“If I were asked to name the chief benefit of the house, I should say: the house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.” -Gaston Bachelard
A home is a place of peace. A home is a place of comfort. A home is a place of safety.
My home is gone.
I kept my eyes on the reflection of the pond in front of the house. The glow of the flames mirrored off the surface of the water. I could see the flames dance upon the wooden corpse of the old cottage as the glass windows melt out of their frames.
I tried to hear the sounds of laughter bouncing off the kitchen walls during a family meal. I wanted to feel the warmth and love that my aunt had shown me when she first helped me to paint my room. I wanted to picture the days curled in front of the fireplace with no sounds other than the crackling of the sparking wood.
All those memories, all that love that had been shared with me, is now gone. Nothing was left but a pile of rubble. My life was gone again.
I watched the firemen run into the blaze as the ambulance drove up next to my aunt’s truck. Not even one of the two dozen people now adorning my yard had even glanced at me, and for that I was grateful.
I didn’t want to see their faces, see the look of pity and sorrow reflected toward me. I have seen enough of those emotions to last a lifetime.
“We found a body!” one of the firefighters called out as a group of them carried my aunt out of the doorway. His skin was covered in blood and burn marks, but what I noticed first was the fact that the fireman wasn’t holding the body of my aunt, but instead was clutching the crumbling charred chair that she was still tied to.
The mahogany chair that had once sat at the head of the table in the dining room, my aunt’s seat when we had dinner together every night. The chair she sat in when I first came to live with her, and she promised me that everything was going to be alright. The chair where she was sitting when she told me I was finally safe.
The charred remains of the piece of furniture were now the chair where I had found my aunt zip-tied and tortured in. The chair where my aunt was sitting when she died.
I closed my eyes tight as I let in a shaky breath. I couldn’t watch as the firefighters had to cut her out of the restraints. I couldn’t listen to the EMT’s try to bring her back, but instead, only confirmed she had died in agony.
I felt the tears push against my eyelids wanting to be released. But I just kept denying them. I will not let him break me. Not again.
A soft hand gently placed itself on my shoulder. I opened my eyes again to stare at her through the surface of the water.
Sarah’s dark auburn hair caught the glow of the fire as I stared into her dark eyes. I could see her regret and guilt swimming in those eyes as her eyes met mine in the water.
“How?” it was the only word I spoke, the only word I had to speak. She knew what I needed to know.
Her lips formed a deeper frown as she continued to stare at me. As she stood in silence to my question, I took the chance to look at her. She was in a grey business suit like always with a slight bulge on her hip where her gun was holstered. She had a few new wrinkles around her eyes, probably from the stress of her job, but she still hadn’t aged much since I last saw her. I guess that shouldn’t surprise me since it’s only been a year.
“How, Sarah?” I ask again, my voice rising slightly.
“We don’t know.”
After a minute or two, I shrug my shoulder out of her grip and turn toward her, so I look her in the eyes as I asked my next question, “Has he been found?”
She pursed her lips in hesitation, a tell-tale sign that I wasn’t going to like her answer, “No.”
I nodded my head slightly in acceptance before turning my focus onto the crumbling cottage in front of me. Without looking back to her, I asked another question, “How much time do I have?”
“None, I’m afraid,” she tells me as she moves around to stand in front of me again, “I’m sorry this has happened again, but you need to remember to keep moving forward. Do I need to remind you what’s at stake here?”
I shake my head as I feel the slight urge to roll my eyes at her, “I don’t need a reminder on what I have lost,” I snap at her, “I’m never allowed to forget it.”
Her eyes drop for a second as the guilt eats up at her again. She lets out a deep breath before looking back at me, “I can give you a minute, but then we have to leave.”
I nod to her as she leaves to go grab the car. I try to let myself feel the sorrow and pain of saying goodbye to this home. This house had been the longest I had ever been safe in. So much time had passed, that I thought I finally safe. I thought my aunt was safe.
I was wrong.
I was never safe. No matter where I go or who I am with. Everyone who cares for me will die because of it. I let my guard down. It won’t happen again.
I heard a car honk behind me as I took in the burned cottage one more time.
“It’s time to go to a new home,” Sarah calls out to me as I opened the front passenger door.
No. No more homes. Home will never be an option again.