Last fall my next door neighbor perished in a house fire. Although she was 97 years old, she was vibrant and independent, and still lived at home alone. The apparent cause of the fire was no fault of her own but a faulty TV or cable box. It could have happened to anyone.
She had been my friend for 20 years. Practically every morning she had a Handi-Car pick her up and take her shopping. When she returned home a few hours later, I usually saw her leave her house and head towards my house. Now, it takes me just a couple of minutes to walk between our houses, but because she was a wee thing with failing eyesight, she chose every step carefully, and it took her about 10 minutes to get here, but, oh my, she arrived at my door, so excited after her trek with a smile on her face and the gift of a beautiful plant that she’d bought for me. We’d sit and chat, and then I’d walk her back home and we’d chat some more.
Her charred house still stands, a total loss. I look at it every day and I’ve felt a strong need to go inside and take pictures. I don’t know why. Maybe I needed closure. Maybe I wanted to see where we sat and had our visits, and maybe feel her presence. A few weeks ago, her son graciously allowed me to go inside when he was there and take photographs. It was powerful. It was emotional. It was cathartic.
The above picture, by far, moved me the most. I don’t know why. This one did, too.
I spent an hour and a half in her house. I can’t describe it. Remnants of her life were everywhere.
Some rooms, though, like her study, really affected me. It was the room closest to my house and the room in which they found her. There were lots of books and personal things in the room and on her old roll top desk.
My time in her house was emotional, but a bit puzzling in a way. After an hour and a half taking pictures in her house, I still wondered why I was drawn to this sad place, now covered in ashes and asbestos. However, when I was in her study, getting ready to leave, I took one last look at her roll top desk, everything charred black, and I noticed a piece of paper shoved in the back of one of the cubbyholes that, oddly, had no fire damage. In this black room, this piece of paper looked fresh and crisp, like it had been written yesterday.
I took a closer look. It was a piece of paper that I’d given her, with my name and phone number on it, printed in large numbers because of her poor eyesight. I had given it to her so she could call me if she needed anything.
At that moment, I knew why I was there. I felt connected to her again, and I knew she was okay, reunited with an old friend who she cared for very much and had missed for years. She was saying goodbye to me. Rest in peace, Larae. You are missed.