A Breath of Smoke and Ashes

It’s there every time I go into the garage.  The smell of fire.  It’s there, and then I’m here:

That’s not a place I really like to be, figuratively or otherwise.  In fact, it’s become a bit of a thing:  I don’t drive down that part of Northshore any more, no matter how inconvenient the detour.
But I can’t avoid the garage.  And the boxes of pictures and books that survived the devastation.

I’ve decided that the books will stay in the garage.  We will put them on shelves, and whenever I decide to read one I will attempt to clean it then.  Occasionally I will pick one up and flip through it, and leave the garage with sooty hands that smell of fire.

Then there is the box of photo albums and baby books, miraculously rescued from a cabinet in the office.  The pictures need to be removed from the albums.  They are probably deteriorating.  I can’t make myself do it.  Emily will finish the job she began over Christmas this summer, I’m sure.

Right after the fire I worried that I would always be haunted by the smell of burning, that I would never be able to enjoy the scent of a campfire again.  But that’s not the case.  Campfires, smoke from a barbecue, the aroma of someone’s fireplace in winter, even the mulch fire running amok near downtown right now–that doesn’t bother me.  It’s the singular scent of our own personal fire that I find uniquely disturbing.
Seven months later it both seems long ago and very close, especially when another loss makes itself felt, when I suddenly think of something that I have only no, I don’t have it anymore.  It’s a little joke around here, saying, “I had that, but IT BURNED UP!”  But there’s a morbid part of me that keeps me lying awake some nights going room by room (not of the burned house, which to be honest never really felt like home, but of my Victorian house), looking in each drawer at things that are gone, remembering even what the drawer pulls felt like, torturing myself with my incredibly clear visual memory and discovering new things that I haven’t had a chance to feel sad about yet.

0 thoughts on “A Breath of Smoke and Ashes

  1. I do the same thing with my grandmother’s house – laying in bed but in my mind walking from room to room. I don’t know that I’ll ever feel that way about a house again.

  2. I was in a fire in college. Pretty bad. We lost a neighbor. I couldn’t stand the smell of smoke for a long time, I could smell a fire miles away. Little by little it stopped bothering me, I can still smell a fire though and i disappear for a moment, it’s still ruff, it’s been over almost 20 years. It takes time.

    1. We were lucky that we were out of town and did not experience the actual fire. I am sure that was much more traumatic for you than I can even imagine. It was a good thing we were not there, too, because I am pretty sure, given where and when it began and how quickly it spread, I would not be here to write these words if I had been.

  3. inwardfacinggirl

    I think I told you that my parents house burned a couple of years ago. My mom makes comments like you do, “I had that, but it burned up!” I can’t imagine how strange that type of loss must feel. Every once in a while, I experience a milder version when I think about childhood photos of myself that no longer exist, but nothing like you guys must go through.

    1. I love hearing about other people’s experiences with this kind of thing. It’s such a strange loss because although a lot more people have experienced it than you would ever think before it happens to you and you start hearing their stories, it lacks the commonality of, say, a death in the family which by our age we’ve pretty much all experienced and can relate to. It’s a weird moment when you remember some “new” thing that you lost. You almost have to make a joke about it but there is always sadness behind it. Actually, though, as far as I can tell only my daughter and I are still actively still feeling sad about the losses. Everyone else is like, “Move on already.”

      1. inwardfacinggirl

        Everyone else can shut it. 🙂 This kind of grief is like any other in that people move through it at their own pace, in their own way. xo

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