Folks, I hope you love this story as much as I did--I know Daisy from around the net, where her sense of humor and her snark have already made me a fan!
The Time My House Burned Down
(Otherwise known as the inspiration behind From The Ashes)
Hi, Amy Lane Readers!
Since Amy is out of town this week, she’s kindly allowed me to hang out on her blog to entertain you with my stories. Like Amy, I’m an author of MM Romance and I have kids. Unlike Amy, I don’t knit.
Knitting failures aside, if you’re happy to hear a story of loss and redemption, pull up a chair, grab a cup of tea and chill a while. I’ll tell you about the time my house burned down. Believe me, it’s a doozy.
So, where to begin? I could start at the chronological beginning when I was chauffeuring three kids around town and received a phone call from a neighbor that my house was on fire. Or I could start closer to the end, when I struggled to come up with a story idea, and realized—WAIT!—I can totally write a story about a firefighter, because I had a house fire once.
The first starting point is depressing, while the second is funny. But in the interest of keeping the time-space continuum intact, I’ll start from the beginning.
One sunny summer Sunday in 2008, I was driving home with my 2 year old and 5 year old daughters, and their six year old friend, when a neighbor called to tell me my house was on fire.
Luckily, I was only a few blocks away. I say luckily, because driving any further than a few blocks would have been dangerous with my vision blurred from stress and my hands shaking on the wheel. By then, I could do nothing about the candle I’d left burning on an upstairs dresser four hours earlier.
(And yes, as soon as I heard of the fire, I remembered that candle. Have you ever wanted to turn back time so badly you almost believed you could do it with the force of your mind? Well, that’s exactly how I felt.)
I got home to find firefighters running in and out of my house, my belongings being flung out windows, police and half the neighborhood standing around and watching my top floor go up in flames.
I wish I could tell you I was sad, or that I felt angst over the tragic loss of my kids’ baby clothes. But the main thought that ran through my mind as I wandered into the street was, “My husband is going to kill me.”
Maybe other people react differently. Hell, I’m sure other people react differently. The only things I could think of were, “Oh, fuck!” “Oh, damn!” and “Oh, shit!” The kids? I have no idea. I was in too much shock to think about them. They certainly weren’t crying, at least not yet, because they were just as confused as I was.
Somehow, people took care of me. My neighbors watched my kids and held my hand while I talked to the police. The woman who lived in the house behind us let me come inside to make phone calls. She even pet-sat my dog so I could stay at a friend’s house until we found something permanent.
The thing people don’t realize about a house fire is how quickly one’s concerns shift from “Oh my God, my stuff!” to “Shit, I have no stuff.” I may have had a sentimental attachment to my kids’ slide bed, but no clean underwear jumped to the top of my concerns pretty darn fast.
I was a wreck that day, and honestly, I can’t tell you everything that happened. I have a vague recollection of my in-laws driving down from Bellingham to make sure me and the kids were okay and to take us out to dinner. I know I slept in my best friend’s nightgown because I didn’t have any clothes.
My husband was on a boat in Alaska when the fire happened, and until he came back, I couldn’t bring myself to leave the neighborhood. I’d drive to the top of Capitol Hill, have a panic attack, and decide that whatever it was I needed I could get within a mile of “home.”
Only the top floor burned. Most of our first floor belongings were salvageable, as were the things in the basement. We couldn’t live there, though, as there was too much charring. You know how they say it pays to be connected? Well, it does, because some friends of ours had a small guest cottage we could stay in for a week, a place nicer than our actual house.
I wish we could have stayed there the whole time it took to rebuild, but our friends had guests coming, so I managed to find us a rental place nearby. Second words of wisdom—it pays to have good insurance! Allstate covered the repairs to our home, paid our rent… No one re-emburses much for clothes and bedding. But expenses? Allstate was golden. They even covered the cost of movers to come in and pack up our stuff.
All’s well that ends well. Sort of. I got offered a new job a couple weeks later, so that was good. But I hated the job, so that was bad.
The real benefit of having a house fire was that I learned something important about myself: namely, that I needed a break.
