THE OAK STREET CHRONICLES: THE FIRE

The Oak Street Chronicles tell the stories of the years I spent in Downtown Flint, learning to live and learning to love.

Tap. Tap. Tap. I rustled from beneath the covers of my bed in order to glance at the clock on my side table. 3:00 a.m. Tap. Tap. Tap. “What is that sound coming from outside my window?” It seemed that someone was trying to get my attention. In my old neighborhood, you could never be too careful when looking out a window in the middle of the night. I had no idea what I would find when I peeked out of the curtain into my side yard. I stumbled across the room to find the source of the late-night tapping. I had to see who or what was trying to get my attention.

My eyes were still heavy with sleep as I gently leaned toward the window. I pulled back the curtain to witness a band of fireflies dancing against the night sky. “Wait a minute.” My eyes widened to the realization that I was not witnessing a complimentary performance of a moonlit Madame Butterfly. The flickering lights falling before my window were in reality, flaming ash. My mind began to race. “Where are my pants?” “If the house is on fire I can’t go into the street in my underwear.”   “Should I grab my guitar or my comic books?” The choices one is faced with in a time of crisis sure can tell you something about the heart of that person.

I slipped on my pants and my Chuck Taylors as I made my way to the front porch. I looked around but failed to find the source of the floating ash. “Alright, my house is not on fire. You can breathe again.” I heard voices coming from the side of the house and slowly made my way around to discover the neighbor who was responsible for rousing me from my slumber with his incessant tapping standing with a few others from our block. At the same time, I saw the source of the fire. An old church building that took up the lot directly behind my house was completely engulfed in flames. I could feel the heat from the fire brushing up against my skin and the smoke filling my lungs with a bittersweet fragrance that made me cringe as if I had just watched an Ed Wood film.

My neighbor who had just returned from a late night at the bar looked frightened. “Did you call the fire department?” He said that he did. “Probably some kids or a drug dealer cooking meth.” I was very compassionate. “Thanks for waking me up. I’m going back to bed.”

The next morning, I woke up hardly noticing the smell of the charred rubble that was still smoking in my backyard.  I went about my business, oblivious to all that was lost.

I wonder how often we miss the fires in our own backyards for the comfort of the beds we have made for ourselves. I think we tend to prefer the dancing to the destruction we see around us. But in reality, our dancing is often just a disguise for the places we ourselves have been destroyed.

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