memorial (məˈmôrēəl): n. Something, especially a structure, established to remind people of a person or event.
It was a beautiful afternoon, the last day of a national three-day-long holiday weekend. A day made for cookouts and appreciating veterans. This year, I’d chosen to spend it tapping away on my laptop while the soft sunlight glowed through the window.
Without any warning, there was a loud bang, followed shortly after by several more. My first sentiment was tired irritation: we share a wall with a rather dim teenage boy afflicted by chronic frustrated machismo, so loud, random riffs of thumping and crashing happen on a semi-regular basis around here. These bangs weren’t quite like the usual ones—sharper, more hollow—but I figured he’d just found a different inanimate object to thrash at. However, their quality eventually started to peck at my lizard brain… something wasn’t right. I glanced out my window and saw the shadow of thick, rapidly-rising smoke being cast on the lawn below.
Okay. Not good. Not good at all.
The banging sounds had stopped by now. Too juiced up on adrenaline to hear Mr. Treme’s shouted advice to stay away from the windows, I ran to the other side of the house and looked out that one. The fence of a nearby unit that had recently been moved into was nothing but flame; the resident manager was frantically sweeping a garden hose at the base of the fire, which was too intense by then to be affected. As I stared, an even bigger swoop of flame crested out of the unit’s upper-story bedroom window.
I called 911, where the dispatcher patiently cut me off to explain that they already knew about the fire. By the time the first trucks came, the first 3-bedroom apartment was pretty much charcoal and adjacent ones were well under way. Tendrils of smoke spilled out of gutters, invisible cracks in the roof, and the bases of vents; the ones nearest the fire thickened and became gouts of flame as we watched.
Mr. Treme went around turning off everything in the house. I hunted down the cat and stuffed her into her carrier. She, my purse, and my laptop were deposited near the front door, and since we weren’t in immediate danger, I also grabbed the laptop’s power cord and important papers. Next time I’m asked “If your house was on fire, what’s the first thing you’d grab?” I have got that answer so nailed.
Circumstances can change quickly with fire. All it would take was a gust of wind in the right direction for our building to be next. As we stood watch by the well-heated window, a firefighter knocked on our door, asking if there were any wheelchair-bound individuals or anyone who might need help in our household—so they could start an early evacuation, he said. That was reassuring
and scary at the same time; it was further validation that this was some serious shit going down.