What Happened.

A week ago today, our house burned. 

I've already told the story so many times that I can barely fathom ever forgetting the details, but my selective memory has surprised me before so I figured I'd put it all down in writing. And maybe pass out slips of paper with this URL on it so I don't have to keep telling it.

9:39 am. Sewing, spreadsheeting, and being adorable.

I work from home on Mondays ("coincidental" miracle #1 of dozens). At 9:54 (thank you, Nike+ for reliable data) I took Noa for a run/walk/stagger in our neighborhood. I was slower than ever before as I had strep and was only 3 doses into my Z-pack, but it felt so good to get out and exercise for the first time in days. Noa was also getting over croup that the docs said might turn into ear infections, so we were carrying a large payload of snot and blah between us.

The first messages are from the weekend before, when she as feeling yuck. Then Monday, the day of the fire I am telling him about my speed record.

She was a sweet dream as usual the entire time. I always take the double jogging stroller instead of the single so that I can pile the empty spot with her blankies and books for her to choose from. By the time I pulled the stroller back into the garage and shut the big garage door, she was out. I considered letting her keep snoozing there in the stroller while I worked inside with the door open. But I was feeling so great after the exercise (despite not being able to breathe out of my nose still) that I wanted to play with her some more before she went down for her real nap. 

We went inside and I shut the inside garage door behind me, not caring that it wasnt all the way clicked into the catch, but just closed and resting against the jamb. Our house is so well insulated that it takes a major slam to fully shut that door.

We took a bath and played and I did some work. I put Noa down for her nap around 11:15. As usual she made not a peep and was thrilled to rest in her cozy darkened cave (Layla's walk in closet is where her crib lives and she ADORES going to bed there, almost never fussing when it's nap or bedtime). 

I started a pot of beans and rice on the stove and sat down to answer some work emails and sew beach bags in between. My Etsy shop was going bonkers this summer and I had 24 open beach bag orders I was working on. 

At 12:06 PM the fire alarm system started blaring. My neighborhood has a Facebook group just for the moms and it seems like every month someone is talking about these loco smoke alarms setting themselves off and how to turn them off. We had already had a few false alarm blare-sessions, even only living there 10 months. So I texted Jesse (he works a half mile away) to come help me get them deactivated (he always does it for us when they go off). I left my phone next to my laptop and sewing machine and ran up to the alarm closest to Noa's room to get it turned off ASAP so she could keep sleeping.

The fire alarms are often on PCP/angeldust. Let's be clear that I summoned him home for what I thought was a "false" alarm to help me shut them off. I may not be an easy wife to work with.

I managed to turn off the klaxon blaring in the playroom, but all the others kept chirping. I headed downstairs to try to stop the chirp, and blammo, the klaxon wailing started back up on all of them. I was super annoyed that our system is hardwired together at that moment.

Halfway down our stairway, the side wall opens up for a view of the living room and kitchen, and as I looked left and down into that area, I saw nasty brown smoke crawling along the first floor ceiling. My instant thought was that somehow I burned the rice and beans--even though they had water in them still AND the kitchen was in the other direction from where the smoke was coming from. My next split second thought was, "oh my shit, THIS IS NOT A DRILL. Okay, you have trained for this."

I sprinted back upstairs and flung myself into Noa's room, where she was standing peacefully (not even kidding, just silently standing happily at the rail with her blankie) up in her crib. My vision was completely tunnel. My memories of these moments are like I was looking through a paper towel tube.

In this moment, I figured this was probably a small electrical fire or something very containable that was just spewing smoke..

I snatched her out and booked it down the stairs. The blaring and chirping alarms that had enraged me moments earlier for waking my baby were now sweet, sweet music that had saved us, but were ramping up my adrenaline nevertheless

My studio/office is right by the front door so I grabbed my phone and my laptop on my way out. I had a split second thought of "should I take my sewing machine? it's right there! OMG no, you need a bra before anything!" but years of fire drills and training were deeply embedded and nothing beyond "GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT" could get through the panic and make me spend another moment in there while I was holding my baby.

I tossed my laptop down on the doormat and headed up the driveway. When I walked past the closed garage it sounded like people were in there beating on the inside of the door (my first thought was on Walking Dead when there are zombies contained somewhere but they get woken up and start trying to get out). For a second I thought OMG, the dogs are in there, but then realized they were safely way back in the huge back yard. I also realized that a contained, little fire wouldn't make the massive garage door jump and pulse like that.

