In 1978, we lost our home to a fire, which I started with matches. I was home alone for a brief, yet obviously tragic time. Although I have resolved much of the experience, there is one big thing that feels incomplete. The recent San Diego fires have awakened a part of me that has been dormant: knowing that I would have died in that fire had an unidentified man not saved me.
I grew up on Long Island in NY. My family lost our home twice to fires (when I was five and 10). I now live in San Diego. The 2003 and 2007 wildfires were devastating for a lot of people. Although it brought up some of my personal process these recent fires have shook me up. I am now a mother and have a little girl the same age that I was when I was trapped in that house. And now, I have a strong desire to seek this man out, thank him, and give him a big, fat hug.
I think it was an off-duty fireman. I can kind of picture his face: Caucasian, dark hair, gruffy beard and mustache. I have one idea of whom it might be, however I don't really know (feel free to reveal yourself). In the mean time, here is the letter I wish I could give to the man whom I consider a super-hero.
I remember you. When I was five, you saved my life.
I remember that morning. After running up and down the stairs with pots of water (to put out flames covering the walls), I decided to hide under a big red chair in our living room. The house was filled with smoke and the upstairs was burning. I was very scared. I heard banging on the door. And then I heard YOU.
BANG BANG BANG BANG, "IS ANYBODY HERE?" or something like that.
At first I stayed there. I didn't want to get out because I was afraid to get in trouble for starting the fire. But you kept banging. I squeezed myself from underneath the chair and ran to the door. I will never forget the look on your face when you saw this petite, barely five-year-old, mousy haired, petrified little girl standing in front of you. You jumped back with wide, terror-filled eyes and screamed for me to open the door.
I did what my mother taught me. I went and got a chair and pushed it against the door. We had several locks, I can't remember how many. But I was so scared and shaking that I couldn't get them open. You yelled for me to back up and, like a super-hero, you smashed that whole door down and scooped me up.
You took me outside and put me safely by the swing set. You were so gentle, you were so kind, and you were so confused.
The house was engulfed in flames, filling up with smoke, and I planned on staying under that red chair forever. It ended up taking about two years to rebuild...so between the smoke and fire, I would be gone. There is no doubt in my mind that had you not seen the black smoke coming out of my chimney...I would have died. As I write that, I am crying, because I know it is true. You saved my life. Those are not just words and I am not being dramatic. This is the truth. I am here typing this because of you. I am alive, with my own five-year-old daughter now because of you.
I will never forget you, and what you did. I send you love often, especially now. And I hope you feel it.
With love and gratitude,
Aimee Le Zakrewski Clark
(formerly of Brookfield Avenue, in Center Moriches)
Healing Vigilante on Facebook.