A year ago this week my life changed. It has changed many times in the months in between, but this was the first in the series of life-altering events.
October 10, 2013...the second Thursday of the month. According to the meteorologists the day lasted for 11 hours and 22 minutes, but at the time it felt like an eternity.
My focus, like most days around that time, was on figuring out how I was going to get ready for my wedding that was just 6 weeks away. Madison had a volleyball game in Hampton, so after school was over, Katie and I got in my car and made the 45 minute drive south. I hadn't really missed that drive since moving to Norway, but my car was still registered there and my taxes were due, so the trip served a double purpose. After the game we met Michelle and the kids at McDonalds for supper and then the three of us made the 45 minute drive back home.
Mark and Phillip had gone to the Norway CHA meeting. When we got close, I called to ask him if he wanted us to wait at his house or my apartment. He told us to go to my apartment and he would pick the girls up when he was done. By the time we finished that conversation, we were passing his house...I looked right at it...that image is still ingrained on my brain...so many times I have been thankful that we didn't stop.
We had only been at my apartment long enough for the bickering over what we would watch on television to stop when Mark called me back...his words were not what I was expecting. It had been a long day and I was anxious to see him, to get one of those hugs that make all the troubles of life go away, or at least momentarily fade from memory.
"I'm leaving Norway...I'm going to the house...keep the girls...Phillip said the house is on fire."
Those words? No, those were not the words I was expecting to hear.
I think it is a fact (whether it can be proven, or not) that men have no concept of what can go on in the mind of woman. When not given sufficient detail about a situation our minds are more than happy to fill in the gaps with whatever our imagination can create. This is true at 34 and almost-14, Madison's age at the time. She had heard just enough of the conversation to be panicked and it was a battle for the next few minutes to remind her that whatever fear she was experiencing did not need to be passed on to her younger sister.
Then they started...
...from one end of town you could hear them in the distance...
...they got louder as they came towards our side of town...
...then they faded off again as they raced down Cope Road...
one after another, then a break and a few more...I didn't know Norway had that many fire trucks.
I didn't find out until later that they don't. When people realized it was Mark's house that was burning, they came from all over the county. They didn't tell the dispatcher they were going so they wouldn't be told to stay put, they just got in the trucks and left. This was the first of many outpourings of love for Mark and his kids that I witnessed.
The anxiety level in my apartment had risen drastically, but Mark told us to stay, so we stayed.
When Mark finally called again, they were still not the words I wanted to hear...
"Phillip is hurt...went into the house to make sure the girls weren't there...has to go to the hospital...wants to see the girls before he leaves to make sure they are okay...can you bring them here?"
That five miles was the longest and shortest drive of my life. I was so anxious to get to Mark that I almost pulled out in front of an ambulance headed to the scene. At the same time I was searching to find the words to explain to a not-quite-8-year-old what was happening and what she might see.