I’d been taking care of kids almost non-stop for six years. My husband travelled for work. I barely had enough daycare to cover the hours I needed for my job, and had often worked while simultaneously watching toddlers.
The story truly started the night before the fire: I’d been alone with the children for two weeks. In summer, so no school. The kids had had a friend sleep over the night before and both my kids had gotten sick and thrown up. Unfortunately, since the extra child at our house lived across town, I was too tired to drive her home.
In the morning when my kids asked to play spa, I grabbed a candle, put it in a cup, lit a match, and…
Seriously bad things happen when mommy is overworked. Now I fear missing sleep almost as much as I worry about accidents. All it takes is one match, and a moment of distraction.
To this day, I hate leaving my house empty, and have to fight off waves of anxiety any time I take a trip. But I’ve never let myself get that run down since. I sleep eight hours a night, and use babysitters liberally. I’ve given up worrying about what I “should” be able to handle, and focus on understanding what I “can” handle.
So some other mom works full time AND coaches soccer AND blow dries her hair every day and shaves her legs more than once a month? Well, good for her. I’m happy for her. I really am. I, on the other hand, am going to get myself a cup of tea and watch The Rachel Zoe Project before my kids come home from school.
In the end, I’m happy my house burned down. It made me the person I am today—someone with better boundaries and a stronger sense of self. Sometimes we all need our lives shaken up a little.
In my upcoming novel, From the Ashes, my hero Jesse’s house burns down, and I wonder whether readers will question how he reacts. Perhaps readers will think, “Well, if it were my house on fire, I’d do X, Y, Z.” But I’m not sure how many of those potential critics will have experienced such a disaster firsthand.
Maybe readers will feel Jesse bounces back too quickly, when they would have rolled into the fetal position and rocked in hysterics for a few days before being functional. To that, I say—the basics: food, shelter…it’s pretty hard to ignore those things for long, no matter how upset you are.
And sex? That first night after the fire, I would have given a lot for a sexy, mysterious firefighter to keep me warm.
I’ll close with a clip from the start of From the Ashes, but first, let me share some advice.
1. Homeowners/renter’s insurance. You want this.
2. Your friends and family will come through for you better than you could possibly imagine, but it pays to know people with a guesthouse. J
3. Child care. Yes, child care. If you’re a mom, you need rest, and there is a real cost to running yourself ragged.
4. Don’t ever put a candle in a plastic cup.
This ends Daisy’s Story of Woe/Fire Prevention Hour. Hope you enjoy this clip from my upcoming release, From the Ashes.
Pre-order FROM THE ASHES on Nook: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/from-the-ashes-daisy-harris/1115084890?ean=9781619217980
Pre-order FROM THE ASHES on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/From-Ashes-Fire-Rain-ebook/dp/B00C4U6MOC
Daisy’s Website: http://thedaisyharris.com/
Oh my God. Oh my fucking God.
Jesse stared up at his house, the duplex where he’d been living for the two months since he’d moved to Seattle. In thick, black clouds, smoke spilled from the windows.
Firefighters streamed in and out of the building. Someone punched through his skylight to toss boulders of his charred and damp belongings onto the concrete.
Underwear he’d left on his bed when he’d gone to work that morning lay on top of the burnt remains of his grandmother’s hand-knitted afghan.
Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God.
He couldn’t think.
Someone was talking to him. The voice asked about Jesse’s landlords, if Jesse knew there was a meth lab in their basement.
“No,” Jesse said. But once he’d started, he couldn’t stop the words from spilling out. “No, no, no, no, no. Fuck, no.” Mindlessly, he sprinted toward the front door. He could get something out before the fire ruined it all. The coffee table he’d bought at a secondhand store. The Christmas sweater his mom had given him even though his father wouldn’t look at him anymore.
Something. He couldn’t let it all burn. From behind, someone grabbed him, clutching Jesse in a bear hug. Jesse
knew as soon as he felt the stiff, flame-retardant material of a firefighter’s
uniform that they weren’t going to let him back inside. Sobbing, he collapsed in the guy’s arms.
