On the morning of April 1st, 2013, I had to be in the office at 8:30am for a meeting. I had only been at my new job for about two months and in an effort to keep everyone guessing, as an April Fools joke I had planned on buying an outfit that was over-the-top gay or metrosexual. I was just going to casually wear it into the office while bringing no attention to it. I felt so terrible that morning, however, I didn't have the stregnth to do it. I showed up at 8:30am and left immediately. It was the sickest I had felt in as long as I could remember and thus I spent the rest of the day in bed.
That evening two friends and coworkers came over to bring me some medicine. We were hanging out in my living room and from where I was laying on my couch, the view of my bedroom window was obstructed.
We were laughing and having fun until Julianna said, “Oh my God, I think there is a fire outside your window!”
Upon approaching my window, through my corrugated blinds I could see an intense orange glow. I was hoping it was just orange construction lights in the alley behind my house, but when I peered through the blinds the dilapidated detached carport, which was barely structural and should have been knocked down years ago, was an inferno and the fire was lapping at my window like a serpents tongue. In an act of consumption, huge flames were engulfing the roof of the garage like flames curling out from beneath a log in a campfire. It was as if all of my senses came to one acute point in that second and where as I couldn’t previously hear the fire, all I heard was the roar, crackling, and splintering of wood. The flames had already jumped from the carport to my house, as well as my neighbors to my right.
“Holy shit! Get the fuck out of the house!” I yelled to my two friends. We scrambled about as if in an Abbot and Costello skit and I ran into the kitchen to grab my iPhone, but first, for some unknown reason I grabbed my two guitars because they were the closest to the flames. Where as I used to play in a band and played guitar regularly, I hadn’t really played much in years so it doesn't really make sense. But you're not exactly thinking right in that moment.
I pushed the girls out of the house and put my guitars on the front porch where I had the wherewithal to realize I had no shoes on and that perhaps what I left the house with would be all I would have for a while. Racing back inside to grab my iPhone and shoes, I held the iPhone in my hand but couldn’t figure out how to use it. My confused fingers finally found their way to the phone app where I called 911 and yelled into the phone, “My house is on fire!”
I ran back into the house and paused for a moment looking around at what I should grab. I found my computer bag and made sure my latest journal was in it, then grabbed my friend’s car keys and wallet. That’s when the glass started to crack and break and when the electricity started to flicker, hiss, pop, and shoot electric blue sparks about. That’s when I knew it was time to get out of Dante’s inferno.
All of the neighbors were out on the street at this point, several of them running frantically from house to house yelling to get out while pounding on doors and windows. Moments later the neighborhood was filled with flashing lights and screaming sirens. I watched my house as the lights went dark. Like future refugees, from the street we watched as flames rolled and somersaulted up the back of our house to more than 40-feet into the night sky.
The next few hours were a blur. It took me a while to remember who my insurance agency was. I talked to them for a while. I talked to the press but I barely remember that. The most poignant images I remember are seeing the firefighters flashlights in the darkened houses, the deep, purple plumes of smoke coming off the roof, and watching cascades of water shoot out of my roof like the Seattle Center fountain, raining down on the street with the weight of an Emerald City late November rain.
As time wore on and the flames got under control, the crowd of neighbors and onlookers slowly dissipated. I ran into some people I knew, and others, when they saw the glow of the fire in the distance said, “I think that’s where Tim lives,” and they walked down to find me on the street.
It’s hard to say exactly what I was feeling at that moment. I suppose numbing disbelief would be safe to say. When I think back to that moment, I can feel the face I was wearing, which was one of stoicism. As far as I knew, all I had left to my name was the clothes on my back, two guitars, a computer, and a notebook. “Guess it’s time to start busking,” I said to my friends.
I can’t speak highly enough of the professionalism, compassion, and courtesy of the Seattle Fire Department. Like an ant colony they moved in synchronicity, harmony, effectiveness, and purpose. Until you see these men go into a burning building, or climb a ladder with chain saws to cut holes into a roof while flames dance around them, you can’t fully appreciate the courage of these men. It took 78 firefighters to put out the three houses that caught on fire.
Around 11:30pm I was back in my friend and coworker’s studio apartment sipping on tea in a chair I had given her a few weeks back. In laughing disbelief I kept saying, “I can’t believe that just happened.”
By midnight, I was in bed at another friend’s house. The adrenalin was gone leaving me feeling sick and achy again. I would have given anything for a Xanax or a sleeping pill, although I had planned on taking a sleeping pill the night of the fire. Had the fire happened a few hours later after I had taken a sleeping pill...well that’s not something I want to think about.
I finally fell asleep at some point but at 3am I was wide awake, running through an inventory of what I had lost, from family photos, to art that I had been collecting from my travels over the last seven years, to the waterford crystal rocks glasses my father used to sip on, to more than 45 journals of my life that I kept since September 29th, 1991.