[This essay is originally hosted at LadyClever.com. Spolier alert: we were grateful to have made it out safely. We lost nothing, had generous family and caring friends to rely on, made new friends, and are happy in our new home. ]
We knew we had to get out. My boyfriend was going to rush to the other end of the building to see if he could lend a hand with what we assumed was a small fire in a neighbor’s apartment, caused by a cooking mishap or a wayward cigarette. He was instead surprised to find smoke at our own front door. From our balcony, I stepped out to see a Ferris wheel of flames that looked like it was spinning from inside his home, up the balcony, and back through roof in a blazing loop.
We were confident we could crawl low and stay together, with our dog Evie, navigate the hallway, then the nearby stairs, and exit on the first floor. (Looking back, we made so many mistakes in haste: rushing out the door without feeling for heat, not covering our faces.) Met with what was now a wall of hot, thick, black smoke upon opening the front door though, we were stunned and had to regroup. Our fire alarm finally started repeating, in a chilly monotone voice, “Fire. Fire. Fire.” I told him I was scared.
I’m not sure why we thought retreating from our second story balcony was the right thing to do, but I urged him that it was our only way out. I hurried to the edge, looked down only for a moment, and began charging down. I told him to hurry, and once I dropped onto to the patio below we’d work to get Evie safe. Our little dog was too scared to be pushed through the banister and I couldn’t make myself tall enough to reach when he’d dangled her. “I’ll catch her, I promise! Hurry!” I wailed, extending my short fingertips into the sky, just not high enough. I wanted them both down from there and safe. He began to shimmy down using one hand, with Evie wrapped tight in his other long arm, and handed her down to me. Anonymous neighbors from across the street were waiting below and while one took Evie into arms and comforted her, others helped he and I down from the first floor balcony, to the sidewalk. The fire department arrived moments later. Unfortunately, a man we weren’t acquainted with succumbed to the smoke.
I looked down from my balcony yesterday; where we’ve shared so many laughs and conversations with our friends, family, and each other. It was dizzying. I can’t imagine how my otherwise crippling fear of heights didn’t keep me from going over that railing. I was at our apartment packing yesterday when I thought of that. See, not only were we lucky to get out safe, but our home is also intact. We didn’t lose anything. But the building is decimated and we have to move out while its hacked up roof and burnt bowels are rebuilt. My home sits tidy, comfortable, full of sunshine– yet uninhabitable. We’re so grateful to not have to suffer the ache of loss, but this stings in its own way. – Casandra Armour