As I went past, the door magically opened up (heat triggered, I would learn) and I saw our golf cart inside fully engulfed in massive flames. A few seconds of me standing there, and it slowly closed again, as if it just wanted to give me a glimpse. 

I text jesse at 12:08 (so only 2 minutes have passed since the "false" alarm text I sent him...this is all happening far faster than telling the story) as I am running up out of our yard, telling him to call 911. Well, genius, you're texting him on a TELEPHONE, and youre the one who knows what is happening, so maybe you wanna call.

Even as I sent this, I was a little afraid he wouldn't believe me. I have been known to text him "911 EMERGENCY, PICK UP PHONE" about cheese and hem lengths.

I called 911 and, hand to God,  THEY EFFING TRANSFERRED ME! We live right on the county line and my cell phone was connected to a Fayette tower, but Coweta is where we live and is the emergency services that serve us. So I gave my address immediately--thinking OMG why dont yall have caller ID YOU SHOULD REALLY LOOK INTO THAT! ITS TAKING ME SHEER MINUTES TO SAY MY ADDRESS. And she says "ok youre actually in Coweta, let me transfer you." 

Lord help me if that tape ever leaks, I was a messy mess-mess and have no idea what I said. I was every inch of the braless, barefoot lady with a baby on her hip that you always see on the news. I used to judge these women like, "Get it together, girl!" Now these women are my tribe. 

I'm on the phone with 911 taking it very personally every time the lady tells me to calm down, and saying at least 50 times, "ok my son is at school, my daughter is at school, the dogs are out back, I am holding the baby, my husband is at work. We are ALL OUT."

At this point a few cars had driven down on our road and seen the scene. A man got out and offered to move our van which was parked right in front of the closed garage door. The keys were inside hanging near the kitchen away from the fire, but I still wasn't comfortable sending any non-fire-trained people in there for any reason. 

At maybe 12:10 I see Jesse come flying down the road. There is a car between him and me: an older man in a restored El Camino creeping along as he rubbernecks. I am holding Noa, yelling at 911, and standing on the sidewalk 2 doors down from our house, right alongside Jesse's car. I see the man in front of him stop so as not to enter the scene of the fire.

And then for the love of all, I see his reverse lights come on. 

His windows and Jesse's are down. I am 4 feet away and I start yelling, "NO NO NO, JESSE HE'S BACKING UP!"

BAM! He totally rams Jesse. All flipping hell breaks loose. Nothing in my life will ever come as close to tmy favorite cold open scene from The Office as that moment did. I've watched it so many time that my brain immediately suggested "SAVE BANDIT!" and  "THE FIRE IS SHOOTING AT US!" as appropriate reactions:


I hear the 911 lady say something about sending cops for the pedestrian down, but am too out of my mind to process it. I am trying to get the tag of the guy's car and see if our car is damaged or if Jesse is hurt, and oh, ya know,  MY HOUSE IS STILL BLAZING UNIMPEDED! Not to mention several more sweet passersby are trying to help by grabbing our exterior hose and watering the garage.


At maybe 12:12 the first police arrive. I'm like, "AHHHHH I love you officers, but I NEED HOSES!!! Where are your red brethren!?!"

A few officers start blocking off the road to traffic and another comes up to me to ask where the pedestrian hit and run victim is. And I'm like, "Oh no, my husband was in a car and it was a low speed fender bender that just bent our Georgia Tech plate. Everyone is fine. No biggies here, office! Situation normal. Oh right, unless you count the conflagration. But you don't have hoses, so that's not really your problem, LOL. *pause* You DEFINITELY, don't have hoses, right? I just have to ask."

I cannot stress the amount of shocked mess I was. 

Jesse hugs me and I ask him maybe 36 more times if he is SURE the kids are at school and there's no chance any other humans are still inside. I start crying, because I don't have to be to sole grown up on duty anymore and have a little margin to let some of the situation sink in for a second while he's holding me. Jesse says "it's just stuff, nothing that matters is hurt." And I'm totally like, "huh?" because honestly, besides the sewing machine gut reaction at the very start, it hadn't even occurred to me that our stuff was destroyed. I was crying from relief, from panic rebound, from the "what could have beens?"

I remembered Jesus for maybe the first time in all this (not proud of that) and just say "thank you for this, jesus" into Jesse's shoulder. It was so mechanical and had absolutely no gratitude or any emotion attached to it, but I knew it was a moment to thank him--completely aside from the lack of injury. That's a pretty weird thought process, but it has stuck with me since then.

