On October 1st of 2011, something I never would have thought was going to happen to me did. Words cannot express how much it changed my life, but I’m sure as hell going to try. I want to recount everything. This might take a while.
Friday night, which would have been September 30th, a few friends and I had to plans to go to a party. It was Pirates vs. Ninjas vs Cowboys themed. Naturally our best option was to dress as Ninjas. (all black costumes were going to be easy) Because it was an opportunity to look bad-ass, I took it. I wore ripped black tights, and a tight black dress and way too much green eyeshadow. The night went on. It was a Fluffer show, and I was excited to pass out jello shots to the crowd.
Living on the north side of town, I didn’t want to walk all the way back up there since the party was on the south side. Sarah, Patrick, Al, and I went back to Al’s house at around 2 and all four of us crashed in Al’s full size bed.
At around 3:30 am, I keep getting incessant phone calls from my neighbor Elizabeth. I figure shes drunk and is just calling to be annoying so I keep hitting ignore, while feeling badly that my phone might wake up everyone else in the bed. Finally I figured I should answer.
“Meredith, where are you?” she asks.
“I’m at a friends house sleeping. Whats up?”
“Are you anywhere near Terra Trace? (my apartment complex)”
“No I’m on the south side, why?”
“Terra Trace is on fire, its your building.”
“Its on fire. You need to come here now.”
“What is everything ok? Like how bad is it?”
“I don’t know, there are flames coming out of the windows.”
“Wheres Andrea? (my roommate at the time)”
“Shes right here i’ll let you talk to her.”
She hands Andrea the phone. Keep in mind, i’m still groggy, half awake, and still a little drunk.
“Andrea whats going on?
“The apartment is on fire.”
“What the fuck?”
“Yeah. Everything we have is destroyed.”
“I’m coming, I’ll be there in a few.”
“No Meredith don’t come home there’s no point.”
“What?! Of course I’m coming home. I’ll see you soon.”
I have to wake Sarah up, she’s definitely still drunk. She also drove us to the party in a stick-shift that she still wasn’t quite sure how to operate. She doesn’t say much when I tell her what the deal is, but she understands its big deal and takes me back up to the apartment without hesitation. I decided that hopefully shes not too drunk to drive. Patrick and Al barely notice whats happening.
It takes about 4 minutes driving time to get from one side of town to the other, maybe less when its that late at night. The drive over seemed like hours. By the time we got to 15th and Dunn, there were cop cars, fire trucks, and ambulances everywhere. They were blocking off 15th street where the apartment was so Sarah couldn’t drive through. I tell her I’m gonna go down to the apartment and that she should go back to sleep and I’ll call her in the morning.
I ran down past everyone who lived on the street. I’m just crying at this point. A friend stops me running and says hey. “Thats my building!” I tell him hysterically. I was in such hysterics I may or may not have pushed a cop to get through and see what was happening. I finally get down to where my building is and I stand on the other side of the street to see smoke pouring out of our living room window. The smell was one of the most god awful stenches I will ever experience. Burnt Everything. My entire life is in that apartment.
[Stairway leading to the apartment where the fire started]
[The outside of the building the morning after. Where the fireman is standing is where i would go in to get to my apartment. My apartment was the one on the bottom floor. Andrea’s bedroom window is on the bottom left. Our living room window is the bottom right.]
Friends try to comfort and console me but my brain just isn’t working. I need to call my mom. I don’t know what else to do. I have to call a few times. My mom usually listens to music as she falls asleep and she didn’t hear the phone the first few times. Now I understand what Elizabeth was doing.
“Hello?” She says, with a tone that suggests annoyance because I am calling her at 4 AM.
“Mom, first of all, I want to let you know that I’m okay. But my apartment is on fire.”
“WHAT? OH MY GOD! ARE YOU SERIOUS?”
“Yes, I’m serious.” I’m crying.
“I’m on my way. I love you, I’ll see you in a bit.” She says, clearly more worried than she has ever been.
