Chapter 57: “Up In Flames”
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I had been basking in the memories of my life in real-time for the entirety of the fourteen months since treatment had ended. It was an immense feeling that I had hoped would rub off on others in the world. I was more present in interactions with my friends and loved ones than ever before and I went out of my way to make plans with them– and FOLLOWED THROUGH with said plans. I had found a cheat code in the video game of life dubbed “Extra Life.”
Cancer did all of this? Huh, maybe there’s something to near-death from which we could learn.
Luckily, many people who had experienced this ordeal with me had also found similar rejuvenation in his or her relationships. Some of my Dad’s family made more time for one another and tore open the lines of communication from a once drought-ridden trickle to a steady, flowing stream. My Mom’s side chose to spend more time with my recently widowed Memére (but that wasn’t because of my experience). Yes, the worst of times can bring out the best in people. But can that nobility and camaraderie persist?
My brother had recently moved into Mom’s new (old) house alongside me. He said it was because he chose to spend more time with me; I hardly think that my Dad or Ellen could fault him for that. Travis, of course, would still spend a few days a week at Dad’s. He was nearing adulthood and had more autonomy to make more adult decisions regarding his own life. I could respect that; I moved out shortly after turning eighteen and well– we all know how that turned out.
Much like the divorce-affected Super Gagnon Bros., Dad and Ellen too, had some flexibility in their housing options. Ellen still had her house in Fort Kent and Dad his, in New Canada. Naturally, with Travis out of the house, they could afford to spend some more nights together at Ellen’s.
Dad and Ellen elected to do so during one unusually cold night in April. At the last minute, they decided on her abode and off they went leaving the two cats Max and Molly alone at Dad’s. Travis had also decided that night to spend time with Mom, Gary, and myself at the house. I’m sure that night we were playing cards or some board game like the French marble and playing game, Took (sp?).
Later that night, the chimney plugged up and fire exploded out of the furnace and burned the underside of the entire cellar ceiling. The fire created plumes of smoke that billowed about the house, including the upstairs living areas. The resulting soot sprinkled atop every uncovered surface. The gas was toxic and any living thing residing in the house that night was put into an eternal slumber. Unfortunately, that meant that Max and Molly, the two sibling tiger cats took their last, poisonous breaths afraid and separated.
The next morning, we awoke to a call from Dad, who informed us of the news. We rushed over to the house– that surprisingly, was still standing. You know, I spent my entire childhood witnessing house fires in entertainment and on the news that forged a dormant fear of our house suffering the same fate, but in no way did I expect it to
A. Happen to us; and
B. Look like THIS:
It didn’t burn much of anything on the main floor, but the resulting smoke was deadly to breathe and the basement was charred to a crisp. The upstairs was at one point rather hot and the soot was dark. It’s like if someone were to hot box a room by smoking weed. It may not “burn” your lungs, but you’d inhale some smoke, and – over time – if you swept, you’d see the remaining soot lining the linoleum (and the linings of your lungs).
Dad and Ellen were naturally disturbed. They were one whim away from their untimely ends. Everyone else, including Travis and I, was clearly shaken when they informed us of the fire. Poor cats; they never had a chance. They did what any creature would do if the basement were on fire; they went upstairs to escape the flames and stayed low to the ground, but to no avail.
Had Travis stayed there alone that night, he may not have made it either. Travis and I sorted through the stuff in the house. We took some photos that were housed in a box – free from soot – and Trav grabbed his favorite comforter from his bed. The thick blanket had absorbed so much smoke that it took him fourteen washes before it the smell had diminished enough for him to use it.
The house was irreparable so Dad used the homeowner insurance to build a new house in the very same spot instead. He envisioned a smaller, more manageable house with an actual garage for a change. In the meantime, they stayed at Ellen’s house while demolition began.
It was a difficult thing to watch: The house in which Travis and I spent the majority of our lives was now gone. All of those memorable sleepovers, hijinks, and years of family life literally up in smoke– gone. Forever. They say a house is not a home, but memories of home are intrinsically linked to a house of some kind. Whether it was one of my foster homes, a family member’s house, or the building we just lost; memories were encompassed inside those four walls. But they’re never forgotten.
I’m so glad Dad and Ellen decided to stay in Fort Kent that night so we could continue making new memories for years to come.
This is an ongoing story of my personal battle with Cancer. My hope is that it helps others who are currently experiencing their own battles (whether it be for themselves or a loved one) or to help with early detection.
The way I’m doing it is terrifying for a writer. I’m writing a publically available first-draft outline for an eventual book, chapter by chapter in weekly form. The only reason I’m doing it this way is to get the story out as soon as possible for someone out there who needs a survivor to visit them during their own treatment. If you’re reading this and need someone to talk to, tweet at me and I’ll give you a call. No questions asked. This story is for you and I’ll help any way that I can.
Stay tuned, as I will be posting a new chapter every Monday until the story is complete.
And remember if you experience any Anemic symptoms– get checked for Leukemia as well.