put in front of our kitchen sink.  The perfect lamp for the end table.   We love our space we create, it’s where we feel the most safe and secure.  It’s the place we truly are ourselves, the good, the bad and the ugly it’s all there behind those doors inside those walls.  It’s the laughter and the tears. The for better and worse.  The baby’s first steps, a new recipe the cookies baking.  Home, home home!!

Each day we walk past our “stuff” and we forget.  We forget how much it all means.  We forget just how long it took us to find just the right kitchen table and chairs.  We forget the pictures that hold the memories inside.  We forget the afghan our mom made us, the hours of love she put into each hook knowing she was making it just for you to keep you warm.  The picture that you saw one day and said, “That would look perfect over your favorite chair.”  The pair of shoes that just kind of worked with almost everything.

There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort” ~ Jane Austen

But at the end of the day, it’s really interesting of all the “stuff” what it comes down to that you really want most are socks, underwear warm clothes, and a hair brush.  You realize just how little you actually need.

Right now, day at a time, I’ve slowly been digging out of the rubble, salvaging small things and those small things somehow end up big things.  My son pulled out a pair of jeans, they were soaking wet. They must have gotten sprayed straight on by a hose.  He was so thrilled when he pulled them out.  It was cute. He said, “YES, my favorite pair of pants!”  I was so happy for him that his favorite pair of pants somehow found their way out of all the mess and gave him a moment’s pleasure.

We had dinner tonight and we talked about all the small things that happened that saved us.  I told him, “Who would have guessed that Whole Foods popcorn at 3am would save our lives.”

I believe God works in very mysterious ways.  Things came together that wouldn’t normally have happened.  The lights flickered twice. “Those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.”  We were warned, in strange ways.  Our time has not yet come.  We have more things to do and lessons to learn.

For me, right now in this I see so clearly the small things that are really the big things.  We take too much for granted and forget to appreciate all the small things that truly matter most.

I’ll look at things differently in the days ahead. I’ve already begun to see so many small things for the magic things they are.

I know it’s just stuff, some stuff is more valuable than the most valuable things in the world.  My only Louis Vuitton purse went up in flames but that was not a painful loss, it wasn’t even a close second to all the pictures of my mom and dad, my grandparents and all the years of photos I watched my son grow.

I will begin again, for now I’m going to visit my mom and dad.  Going to the house I grew up in as a child.  My dad still lives in the same house, he even has the same telephone number we had when I was a kid.  Sometimes I go back to the small town and forget, but now I’m going back and I will remember and I will appreciate so much more this year just how much my mom and dad did for us and how much I was and am loved.

my door

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  1. Sorry for your loss! I am sure you will recover from this & become stronger!

  2. I am so sorry for your loss. I admire your spirit in the aftermath of what happened. Positive thoughts for you and yours.

  3. Hello Victoria, Thank you for sharing this difficult experience. I don’t have the time to read most of the Twitter request received but tonight was different. Once I started reading, I could not stop. You are blessed. I’m going to forward your story because you simply show what really is important in our lives. Again, thank you. I almost missed an important story with valuable truths that should be shared.
    Best regards,

  4. Your post reads like a prayer. Starts out journalistically: facts, upside-down narrative pyramid, but then crescendoes in rhythmic undulations of passion. A passion born of love, gratitude, and, yes, grievous loss. It is your mother’s heart fused with your poet-philosopher’s mind that delivers the literary and pragmatic punch to the gut. Like the best Psalm, the most poignant prayer. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Victoria, I’m sorry you have had to go through this. I know it’s really difficult right now, but by putting one foot in front of the other, one day at a time, you will come out on the other side of this better, stronger, wiser, more empathetic, and ready to make an even greater impact in this world. God has a plan and according to Romans 8:28, and for those who love Him, He promises everything will work for good. By the way, you really do write well. Is a memoir in the works? You articulate your thoughts in a descriptive way that paints a picture for your reader. Nicely done. Very good message and a good reminder. We need to stay focused on what’s important. Thanks for sharing.
    Tracey L. Moore, author of The Exceptional Man: Love Poems and Inspirational Writings Celebrating Godly Men and Great Relationships

  6. Your story is poignant and sure made me stop and think about how we do take so much for granted. Some things cannot be replaced and that is sad, but I was glad to read you, your son and your pets got out safely. Awesome you were both up still and saw it.

  7. A very thought provoking piece of writing. I guess our stuff forms a kind of mind map of our memories and connections with people who have been dear to us. I wonder how well I would cope with out my stuff. I suppose I would feel very lost and empty with out my stuff and it would almost be like losing a loved one. I really hope I never have to find out. Great writing!

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