Make Room For The Stuttering

Bright Red Fire Truck

Posted on: March 15, 2009

I was 10 or 11 years old that day, when I came around the corner and saw the fire truck down the street. Even from the corner, I had this sinking feeling that the fire truck was for my house. I couldn’t see which house it was in front of, but I just knew it was there for my house.

My first thought was to turn around and go back, get far, far away. I did not want to face anything bad. I was just a kid, and this was getting too much for me. My mom was an alcoholic and spent most of her time drinking and sleeping.

There were six of us kids, all a year apart, except the youngest. I had always felt I was the parent in some ways to the other kids, as mom was there but not “really there”, and dad spent a lot of time at work or somewhere else. When he was home, we wished he wasn’t.

I think my mom drank because of my dad, the way he treated her, and the way he thought of her as a non-person. When she was unable to tend him or the house, or us kids, that role fell on me, as the oldest. I did everything, and tried to keep a lid on the place. It was not easy, because nothing was ever predictable. I never felt anything was right. I sometimes felt like a non-person.

My legs did carry me down the street to my house that day, and sure enough, the firemen and trucks were there at my house. I started to cry before I even knew what had happened. My heart was pounding, and I was feeling choked, because I was also trying to stop myself from crying. I often had that choking feeling,like something was around my throat, always pushing. That is hard for me even to this day. It was like an unwritten rule in our house – we didn’t cry, we didn’t show emotion, we didn’t speak unless spoken to, and even then, it was a risk. We just did our best to hold on. Sometimes I prayed I would fall off.

My mom had fallen asleep with a lit cigarette. The cigarette dropped on to her blanket and started a fire. The bedroom was on fire, but she wasn’t hurt. No one was, physically.

I don’t know who called the firemen, but they were there, and the fire was out quickly. It didn’t spread much, and only the bedroom area was affected. Some of my sisters were standing out front, watching what was going on, with such sad looks. I don’t remember how they got there, or if we had been together, or was I supposed to be watching them that day.

Some of the neighbors were there too, looking and watching, and whispering. They had those looks on their faces. I had seen those looks before.

The firemen wouldn’t let us in the house for a while, until the smoke cleared. We were lucky. It could have been a lot worse. I remember finally seeing my mother. She was wrapped in a blanket, and looked sooty and stunned. She also had that all-too familiar, confused look, having passed out and woken too soon. She looked dazed, and afraid. It was the first time I remember seeing my mother actually look frightened.

My father came home at some point, and everything else was a blur. I do remember that he eventually had an addition built to the back of the house, and the bedroom was repaired and there was no physical evidence that this had ever happened. Except in my memory.

I think back to that day whenever I see a bright red fire truck from a distance. I am reminded of that scary walk down my block and the pounding heart of a little girl who was always choked up and afraid to cry. A little girl who grew up way too fast.

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