I got a late start writing tonight, and while I wish I could keep going with this piece I’ll have to put it aside and finish another night. I’m sure I missed all sorts of typos. I feel a need to apologize for that.
A couple months ago, my neighbor’s garage caught fire. When it happened I was inside—reading, I think. I live pretty close to a fire station, so I hear sirens all the time. But on this particular night they got louder, closer. Then there were the lights and the sounds of trucks right outside my house.
So I did what all my neighbors did. I went outside to watch.
By the time I got outside, the garage was fully engulfed in flames. I couldn’t actually see the garage, but I could see the fire and, even two doors down, I could feel the heat. So I stood there, watching. And more neighbors came out. And we all sort of huddled together in the street as the fire fighters did their thing. We didn’t say much, and standing there it was easy to discern who the busybodies were. They asked questions and then conveyed the answers to people as they joined us. Garage fire. Owner’s son was inside and burned his arm. Not sure what caused it. Only took the firemen five minutes to get here. Lots of popping. Something exploded.
Once the flames were out, we all headed back inside, still unsure what had happened. What I did learn is this: When something catches fire, people come running. And when the fire goes out, people go home.
I still don’t know what caused the fire. I tried to find out. I checked the local news the next day, but only learned what I already knew: there was a fire.
My innate curiosity wouldn’t leave me alone. There’d been a fire and I, for some reason I can’t explain, needed to know what exactly had happened. I did some Googling (as we all are want to do) and learned about the Real Time 911 Dispatch, a searchable log that provides scant information on all dispatched incidents. But, just like with the local news, all I learned is what I already knew: there was a fire on 2nd Ave.
I’m sure all sorts of research has been done to examine the parts of our brains that hold this sense of curiosity that’s so strong we’ll slow traffic on a major freeway to a near standstill just so we can catch glimpses of a car accident. I’m so curious about this impulse that I’m tempted to stop writing and spend some time reading up on it.
What I know is this: we try to make sense of nearly everything that happens, especially when what happens is outside our realm of normalcy and comprehension. We’ll stand in the rain watching a neighbor’s garage burn down just so we can make sense of all the noise and chaos taking place on our street. We’ll stand there and hold our arms around ourselves and shake our heads and we’ll wonder how such a thing happened right there, in front of us.
Burned to the ground right in front of us.
Fires we can usually make sense of. We know what causes fire and how it is extinguished. What we don’t know—the reason we stand on the curb and watch—is why it happened so close.
Why me? How is it that this unusual and scary thing has happened so close to me?
The uncertainty, the not knowing, plagues me sometimes. It is so incredibly large.
I use the example of the fire for two reasons: two things came out of this experience.
The first: I learned about Real Time 911. I had no idea something like this existed.
The second reason is a little more complicated. I’ll try to explain.
Like I said, it’s no big surprise to hear sirens or see fire trucks screaming through my neighborhood. When I was out walking Petey tonight, I saw an ambulance headed in the direction of a friend’s house. My gut told me to call her and make sure she was okay. But then I could see that the ambulance was headed a few blocks south of her place. But still I wondered what happened. And I made a mental note to look online later to see what happened.
And then I had this realization: I could use this database to find some information about what happened the night Scott collapsed. I could get a little closer to the answers.
In another post I mentioned that Scott died of an AVM, a brain anomaly that, years later, still holds a thousand mysteries. I have heard several variations of what happened that night from several people. There is no right story, just as there is no right truth. Life turned to chaos and tragedy in an instant.
What I know is that he was running on a treadmill when he shouldn’t have. Scott had high blood pressure and his doctor had told him not to overdo it at the gym. But he was in a good mood that day and had a lot of energy. I know this because I talked to him as he drove from work to the gym.
Then something happened. He felt a pop in the back of his neck. He complained of a headache. He collapsed. He seized. He was unresponsive.
About eight months after he died, I went to the gym where all of this happened. I sat down with a couple guys who were working there that night. My memory of that conversation is pretty sketchy. It’s one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. I was driving home from work and felt this huge impulse to go in there, to talk to someone and get the answers. My car had steered itself there. I don’t remember walking inside, but I do remember explaining my story to the guy at the front desk. He had been there. He had seen what happened. He had called 911.
I craved answers. I was still in deep grief and the “what ifs” were large and looming. It was incredibly irrational—as most grief reactions are—but I thought that if I could find out what happened, if I could process it just enough, maybe, just maybe, I could bring Scott back.
I was completely powerless, yet a part of me felt strong enough to bend time, to alter history and physics and biology.
And it is true that there are times, like tonight, where I still feel that way.
(to be continued)