I found it on the worst night of my life. That night, I was dragged out of sleep to flee from my home. I was tortured. Everything I had was destroyed. When I was rescued, I was only wearing a diaper and this gaudy bracelet.
The night I found it, I was woken hours before dawn by the sound of a woman screaming. It came from outside and was muffled, but I could tell she was nearby. The woman screamed familiar names: the name of my male neighbor and of their children. ‘Get out!’ she screamed and ‘Hurry!’ Her panicked screams contrasted with the beautiful yellow glow outside of my window. It was as if the sun had risen and its light was diffused by my curtain as it entered my room. The light did not come from a sunrise: it came from my burning neighborhood.
I knew my house was next. I had to get out of it. I thought about what I would take with me. I lived alone. I did not have pets. I did not like to have things. All I had was my own skin, a laptop for my livelihood, and a gaudy bracelet I acquired from a shady character.
My cousin and I had been browsing at a market in Mexico City. A handsome man had approached us and, with a charming accent, had asked us if we would allow him to show us a jewel worthy of our beauty. We had pretended to listen to his description while surreptitiously enjoying his attention.
“Buy it, Carol,” my cousin had urged. “It’s not fake. It looks like he stole it from a museum. There might even be a reward. Or you could sell it for a lot of money.” So, I had been hoodwinked into buying something I did not want. I had paid a lot, but less than he had asked for. He had seemed happy to be rid of it.
I had not had any particular feelings about the transaction at the time. I had just hoped either the metal the bracelet was made of or the green stone encased in it would be valuable. But then I had to sneak it out of Mexico and into the U.S. It was then that I had felt like a part of corruption and a thief. I would not sell it or get it appraised: I would keep it in the safe in my home office hoping to forget about it.
I heard the roar of the fire outside as I walked into my home office to retrieve my two belongings. I heard propane tanks explode. I easily found my laptop on my desk. When I tried to open my safe, the sounds of danger outside made me ham-fisted and I had trouble turning the knob. I couldn’t even remember the combination. I tried everyone’s birthday: my mother’s, my father’s, my sister’s, and my own. At last; it was the numbers from my closest cousin’s month, day, and year of birth that opened the safe. As its door clicked open, the smoke alarms in my house went off.
Back when I had shopped for a home, I had fallen in love with my house because it had a porch that wrapped all the way around it. I had really enjoyed that porch over the years. I had watched it rain in the afternoon under its protection. I had walked barefooted on its cool wooden deck drinking my coffee. I had watched the sun rise and set while rocking in a chair my parents had given me as a birthday present. The deck I loved so much burned all the way around the house and trapped me inside.
I went upstairs to try to jump out of a window. The house was filled with smoke, so I scuttled close to the ground and held my breath as much as I could. I could not see, but I could have found my way through my house with my eyes closed.
When I found a window, it would not open. I broke the glass with the closest thing I could find. I grabbed some pillows from a bed beside the window and stuffed my laptop between them for its protection. I then tossed it out of the window as far as my strength would allow. I was also going to throw the bracelet. Instead, I put it on and protected my wrists from broken glass as I pushed against the window frame and climbed out.
I stood on the roof of my porch and searched for a place to jump to. Once I found it, I changed my posture to get ready to jump. The shingles must have melted because I slipped on one. I fell and my body hit the roof causing it to collapse.
I found myself burning in the middle of a fire. Flames were all around me. I was in excruciating pain. I flopped like a fish on land trying to move my body away from burning material, but my movements were ineffective because there was no place to go. I hoped I would pass out and it would be over.
But the torment was not ending. I decided to get myself out. I tried to use my hands to stand, but the ground was covered with burning materials. I finally steeled myself to endure the pain, got up, and pushed through the burning materials that were once my home. I walked over a red and black ground feeling my bare feet burn.
Once I got out of the flames, the pain stopped. I looked at my hands, and they were unharmed. My clothes and hair had completely burned off, but I could not feel burns on my face or see burns anywhere on my body. I was going to take the bracelet off, but it was cool when I touched it. I also had no better way to carry it.
There was smoke all around me as my neighborhood continued to burn. The wind blew smoke and the heat of the fire at me. I stumbled over the pillows I had thrown out the window. I used a pillow case to make a diaper to cover my bottom. Then, I held a pillow and my laptop against my chest to cover my top.
I ran down the center of the street searching for a way out of the neighborhood. The most open place I could think of was a golf course that was a couple of miles away. I did not know what else to do or where else to go, so I walked in its direction.
On the way to the golf course, a group of firefighters emerged from the smoke. They led me to safety. As I sat by the firetruck, a firefighter told me I had made the right choice in getting out immediately without stopping to get anything. Most of my neighbors had not been able to escape.
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