That single-room studio had been the first place he’d ever felt comfortable, where he could be himself. He could be a gay man in his gay apartment and not worry about his father kicking him out.
“You can’t go inside. It’s not safe,” the firefighter said in his ear. “Do you have someone you can call? A friend or a girlfriend? Um...a boyfriend?”
Jesse blinked back tears. He had a few numbers in his phone, friends he knew from class or work, but he didn’t know any of them well enough to lay on them the fact that his motherfucking house had just burned from the inside out.
The only number he could think of calling was the one he refused to consider. No, Jesse was not calling his parents. No fucking way. He’d live on the streets first.
“I can’t. I don’t...” He wiped the back of his hand across his face. “I just... Give me a second.”
“Take all the time you need.” Tomas kept a hand on the kid’s arm in case he ran for it again.
Everyone panicked when they got home to find their house on fire. The initial “No, No, No,”—the first stage of grief—was universal. Sometimes victims sped past denial directly to bargaining. Older women fell to their knees and started praying, as if God could turn back time or fix their faulty wiring. Men were more likely to fly into rages, shouting at neighbors or firefighters. Even their wives or kids. So Tomas wasn’t surprised by the wide glassy eyes and erratic behavior of the queer kid who lived above the Central District meth lab.
Tomas shouldn’t have noticed the fit of the kid’s skinny jeans or that his hipster T-shirt was pockmarked with holes. And he definitely shouldn’t have found it cute that his sandy-brown hair hung long in the front but was shaved in back. Eight hours past the end of his shift, Tomas was running on adrenaline and coffee. He needed to keep his mind on his work.
“You lived here, right?” Tomas gestured behind him to the damp and burnt- out shell of the duplex.
The kid looked at him through red-rimmed eyes. Pinching his lips together, he nodded.
“You’re okay.” Tomas rubbed the kid’s arm, trying to calm him down. “No one got hurt. There was no one inside the building.” He wanted to drag the kid into his arms for a hug. He looked like he needed it, but responders weren’t allowed any unnecessary touching of victims. Tomas hoped that one of the kid’s friends or neighbors would show up soon to hold his hand.
Lips pale, the guy shivered.
“You didn’t have any pets right? We didn’t see a dog or a cat.” Sweat slicked inside Tomas’s clothes from his time rushing through the building earlier. The last few guys were snuffing out the fire on the top floor, and half the team was already loading equipment back on the truck.
“No.” The queer kid sucked in air in giant gulps. “But the landlords. They had a... They had a dog.” He shook his head again, like he was clearing his mind enough to talk. “She’s in a cage out back. Her name is Chardonnay. Oh my God, is she hurt?”
Tomas put his arm around the kid’s shoulders, urging him to sit down. “I’m sure the dog’s fine. The fire never worked through the outer walls of the building.”
The guy’s narrow shoulders trembled.
“I’ll tell them to check, okay?” Tomas pulled out his intercom and asked one of the guys inside if he could see a dog out back.
Rick, his buddy on the other end of the line, replied yes.
Tomas smiled. “The dog’s fine.” He wasn’t sure if the kid heard him, though, because his eyes were unfocused.
“What’s your name?” Tomas rubbed his back.
The guy blinked up at him, as if he couldn’t remember. After a swallow of air, he said, “Jesse. Jesse Smith.”
“Okay, Jesse.” Tomas kept his voice low and soothing. At any moment Jesse might flip from his current mode of denial into a volatile burst of anger. “I’m Tomas Perez, and I’m not going to leave until I’m sure you have a place to stay tonight, okay?” He tried to make eye contact.
The gaze that met his was hazel green—beautiful and rimmed with light brown lashes. Blinking, Jesse glanced away. His focus bounced around the yard, house and street in a distracted jumble. “You’re sure Chardonnay is okay? Can I go check on her? She’s probably freaking out.”
Tomas put his hand on Jesse’s shoulder. He squeezed, feeling Jesse’s sinewy muscles under the material of his T-shirt. No. He shouldn’t have noticed that, either. “We’ll go to the backyard in a second. Just let them finish the work inside.”