Jesse decides to go up to the house for a closer look, and maybe move the van, and I'm like JESSE, YOUR BEAUTIFUL ROMAN STATUE FACE! NO!!!! BACK AWAY FROM THE FLAMES!

We are standing there for what felt like an eternity watching really nasty smoke billow out. At least 6 police cars have arrived by now and an ambulance then pulls up. I'm like, AHHHH I love yall so much, but you are just not the exact type of hero I need at this moment. 

At some point the 911 lady was like, "ok it sounds like officers have arrived, since they have tasers and handcuffs, imma let THEM deal with you instead of me."

FINALLY the first fire trucks pull up. The garage door has collapsed completely by now and smoke is just pouring out. Jesse actually said that when he first pulled up he saw it coming out of our bedroom window, which is as far from the garage as you can get in our home.

12:24 pm Fire trucks, The house ablaze, Jesse's newly dented car parked in the neighbors driveway.

The fire guys come up and ask for a few crucial details like if there's gasoline or propane in the garage (no and yes). They hook up to the hydrant on our lot and start dousing the house.

The entire church staff (Jesse's coworkers) are now here with us along with my good friend Jennie who was jogging by when she spotted the smoke. This "random" group of people contains some of Jesse and my closest friends and it was pure comfort. They sprang into action getting the dogs away, playing with Noa, finding me a bra (my first concern) and shoes,and every other manner of things. They were just *with us* in the best possible way. My sister in law lost her childhood home to fire when she was in high school and she was there with my nieces as well. Besides those first few seconds, we never had to be alone in this (and even then; I know I wasnt).

At this point, the fire is basically out. I am watching--bizarrely--from another neightbors driveway in a folding camp chair like a soccer mom. I even have cookies and capri sun. I am still holding onto Noa and clutching he and kissing her so gratefully at intervals...and like 1% using her as a bra coverage. I had wandered away from most of our people since the trucks were now blocking our view. My anti-social introversion is pretty well known, so I wasn't followed until it was clear I was ready to be around people, so I weirdly as some alone here, with Jesse checking in every few minutes.

My view from the bleachers.

At some point I heard one of our people on the phone with someone and tey said, "She's okay, but she is pretty out of it. I think she's in shock." And I was like, "oh, man I wonder who's in shock, I hope theyre okay." Ha. 

the fire inspector called me over to talk about what had happened and of course the first thing I said was "I don't have on a bra." which made him ultra comfortable. And then during our interview, I managed to say "I totally wouldn't arson myself while my baby was sleeping. Well I mean, obviously I wouldn't arson at all. OMG I totally didn't do this, I just get nervous with authority figures. Please don't arrest me."  What if I get myself arrested for having no filter and just saying whatever pops in my head?!

Our first responders.

Somehow the van was perfectly fine, not even a hint of smoke inside.

At about 2 pm, the house was completely checked and cleared and we were able to go inside. At this point I was still thinking we'd sleep there that night, and they'd just close off the garage. Whoops, someone is ignorant about fires. The chief is walking with us towards the house and says "completely gutted" and "all the contents are ruined" and I'm like not computing. 

Then we walk in and I start to get it*. 

 The garage. Pretty much the only location of the flames themselves. 

They think the golf cart is where it started (dont ask me any more, because I dont know and the investigation is still open, but it was probably just a freak thing). All that white insulation is where the firemen axed through to check to be sure no ancillary fires were lurking. If you look just to the right of the gorl cart, there's a white square next to what looks like a bike tire. That's actually the book Noa had been reading in the stroller during our walk. The metal square shape is what's left of the stroller that I had considered letting her nap in.
The vehicle formerly known as XF-17 (golf cart. named by Judah)

As if they weren't heroic enough. Before they started hosing down the interior of the house to be sure no sparks or latent fires were in the walls, they took down our big family canvas pic so it wouldnt be water damaged.

This is the guest bathroom. When you walk in from the garage, this door is immediately to your left. The blinds melted off the window.

Keep going down the hall and just across from the garage door is the guest bedroom. The blinds and fan melted (this is when it hit me how hot it had gotten in the house). The bookshelves also melted at the top. That lampshade was a cylinder that morning. It got its waist cinched.

