(continued from part four)
we rounded the corner and looked back to our building. no police tape. no one blocking our door. as we charged up the stairs, the smell of smoke in the stairway was heavy, but certainly not overwhelming.
four flights up, we opened the door.
our apartment was unharmed. in back, the bedroom just as we left it. untouched. rob, behind me, gave me a squeeze. not because of the bedroom.
i crawled out onto the fire escape to survey the damage.
the ash tree was not ash. it too appeared unharmed. a bit of charring near the trunk's base, but the rest still healthy, green and beautiful. the first, second and third floor windows next door had been blown out, or busted out. someone's belongings had been pulled out a bottom floor window: a dresser, a full length mirror, clothes, papers. providing another entrance for firemen to battle the flames, perhaps.
then there was movement. as if a painting i'd been lost in suddenly came to life. the movement had been there from the start, but somehow i'd missed.
the fire was out, but the embers and mess needed to be soaked, and poked through. the sound of water and chopping. breaking, smashing. more chopping.
"firefighters love to do that," our friend ted would later tell us. "they have to smash up everything to make sure the fire is completely out and doesn't start again." seven or eight firemen were milling around in our courtyard, while others were digging through the burned out apartments like miners looking for treasure, explorers exploring. spelunkers.
i climbed down a flight on the fire escape.
there was the apartment where the fire started, as if on display. with the windows smashed wide open you could see right in. at first it was difficult to make out much, everything was black. then it came clear. moments ago this was someone's home, someone's respite from the hectic rush of new york. now it was...gone.
“i saw the woman who was screaming,” my downstairs neighbor said, leaning out her window right behind me. “the woman who was yelling 'help me, i'm going to die.' i saw her out on the street. she was walking around and smiling and saying, ‘oh i’m fine! sure, really, i’m fine.’ i thought to myself, i don’t think so.”
"you okay?" i asked. she looked in my eyes. nodded.
"you?" i nodded. and enough.
i climbed back up to my own window, crouched, and paused to look in, like an outsider seeing it for the first time. there was our bed. our warm, comfortable bed. there were books. clothes. papers. through the door i could see our kitchen, our living room in the distance.
and i remembered that moment.
the moment in the middle of it all when i turned to rob and said, “think. what in this apartment could you not live without?” i knew the answer as the question was coming out of my mouth. i knew the answer as true and as strong as anything i’ve ever known in my life.
"what are you doing out here?!" rob said, smiling, shaking his head and coming toward me from inside. "i want you to come inside with us." he put out a hand to help me crawl in the window.
what in this apartment could you not live without?
i was looking at it.