My house fire experience of 2001 is one of the most intense events of my life. There are only a few people I've told the story to, but I realize that in sharing such events and in adding them to the conscious collective, we allow others to come forward and share similar happenings.
It was August of 2001. I was home from university for the summer, and my parents had gone on a sailing vacation, leaving me and my younger brother in charge of our family home. The night of the fire, I'd gone into Vancouver to spend time with some girlfriends. We were out late, drinking way too much red wine in a Gastown pub. I spent the night on my friend's couch.
In my dream that night, which I clearly remember despite being drunk, I was walking down the upstairs hallway of my home, but the walls had fallen away. I was balancing on a thin piece of plywood, trying to get to my childhood bedroom. I was surrounded by flames, and could feel the heat on my skin.
I awoke to my friend sitting at the end of the couch, shaking me awake. She said I'd been screaming about fire, and reassured me it was just a nightmare. I hugged her and fell back asleep. The next morning, she drove me back into Langley. As we rolled up to my house, I noticed a white van parked in the driveway with what looked like a large black hose coming from it. My first thought was that they were carpet cleaners, and was trying to recall if my parents had mentioned hiring anyone. Then I noticed that the basement window had been boarded up. I got out of the car and was greeted by a woman dressed in a white Hasmat type suit, who told me that there had been a fire.
I instantly began to lose it. I remember feeling something in my brain, a literal snapping of the synapses. I couldn't figure out if I was awake or still trapped in the nightmare. The woman led me into the house, and as I walked through the front door, I started crying and couldn't speak, other than repeating, "What the fuck!" over and over. As I entered the house I saw that the front stairs were blackened. All I could smell was smoke. At the top of the stairs, the carpet was lying in a lump, but at first, I thought it was my dog, Chuckie, lying there. I started screaming about the dog, and one of the insurance company workers asked if there had been any pets that might have been in the fire. It was then that I remembered that our dog had already been dead for years. It was the strangest thing though... I felt as if I was slipping in the timestream. My younger self, who used to come from from school every day and lie at the top of the stairs with the dog, was weeping over the loss of this pet.
As I got to the top of the stairs, I touched the carpet and realized that it wasn't in fact my dog, but simply my eyes and mind playing tricks on me. I walked into the kitchen, and there was nothing but a gaping hole. The entire kitchen was black, and most of the furniture was gone. Through the hole I could see right into the basement.
I asked the woman who was leading me if my brother was okay, and she told me that he was. The next thing I asked about was my hope chest. (My 'hope chest' is a beautiful cedar chest that my father had one of the prison inmates he was working with build me. At the time, it was filled with books of poetry, photos, and the most treasured items I'd collected over the years.) After describing what it looked like, the woman told me that "strangely enough, the chest was fine." She led me down the hallway to my childhood room. I felt as if I was back in my dream as we walked carefully along what remained of the hallway. We got to the bedroom, and I looked into the smoke damaged debris. In the middle of the blackened room sat my hope chest. The woman told me that she wasn't sure how it had been saved because everything else in the room and vicinity of the room was destroyed.
I walked in, even after she warned me not to because most of the floor was missing, and saw my chest. It was covered with a layer of soot, but I pulled it open and saw that everything inside it was fine. I closed the lid, and sighed with relief, then let her lead me back out of the room, as I was barely able to breathe with the toxic smell of the smoke. As we walked back down the hallway, I also saw into the living room, where, the night before, I had brought out my record collection. I saw that my records were all warped and destroyed, and began to spaz out, as I was particularly attached to my vinyl. The woman wouldn't let me stay in the house, and she led me outside, where I collapsed on the front lawn and wept like a child.
My brother then showed up (he had been at the neighbour's house) and I wrapped my arms around him, so thankful that he was okay. He said something to me about me waking him up with my phone call the night before, and I was remember telling him that I hadn't called. Later, I found out that in the police report, my brother had stated that I called him and told him to get out of the house, but that I had said it was "Renee", my middle name, which I didn't use to identify myself at the time. (Years later, I began using the name Renee instead of my last name.)
My brother and I went to our neighbour's house while we waited for our parents to call. (Not really what you want to hear on your summer sailing vacation, that's for sure! My mom and dad received a call from the fire chief, who was an old time friend of my dad's, stating that they had just lost everything, and that their home had been gutted by fire.) The first thing I asked for as we settled ourselves into our neighbour's living room was a Bible. For some reason, there was comfort in the familiarity of my favourite Psalm, and I read it over and over to myself. My neighbour then asked me where I was the night before, and I said that I'd been in the city for the night, and had slept on a friend's couch. She stated that she was pretty sure she'd seen me the night before, walking out from the house, and that I'd passed under her window. She even went so far as to tell me that I'd been wearing a red jacket, which was what I had been wearing that night. Super trippy. In my mind, I suddenly realized that I'd somehow astral travelled, which was something I'd been practicing for years. It then became clear to me that it hadn't been a nightmare, but that I had actually sent my astral body right into the fire.
My parents returned from their trip, and the four of us were stationed in a hotel for the next little while. I was heartbroken at seeing all our childhood toys in a huge dumpster outside the house... my doll collection looked out at me with blackened eyes and distorted faces. One of the only things saved was my hope chest.
My brother later went back on his story about me calling, because I swore I hadn't. My cel phone had no record of the call.
The cause of the fire was never discovered. It looked as if it may have been electrical.
When my mother and I went to the insurance company to hand in a list of everything we could think of that had been lost, they showed us some photos that they had taken as they went in to clean up. In one photo, taken in the living room, they had captured a smoky looking orb of light. The woman behind the desk said that she'd never seen a ghost on film before, but that she thought that's what it was. My mom took one look and said, "We don't believe in things like that." When she handed me the photo, I got shivers all over and every hair on my body stood on end. It was definitely an entity.
My dad ended up enlisting the help of some of our church members and they rebuilt the entire house. As a family, we went out and bought new furniture, new clothing, everything. I don't know if we ever got over the strangeness of the event though. It was something that cracked us apart. I fled back to Victoria rather than dealing with what had happened, and ended up having a seven week psychotic episode in which I didn't know what year it was, and wasn't responding to my own name. None of my friends knew how to deal with me. They later stated that even the colour of my eyes changed, and that it felt like it was no longer me looking out at them, but someone else.
9/11 occurred right afterwards, and I recall being totally out of touch with reality. I was convinced that nothing was real, and that my friends and all the people surrounding me were extras who had been paid to be in my life. I exhibited some extremely bizzare behaviour. The lowest of the low was me sitting on the streets of downtown Victoria, naked underneath a big red raincoat, living out of a plastic bag. My father eventually came to take me home, but not before me embarrassing myself in a pretty epic fashion.
The fire is still one of the things that my family never really healed from.
I hope that by me telling this story that I'll be able to personally gain some closure. My brothers and mom and dad don't believe in things like astral travel, and that has always been one of the things that has divided us. I truly believe that something beyond me took over that night, and that somehow, I was able to warn my sleeping brother to get out of the house. I thank God for that. I definitely believe in divine intervention. I know that I never would have forgiven myself for going into the city that night if something had happened to him.