Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Five Months Later

Sixty-years of history knocked down in less than an hour. (Photos by Lon Horwedel)

Two people died in there.

That’s all I kept thinking as a small Bobcat with a giant, metal claw began to systematically dismantle the house across the street, picking away at its flesh like some pre-historic vulture, one wall at a time.

It had been five months almost to the day when a fire at the house claimed the lives of my two young neighbors, ages 19 and 20. I still couldn’t tell you their names, but not a day has gone by since that fire on January 29th when I haven’t thought about them at least once. It’s hard not to when you have the constant reminder of their charred gravesite sitting across the street in plain view.

It’s the first thing I see when I walk out our front door. It’s in my rearview mirror when I back out our driveway, and it’s always there waiting for me, welcoming me home, whenever I return, reminding me that death came calling one winter’s morn, not more than 150 feet from my front door. And now it was being eaten up and spit into a dumpster by a mechanical monster.

The demolition took place without much fanfare. There weren’t any explosives, there wasn’t a wrecking ball busting down brick walls, it didn’t even make all that much noise apart from the occasional cracking of a wooden support beam being snapped in two like a matchsticks, or the popping of breaking glass when the large picture window burst like a water balloon when the large claw came calling. If not for the few neighbors who gathered to watch from the sidewalk, the event would have gone completely unnoticed.

But I noticed. I noticed a lot.

I noticed how the Bobcat tore up the home’s front yard on its way to its feast, leaving giant waffle prints in the dirt. I noticed garbage cans still sat in the driveway, unused and unmoved in the same spot they’d occupied for the past five months. I noticed the wreath on the fence that had been put there shortly after the fire by the victim’s friends was now dead, all dried and brown - a sad reminder of how life goes on. But mostly I noticed my neighbors watching from the sidewalk – one of them a spry 90-year old woman who had just lost her husband of 60-years last fall. I wondered how she felt while she stood there watching expressionless with her chin in her hand. I wondered how any of them felt.

A dead, brown memorial wreath still adorns the fence in front of the house.

That house had been there for 60-years. Families had lived there. Memories were made there. But none of it mattered now. It took less than an hour for the Bobcat to create an empty space where the house once stood. On a cold winter morning this past January, it took less than 20-minutes for a stove fire to claim the lives of two of the house’s occupants. It was hard for me to comprehend 60-years of families and memories being completely erased by 20-careless minutes in January and then being ripped apart in less than 45-minutes by demolition crew in June.

When the giant claw belched the final piece of debris into the dumpster, I said goodbye to my neighbors and walked back home. Tomorrow the crew will return to clean up the rest of the mess and haul it away - all but the foundation that is. The foundation remains, and soon a new home will spring up in place of the old one. The home’s owner, the father of one of the victims, is building a new house on the site for his other daughter. I’m not sure how she’ll ever be able to go into the basement of the new house knowing it’s the same place her sister died, but I guess she’s going to give it a try.

I think about that a lot too.

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