Our little rescue dog Keisha woke us up at midnight on March 3rd, growling. This is a dog who had been turned back into a shelter twice, and who was the very last one left in a cage on a pet adoption day eight years ago. We had gone out the day we found her intending to simply buy hiking boots. We got suckered into taking her home to foster for a week by the clever adoption woman. There is a name for this technique in sales, called the “puppy dog”, where once a client has the product in their hands, they can’t give it back. It worked. Keisha won our hearts with her sweet nature, love of walks and general attitude of eternal gratitude.
On March 3rd 2017 at midnight, Keisha inexplicably started growling, nearly talking in a funny ru-ru-ruru sort of way. Annoyed at being woken, I patted her, and told her to hush. She whined, licked my hand and growled again, louder. Not normal behavior at all, which woke me up a bit more. Then I smelled the barest whiff of smoke, and heard faintly like an oven timer going off in an apartment two doors down, the muffled beeping of an alarm. I woke my husband up and he went to our front windows. He came back to our bedroom and said calmly, “Get some clothes on, the building is on fire”.
I have crystal clarity of struggling to pull on my jeans, and yanking out a stray sock which was stuck in the leg. I see my hands pulling out an old sweatshirt and dragging it on, and getting my walking cap and a coat and my Toms out of our closet. I wish I had reached my hand a little to the left and gotten Rabbit and Doggie, the two treasured stuffed animals my boys who are now in college had when they were little. I didn’t. I didn’t grab any photos either, or artwork, or ceramics. I didn’t do any of those things. I got my cell phone, a charger and my purse. My husband got his wallet. We walked out of our front door, and locked it with every intention of returning to our stuff, returning to our life. I remember thinking we were in for a three hour annoyance.
Our unit was right next to the back stairs, and we patiently helped our little elderly neighbors down them. They had probably not taken the stairs in ten years. I snagged a tiny dog who was running around terrified and carried her down too. Keisha was pulling at her leash, saying very clearly that it was time to go out NOW. She was the most clearheaded of all of us.
Once outside, I found the little dogs owner. I looked at her oddly when she burst into tears and said, “It’s all going.” I didn’t understand what she could be talking about. Then I turned around and saw flames engulfing the whole side of our condo unit, shooting hundreds of feet in the air, firemen rushing trying to find hydrants, and lots of people like us dressed in whatever was at hand staring blankly at the giant flames, and the roar of that ancient beast devouring all of our homes.
When it became clear that even one hundred amazing and talented firefighters doing their best were not conquering fire and wind that night, we walked away hand in hand, my husband and I with our little rescue dog panting next to us. Shoulder to shoulder, we walked away with the clothes on our backs, and each other. Everything else, our cars, our memories, our possessions are now gone. Yes it is “just stuff”. But it was OUR stuff, imbued with memory, passion, and meaning. Doggie and Rabbit are gone. My son’s ceramic tea pot that was pretty fantastic which he made in high school is gone. The homemade Christmas ornaments are gone. My great-grandfathers hand carved chest is gone. My grandmothers china. Our yearbooks, scrapbooks, photo albums, and pictures. Everything. And no, we didn’t have renters insurance. We had just moved in ten days before, to help my aging parents out here in Dallas. We had unpacked the last box that night.
So I’m starting a blog. Because I was able to save someone’s little dog, and help some old ladies down the stairs. Because our little rescue doggie beat the odds and adopted us all those years ago, and woke us up in time. Because I believe there is more out there for me to do. Three weeks post-fire, I vacillate between deep sadness, gratefulness at being alive and the blessings of friends who have donated to us, anger, and a stubborn desire to rise above and be better, and to SHOW THEM I can. I don’t know who “them” is — fate, God, my own insecurities and doubts, my failures — but that is what this blog is for, to grab hold of this second chance to come in first in my own life, and to shine.
And our Keisha gets to lick the ice cream bowl. Because she is a damn good dog.