- 6/21/2014 10:16 AM ET
Very nice, Paul!
| When I sit back and reflect upon that time, only one word comes to mind: chaos. The whole morning seems disjointed, somehow. I guess, looking back now, that it was because I usually went to work early every morning. On this bright sunny Memorial Day I was scheduled to work at 3 pm. The world seemed further disjointed because the kids were out of school and my autistic son had spent the night away from home for the first time. This was so askew that my youngest, Madalyn was awake very early on her day off of kindergarten. I, as any hard working Dad, was trying desperately to get more sleep on this day of going in late to work. That was not to be. That was the day things changed.
Have you ever looked back and thought.....hey THAT was a sign I should have given due respect? The sign that morning was a 6 year old pleading for her Daddy to "Be Awake Daddy! Be Awake! You gotta be AWAKE now!". Of course, wanting the rest so desperately, I turned over and told her to play Barbies, watch tv, to go back to bed. How was I to know that God had laid his finger upon my child? The "You gotta be AWAKES." kept coming and then she made it perfectly clear that I would have no rest that day when she climbed in bed and started jumping on my stomach, making a song of "You Gotta Be Awake!".
I got up and grabbed a work shirt from the closet and suddenly this adamant child said"I'm going downstairs to see PaPa. I'll remember that moment for the rest of my life. Her long blonde hair swing out behind her pink and purple shirt. I remember very clearly the slap of her shoe-less feet on the hardwood floors. I can still hear a stir of echoes, gently repeating "You Gotta Be Awake!". I remember these so vividly, because that was almost the last time I saw my child.
I dawdled a few minutes, turning on the tv to see the time. Before the tv could change channels, I heard two voices. One of my child's horrified screams and one of PaPa shouting that everything was on fire. Rushing out the bedroom, I flew down the stairs. 15 steps to the bottom. I knew that because of my OCD. On step 15, my vision locked on the arched doorway of the dining room. At that exact moment, the windows imploded and the heavy tapestry drapes vanished before my eyes. Then everything went black with a huge explosion. My eyes were stinging, water running from them. I could still hear Madalyn screaming. I could still hear Papa shouting somewhere that sounded a million miles away. My sense of direction failed suddenly......I had no idea which way to go. I stumbled off the bottom step, arms flailing, searching for my child. I fell, I got up. I lurched forward down the very wide central hallway of the 1849 Queen Anne Victorian home that was about to disappear forever.
Half-way down the hall, I floundered again. I tripped and fell sideways into the Grandfather clock. AT that exact moment my hand fell upon a very familiar softness. The long silky waves of my daughter's hair. Still blinded by the smoke, I wrapped my hands in her hair and drug her from the corner. I battled down the hallway and into a raging infero that used to be the formal living room. I managed to get us into the foyer of the house. I knew the front door was there! Escape was within grasp. I fumbled around and found the door knob which immediately seared my flesh. I cranked on it any way. The entire knob came off in my burned hand. I dropped it and dragged the still screaming Madalyn back through the burning living room. We made it back to the hallway. The hallway was now ablaze. We made our way towards the end of the hallway and the kitchen. I tried to scream for Papa, but heavy thick smoke choked my voice into oblivion.
We fell then and began crawling. I heard more explosions. All the time my mind kept screaming "Please God, let us get out!!!" It seemed like hours, but in less than a minute, we had crawled to the kitchen and out the door into the blazing garage. The garage door was still in the clear and we managed to get out. Seconds later, Papa came crawling through the same door. Madalyn still screaming, we were all crying. I cannot remember who got to the neighbor's house first, myself or Papa. We stood there awaiting the firemen, watching our lives quickly vanish in the smoke and fire. So weak, I sat down in the middle of the road, my child in my lap. The world was made up of flashing red, white, and yellow. People were talking, but I heard nothing but the heart wrenching sobs of my child. I tried to quiet her, by soothingly saying "they were just things....we'll get new things....". Her sobs were still coming. She said in broken words..."Daddy....you...don't.....unnerstan....my babies were in there!". Her tears really began streaking her black soot covered cheeks. It hit me then. The family pets were still in there.
I jumped up, Papa was talking, but I still heard nothing. I tried to get back into the house, but was barred by a 6'5" burly dark haired fireman. I turned back, not knowing how to tell my child that both pets she grew up with were gone. As I walked those lonely few yards back to her, looking at the streaks of tears, my mind was numb. Suddenly, I saw people kind of parting, as if to let someone through the crowd assembled, watching our lives poof away. As they moved back, a tiny, tri-colored Shih-Tzu came running up the street towards us. How Molly escaped, I'll never know. But that dog ran and jumped in my daughter's lap and began licking her tears away. Then I heard my child let out a little giggle and I remember thinking "Thank God."
Someone was then tugging at my arm. The 6'5" fireman. "Sir....Sir the Red Cross is waiting at the bottom of the hill for your family. This is the Red Cross Chaplin.". The Chaplin spoke soothingly to us as we began our 2 mile walk to the bottom of the ridge. As we started out, I was suddenly acutely aware that I was standing there in a soot covered work shirt and boxer briefs. My daughter was wearing shorts and a top, but no shoes. Papa in pajama bottoms, tank top, and sandals. Realizing that your entire family now only owns 6 pieces of clothing and NOTHING else, can be a very daunting thought. I still walked like a zombie, mind flying a million miles a minute. My daughter began to cry saying that her feet hurt on the gravelly road. I picked her up, even though the rocks were killing my own feet. We passed a house and a man came running towards us. He stated that he had gained weight and could no longer wear this pair of jeans. They were my exact size. We passed two more houses and a lady gave us a suitcase of clothing and toys for my kids. Then we rounded a bend in the road and came face to face with a situation that changed our lives.
When we rounded the bend, a little girl, no more than 7 ran out into the driveway and shouted "STOP!". Her Mother and Grandmother, were standing on the porch watching. This tiny little curly haired girl walked right up to me and said "Mister, can your little girl have my shoes? I got some more inside, but she don't got none.", her tiny finger pointing at my daughter. I put Madalyn down and this unknown Angel Girl unlaced the tennis shoes and gave them to my daughter. The mother and Grandmother came forward and stated that they did not prompt her to do this. That she listened to God within her. I thanked God then for A Stranger's Shoes.........
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