Looking from the guest bedroom door out to the garage

I went to pick up Layla from school at 2:30 and wait for Judah's bus at church. I knew I was about to live out what would likely become one of their earliest lasting memories, so there was a lot of feelings in me. I sat them down and we listed out the things that mattered most in the world. We talked about the flood that had happened at their grandparents' house last year. Then I told them that our house had burned. And that every single person and animal they love was 100% okay and healthy and fine. Judah let out the biggest "SHWEW" sigh.

I told them that we would have to do without almost all of our stuff and live somewhere else for maybe a long time. They asked about a few belongings (Judah, depressingly was thrilled to report that his iPad had been in his backpack since it was technology day at school so it was safe...ugh. Wish that hadnt been his first thought).  They were both very sad about their quilts that I had made them, and some stuffed animals. Layla mainly focused on remembering toys I havent seen her play with or care about for YEARS. She delightfully random.

We went through what was happy about the situation (pizza for dinner!) and what was sad (we'd have to replace his captain underpants collection...and his actual underpants) and what was confusing (why we couldnt still live there immediately).

They seemed pretty copacetic about the entire thing and were excited to get some new items. Judah exclaimed, "Hooray! LIFE SHOPPING!"

They both immediately said they did want to go in and see the house. It was a a heavy moment watching them go through and tour this new dream house they had first explored for the first time 10 months ago as a brand new castle and now was charred ruins. 

I didnt take a pic of the living room to the left. Kitchen and dining table

She was pointing at something I cant quite remember but was touchingly random.

We just finished repainting the cabinets WHITE!

Headed up the stairs. Noa and Layla's room is on the left and Judah and the playroom on the right. Kids bathroom straight ahead. That bathroom curtain came with the house. 

This still turns my stomach.

You see the grids and dots on the walls? It looks kind of like shadows.  No. They are the studs and the nail heads in them. They got so hot that they scorched through the drywall.

The firemen did a touch test along the walls to check for lurking hot spots. More branded stud lines.

Hook a U-turn at the top of the stairway and follow to the end of the hall and youre at our room

Our bedroom life is SMOKING HOT.  PS, firemen might wanna hose down that body right there, it's making me feel flushed.

This room is as far away as you could get from the fire inside the house and the walls still got so hot that the studs burned lines onto the walls.

The footprints are revealing the actual color of the tile. the rest is soot. This is upstairs, down the hall, through our room and then into the bathroom from where the fire was. Smoke is PERVASIVE.

Standing by the front door in the entryway/foyer. This is my studio. Really wish I had gone ahead and mailed those completed bags there instead of waiting to take an awesome instagram pic of my shipment pile later that day.

"Dear valued customer, I am sorry I won't be able to fabricate your beach bag order as planned. Unless you're reeeeeeally into black ombre effect."

I will write much more about the aftermath and feelings and rebuilding process later I'm sure. But just know, we are seriously SO GREAT. This whole affair has been almost 95% uplifting and 5% stressful and overwhelming. NOT because it's easy. It's horrendous the details and decisions and tasks. BUT THE LOVE has been so much more overwhelmingly huge. I knew people cared about us, but I had no idea how that might look. Well, now I know. It's humbling and has just brought me to my knees in thanks and gratefulness, and weirdly: joy.

We are going to needs tons of help as the months go on--we will essentially have to move at least 2 more times, as well as conduct a custom build of our house (the exterior will stay but the inside will be gutted down to the studs--and even those replaced as needed to be sure no mold or char remains). We will have to catalog and buy all new belonging--and since we are IKEA devotees, we will have to assemble it all over again. That gives me a tension headache a little bit, but I tell myself I will have new non-beige walls to make it all better (anyone handy with allen wrenches wanna come to a meatball party?).

We are going slow, evaluating what we need in any given moment so that we don't break our brains in the chaos (so far the answers for various family members have been: a massage, silence, dark chocolate, golf, mommy/daddy special kissy times, a playdate, another massage, ambien, relay races, a scooter, soda in a sippy cup, throwing up, having a babysitter, one-on-one time with each kid, working, making jokes way too soon about a serious subject and JESUS).

We are staying at my in-laws (by choice, the insurance was very ready to put us in a nice hotel, but hotels with kids are SO stressful for me, and my in-laws go against the grain of the typical cliche, and actually make me feel more relaxed...they are golden superstars).

Jesus is good. He is big and He is good. And just not because we're all safe and insured. But because He is Goodness and Light itself and He's ours and even is this fire had killed us, we are forever saved and protected. Forever.

Much much love,

Keight and the Dukes.

*for reference and to compare, here is a walkthrough video of the pristine, empty house the first time the kids went in, June 29th of last year)

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