...but I knew I was going to write about it sooner or later.
I like stories. In books and on TV all the stories, all the drama is nicely wrapped up within the allotted time period or allotted pages and you get a sense of closure when it's over. Unless we're talking about The Sopranos, but that's another post. Currently I'm reading The Thirteenth Tale (Jason's recommendation!) and I'm in love with it. It's sort of a haunting story with a lot of mystery and wonder and passion and I am really involved with the characters. At the end, I know, it will all be wrapped up and all my questions will be answered and I will close the book and put it on the shelf (or lend it to my mom) and walk away from it feeling a sense of satisfaction and calm.
Real life isn't like that. It was a bit of a shock to me in my late 20s to realize that life didn't always turn out nice and neat and tidy like every movie I'd seen and book I'd read. It was 2004 when my parents house was burned down and there have never been any answers to my questions.
That house meant the world to me. We moved in when I was only 6 years old and at first I sort of hated it. We had moved from a small house in a neighborhood with lots of kids to a big house in a neighborhood with no kids and acres between each house. We had a giant back yard and a pool now and I had my own room, but I missed our old house where I had to share a room with my sister and I had friends just a walk down the street.
Over time, I learned how to be a kid there, though. At first I read a lot and made up games to play by myself. Then I started riding my bike down the street where there was a barn and I spent my afternoons petting horses and barn cats. When I was 9 or 10 another little girl moved to our neighborhood and then all of our time was spent together. Heather had a horse named Crockett and we spent all of our time caring for him and riding him and incorporating him into our games.
And every night I came home to our beautiful home where my mom cooked a hot dinner and kept everything neat and tidy. I crawled into my cozy bed and listened to the tree outside scratch at my window. Every night I was safe and sound and protected within the walls of our house. It was a rock for me, a constant.
When I was 18 I couldn't wait to leave that house. I couldn't wait to get out from under my parents dictatorship and make my own rules. My mom and dad drove me to Gainesville and helped me to move into my first dorm room (it was a single) and then they left me. And there I was, alone.
Over the next eight years I moved back in and out of that house three different times. Two failed attempts at the University of Florida and one failed marriage all had me packing my bags and heading back to the safety of that house each time. And each time I was rejuvenated and at some point felt ready to face life on my own again.
So when I received a frantic call from my sister in the wee hours of the morning on October 20, 2004 I took the news in disbelief. My parents had been away on vacation... I had been there just the afternoon before. The words she was saying to me didn't even seem that they could be real.
Burned the the ground
Surely, the rock of a house that I had spent so much of my life in, built so many memories in, couldn't be gone. Somehow I knew this was a mistake.
When I was about three miles from the house the smell started to come into the car. Like a forest fire. When I got closer I could tell there was a haze in the air. And when I turned on to the street my sister lived on (one street away from my parent's) ashes landed on my windshield.
And still, I didn't believe it.
We drove over there together. I stood in the front yard looking at wreckage. The roof was gone, the windows all blown out, almost all of the interior walls were missing. The fireplace was there, the one that all important pictures had always been taken in front of. In the back, the pool was black with soot.
And somehow, I still thought I was going to wake up.
It's been over 4 years and that house is still the setting of all of my dreams. I live in it every night. Last weekend while at my niece's birthday party located at my sister's house, my dad and I took a walk over to the property just to see what was there. The neighboring church had purchased the land after the fire and we wondered what had been done with it.
Nothing at all.
The land reeks of loss.
The foundation of the house is there, the bathroom areas are still covered in the tile my mother picked out when they renovated, the rest covered in the Mexican tile that dominated the house during my childhood until much of it was covered with carpet and wood. The fireplace is now gone and if you don't have the house's floor plan etched into your memory from a lifetime of walking through it, you'll never be able to decipher what went where. The yard my father worked so hard at keeping beautiful is overgrown and out of control, my mother's courtyard and rose garden is nothing but weeds. The long driveway has vegetation overtaking and cracking it. The iron gate is falling from its hinges.
I wonder what people think when they drive by it. People who never saw the beautiful house that was once there... to them it must look almost haunted. I wonder if they make up stories in their heads about what must have happened there. I wish I could tell them all that up until the early morning of October 20, 2004, it was a very happy place. It was the center of our family, our gathering place, a home filled with so much love and laughter.
It was arson, that is all the fire marshall can tell us. My father's own gasoline that he kept in a bright red jug in the garage was used. It started in the kitchen. The gas jug was found by the fence neighboring the church next door and there were soda cans littering the side yard. A neighbor thought she saw a white pick up truck in the driveway at some point. No one was ever caught. The story doesn't have a nice tidy ending where all the loose ends tie up into a little bow and all the players have an answer. We still have questions and we just have to learn to live with that.