I had to turn my floor heater on this morning after I woke up to an unreasonable chill. The zapping sound it made upon being used after so long made my overly cautious brain immediately look for an escape on the slight chance it happened to provoke a fire.
Which reminded me of our fire….
I was about 15 or 16 and had left school early again for no other reason than ‘I feel like it’. The lack of academic supervision in my life caused me to have a severe truancy problem and I had created a habit out of coming and going as I pleased. I was halfway there before I got a phone call from Mario telling me ‘the house is on fire’. He had started it. But this time, my brother’s arson was pure accident. You had given him permission to let off a smoke bomb to get rid of the squirrel who had moved in to our attic and without reading the directions, he just lit it and threw it up there. My slow frolic quickly turned into a sprint home.
I started the shower and undressed remembering how I slowed down as I approached our home to scan the crowd of neighbors that had formed looking for you. I could finally breathe again when I spotted you near a couple of police officers in the front of the crowd. You looked back and saw me and pointed up at the ladder that stretched from the fire truck to the attic window and could barely murmur the words through the tears you were fighting, ‘…my house’. I just froze and stood there.
I hadn’t understood what you needed from me then but I could see it so clearly as I recalled those events today. I could suddenly remember the expression in your face so sharply now. I closed my eyes to condition my hair and there you were. In that wheelchair. Looking back at me. With panic, desperation, fear and grief over watching a home you spent your entire life curating burn written all over your face. And you needed me. But I dropped the ball. I just stood there. It wasn’t until our neighbor Lamar coaxed me towards you, ‘go comfort your grandmother’ that I walked up to rub your back. And even that was for the sake of all the onlookers around us.
The memory in itself made me so weak that I just leaned against the tiles on my shower wall and wept…
‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.’
My eyes competed with the stream of the shower head as I became overwhelmed with guilt. I couldn’t stop apologizing. For every time I blundered when you needed me even though you had never failed me in my moments of weakness. For having the responsibility of taking care of you when I didn’t know how to. For any moment that I showed you anything but pure appreciation. For how differently I’d react to these situations as an adult than I did as an angsty teenager. And even now… for pushing the memory of you to the back of my mind just so I can cope with my day-to-day life. For forgetting. Because the truth is, I need you now just as much as I did then. And I love you more now than I ever did. And it kills me that I never properly showed you.
Please forgive me.