Writing Taunts – Describe a memory or encounter in which you considered your faith, religion, spirituality — or lack of — for the first time.
Photographers, artists, poets: show us FAITH.
It was Sunday, August 13, 1967, the summer was winding down, there were only three weekends before the new school year and for me, that was a big deal, I was going to be a Freshman in high school.
I wasn’t all that grown up yet. I still had fun riding my bicycle through the allies (we lived on a highway, so the only place to play was in the allies) with the other neighborhood kids of which totaled two. And then there were the younger kids that lived upstairs from us.
When Dad bought our house back in ’56, he renovated the second story into a separate apartment which would bring extra income throughout the years. The first tenants lived there until ’65 and then the next family moved in, it was a man, his live-in girlfriend, his seven-year-old son, five-year-old son and three-year-old son. Mom said they were living in sin because the man and woman weren’t married.
I liked the woman, she was pretty and really friendly. The man was… I don’t know what the man was like, he never had anything to do with us kids. I remember my parents talking about something must be wrong with his ex-wife that she didn’t get the kids in the divorce. I didn’t understand those problems back then, it was all a mystery to me.
The older kid from upstairs would play with us, riding our bikes through the allies, sitting and talking kid-talk in the sand pile behind the florist’s greenhouses down the alley. We knew the Florist’s kids too, but they only visited with us in the sand pile, they didn’t ride bikes with us.
So, after church that Sunday, my younger sister and brother and I went to ride our bikes and found none of the other kids around. The ones from the apartment upstairs had gone to the lake with their Dad and step-mom, they’d be gone all day. The other two kids from the corner, across from the hospital, weren’t home either; no idea where they might have been, so, we rode our bikes and occupied ourselves the rest of the day outdoors.
Late that evening, after everyone had gone to bed and was sound asleep, I was awakened by a lot of noise from upstairs. There was quick, heavy running and I heard the dad yell to the youngest boy, “Hurry up! Hurry up!” I wondered what was going on, heck, it was the middle of the night, it had to be after midnight! After a good long while, probably an hour or two, things quieted down and I tried to fall back asleep but couldn’t, so I lay with my eyes open, fixated at the shadows outside the old, long window on the opposite side of my sister’s and my small bedroom.
My eyes must have closed for a moment when a loud explosion bolted my body upright. I sat straight up in bed and saw a silhouette fall past my bedroom window. I was shocked, stunned, frozen as all sorts of screaming, banging and scurrying was going on all around me!
The living room door was shaking with the pounding of the woman from upstairs, “Help me! Help me! The kids are still upstairs!” My dad went to pull on a pair of pants while my mom grabbed a shirt for the woman who was topless and in a pair of panties. In seconds, Dad came back to the door and tried to go up the stairs to the apartment with the woman. They couldn’t do it. The black smoke was thick and choking.
“Susan, take your sister and brother to the garage and STAY THERE! DO NOT MOVE!” My mother commanded me and off I went to protect my little sister and brother through the backyard to the garage.
Never, never, never will I forget the sight I saw from the garage, looking at my home engulfed in flames. Fire shattered and filled every blasted-out window frame that I could see. I told my sister and brother about the body that I saw fall past the bedroom window, we wondered who that could have been, where were our friends from upstairs? Where were the boys?
Crashing glass and the crackling sounds of fire were prominent in the air until the distant screams of fire trucks got closer and closer. Firemen put a ladder up to the window above my bedroom window and came out with a body and laid it on the webbed lounge chair where I had just sun-tanned the day before.
“Who is it? Can you tell?” My sister and brother wondered aloud.
“I can’t tell.” I said, “it’s too big to be Bobby or Brian and too small to be the dad, I think it’s Michael.”
“He’s just laying there,” my sister observed, “he’s not moving, do you think he’s dead? It looks like smoke is coming off him!”
“I don’t know, but, let’s start praying,” I said.
The three of us prayed through our tears and cries until someone, a grown up, came to us, “Your dad wants you to come with me, you can sleep at my house,” Tina, our next door neighbor gently spoke to us as we walked through the ally to her house while mayhem continued at my home.
It was warm and comfortable inside Tina’s little home. “Do you need anything?” She asked, “If you need anything, go ahead and help yourself to whatever you want in the kitchen. The bathroom’s down the hall. I’m going to go back out and see if I can help.”
“Wait! What about Bobby and Brian and that body in the backyard, was that Michael? Who fell past my bedroom window?” I was full of questions.
“Yes, that was Michael, he is dead. His dad fell asleep smoking a cigarette and started the mattress on fire and pulled it to the bathroom where he turned the shower on. He went to lay down in Michael’s bed in the bedroom above yours, he thought the fire was out but it wasn’t and built-up pressure exploding the bathroom and starting the place on fire.
“He was scared when everything exploded and he jumped out the window. He left Michael alone in the bed.”
“Where’s Bobby and Brian?” I asked.
“Little Brian is dead. Bobby tried to pull him through the hallway to the stairs but passed-out three feet beyond the stairway, he couldn’t see with the smoke. He tried to save his little brother. The firemen found them laying together, only three feet from the stairs, only three feet…” Tina’s voice trailed off.
“So Bobby’s dead too?”
“No, he was still alive and Donna (our neighbor on the other side of the vacant lot) ran with him in her arms down to the hospital.” Tina left through the front door to see if there was any more she could do.
I turned once again to my brother and sister, “Did you hear that? Everyone is dead except Bobby, we need to pray for him. We need to pray hard!”
We did pray. I don’t know if our prayers had anything to do with it, but Bobby did survive. We never saw him again, nor his dad nor the woman with whom he lived. I had heard that Bobby ended up living with his birth mother.
As terrifying as this experience was for me, I often wonder about Bobby. Did he have any long-term physical disabilities from the smoke inhalation? Did he suffer burns? How on earth did he heal from the loss of his brothers? Did he blame himself for not “getting it right” and missing the stairway exit by three feet? Did he grow up and find happiness? I hope so Bobby, I really hope so.
R.I.P. Michael and Brian, until we meet again, ride the winds in Heaven and let go of the handlebars. ~ Love, Sue