I was in the bedroom, getting ready to go out to a nice dinner at one of our favorite places – Bistro de la Gare – on Saturday night, when I heard the sirens. I live a block and a half from one of the busiest intersections in the city, and less than a block from a hospital – I have an incredible talent for blocking out the sound of sirens. I seriously never notice them unless someone visiting points them out to me. Sirens are just a part of life in New York City. The sirens seemed a little louder than normal, but still barely registered as I leaned in front of my mirror to put on lipstick. After a few minutes, they were still going and they were REALLY loud now. I peeked out my window, and saw my entire street blocked off – fire trucks, ambulances, cop cars all lined up from one end to the other. I yelled for John, and we ran out onto our terrace, and that’s when I smelled the smoke.
We watched firemen pull the giant hoses from their trucks and head into our building. (We live on the 18th floor of a 51-story high rise.) I ran inside to call our doorman – “Yes,” he told me, “there is a fire in the building, but we don’t know where yet. Please stay in your apartment. Don’t go out.”
What happened next is the greatest example of why John and I belong together. John shrugged, “These buildings are built to contain fires to a single apartment or floor. We shouldn’t freak out. It’s obviously not on our floor. They’ll put it out and everything will be fine. We better call the restaurant and move our reservation an hour later though.” He then walked into the bedroom to put on a nice shirt for dinner and watch the firetrucks from our bedroom window. He was completely calm and did not have a worry in the world.
“OUR DINNER RESERVATION?!” I shrieked. “Clearly we are not going to dinner, you crazy person!”
“Why not?” he asked. “We’ll just be late. We still have to eat. This doesn’t have to ruin the whole night.” Ladies and gentlemen… my husband: John ‘a fire in the building doesn’t have to ruin our dinner’ Goulah. You have no idea how much I love this man.
So I called and moved our reservation from 7:30 to 8:30, and I am 100% sure the very nice man on the phone thought I was COMPLETELY crazy when I told him why we’d be late. “A fire? In your building? And you’re still coming to dinner? But… you’ll be late?” “Yes. We’ll come as soon as it’s out. Sorry about that.” “Uh… these things happen, I guess.” He was totally unable to process what I was saying to him.
As I got off the phone, I saw a trail of sparks fly across my livingroom window, and that’s when everything got very real. I went into checklist mode. I made John get our cat carriers down, and I stuffed our (very angry) cats into their carriers and set them on the sofa, ready to go. My cameras and lenses were still in my camera bag from the day before, so I pulled the bag down, and grabbed the DVD of OUR wedding photos and put them in a camera bag pocket. (Side note: A situation like this is precisely why I store all my clients’ photographs IN THE CLOUD! I did not have to worry about losing all of my work, because my work is not in the building. Photographers – if you are not storing your work in the cloud, you are taking a risk. It’s not expensive at all, and the piece of mind it brought me at that moment was PRICELESS.)
I looked at the bags in front of me – cats, wedding photos, camera. I looked around my apartment – there was nothing else I couldn’t live without. I mean, yes, I felt a pang of regret at the thought of losing some of the photos on the wall, the artwork, the memory box in my closet full of childhood momentos… but it wouldn’t be the end of the world. And I know this because it’s happened to me once before.
At the beginning of 2004 I moved into the second floor of a gorgeous, old purple house that had been turned into a duplex in Wilmington, North Carolina. It had so many problems, and was not in the safest neighborhood, but I loved that house beyond all reason. I’d moved into it at the end of my first serious, long term relationship, and started a new life for myself there. I was figuring out who I was as an independent person. It was simultaneously the best year of my life and the worst year of my life – one of those years that goes on to define everything about you, that makes you into the person that you are. One day at the end of November 2004, I came home from work to find my street blocked off by firetrucks, and the front of my house engulfed in flames. I don’t think I even turned off my car. I just jumped out and ran to the house, until a fireman grabbed me and made me stand back. I watched almost everything I own get destroyed.
The firemen put out the fire and left, and I began picking through my stuff. And that’s all it was to me just then… stuff. I don’t even think I cried as I walked through the apartment. I hadn’t been hurt, I was physically fine. My downstairs neighbors weren’t even angry that their apartment had been flooded from the hoses. We all just stood on the porch and hugged each other because we were all okay. Man, was that a bizarrely symbolic way to end 2004. I literally lost everything that year. And came out the otherside a completely different, stronger, more independent person.
So as I stood in our livingroom and watched the spray from the hoses batter our windows, I knew I could deal with this again. As long as we (and by we, I mean John, Olive, Boo Radley, and I) could get out, we would be fine. Even if I couldn’t bring my cameras. Even if I couldn’t bring my wedding photos. Because it’s just stuff. It’s all just stuff. (Side note: It was also a good reminder that I need to put MY OWN wedding photos in the cloud with all of my clients’ wedding photos. As overprotective as I am about my clients’ photos – I am totally lax about my personal photos. But my wedding photos are going into the cloud TODAY.)
After about 45 minutes – 45 minutes that Boo Radley spent in her carrier and has yet to forgive me for, by the way – the fire was out. We watched the firemen pack up their hoses. We were totally untouched. The fire had been well above us and we were fine. One apartment was destroyed, a bunch of others were flooded from the hoses, but no one was injured or killed.
It was a reminder that I’m grateful for. That all of this… all of this junk that seems OH SO IMPORTANT… well… isn’t. That it can all be gone in a second. And you would be fine. You would be totally okay without it. I know this.
And we even made it to dinner. …Because ya still gotta eat.