Meanwhile, the cops are questioning us, asking us for our stories, and accounting for everyone who lived in the building. The boys who lived in the apartment above me, where the fire started, are nowhere to be found. A few went to the hospital. We didn’t have any news on if anyone was hurt yet. No one knows still how it started. There were rumors of an electrical fire, there were also rumors that the boys set their couch on fire. We would later find out that none of the smoke alarms were working in the building. They took us all on a bus to the police station. They asked us all for our statements. I am still dressed like a hooker. Everyone else is in their pajamas.
It takes about an hour and a half to get to Bloomington from Indianapolis. My mom, dad, and younger sister were there in 45 minutes. They meet me at the police station; they are the first ones there. I’m just tired and grumpy at this point. I want to go back to sleep. My brain is clearly not comprehending what is going on. They take me outside and we’re going to my sister Leah’s apartment. We all need to go back to sleep and luckily her roommates weren’t there.
I cry myself to sleep in my mom’s arms, now wearing an old sweatshirt of mine (that leah had) and sweatpants.
We have to wake up early to get everything taken care of. I need my inhalers. (I have really bad asthma.) I need my glasses. (i wear contacts) I need a toothbrush. I need clothes. I need everything. The first stop was the health center, then to Forest dorm, where they offered to let us live the rest of the semester. There was no way that was happening. I had no where to live. The dean of students came to talk to us, as well as a counselor. They said they would notify all my professors about what had happened, since I will definitely be needing some time off from school.
I got to talk to some of the firemen and see if there was anything they could rescue from my apartment, because it was mostly damaged by water since I lived directly under where the fire started. MIRACULOUSLY, my laptop was salvaged. I could not believe it was all in working order. I wanted to write Steve Jobs a personal letter after that, but sadly he died not long after.
We all got some tragic news later. A 19-year-old girl lost her life in the fire. Renne Ohrn didn’t even live at the apartments, she was just visiting. This hit us all pretty hard.
After running all around Bloomington, talking to friends on Facebook all day, and eating some Pizza X (my favorite local), my family took me home.
I got texts and phone calls from everyone. From my best friends, family, people I didn’t even know that well, ex-boyfriends, and people I’ve worked for.
When we got to Indianapolis, my mom told me I needed to go get things such as clothes and toiletries. My sister Katie and I went to Target.
Now you may think it is shallow of me to say this, but I loved my clothes. My wardrobe was one thing I really prided myself on. Some people collect stamps, I collect clothes. That trip to Target was one of the hardest moments. Normally anyone who loved fashion as much as I did would love the opportunity to spend your parents money on clothes. This was not how I felt. I wanted all my clothes back. My American Apparel red shorts, my vintage white oxfords that I just got, my Jeffrey Campbell boots that I wore ALL THE TIME, and my Chanel purse.
I just cried as I went through the aisles. Everything I picked out was black. I don’t know if that was subconscious or not.
Along with my clothes, some other things I lost were:
- my bass and Amp,
- my turntable and stereo and TV,
- my sewing machine, all of my art supplies, and paintings that I did.
- all my dvds, records, and books,
- my dads bike,
- and a quilt that my great grandmother made, and my baby blanket. That one kills me.
I got to go back eventually to see if I could salvage anything else. Just some trinkets and pictures were saved.
A friend at the radio station where I worked knew someone looking for a roommate on the south side of town. I ended up moving in with him about a week later. I think my move to the other side of town was what made the drastic change in my life.
In Bloomington, the town is very divided. And I’m going to put this as honestly as possible: the bros live up north and the hipsters live down south. This is probably due to the location of the football/basketball games and the music venues. I never belonged up north.
I started hanging out with a new crowd more often. At Terra Trace, I loved Andrea, but there was so much bullshit drama with the other girls that lived next to us, most of whom I knew from high school. I had known them forever, and we were friends, but they were not good friends at all. They were not good people. Moving away from them got me away from their drama and made it easier to hang out with new friends.
I started hanging out with Sarah more often, because it was easier now. She was (and still is) my best friend in town. She introduced me to all of my closest friends. Rachel, Renne, Anna, Sarah and I are the closest group of girl friends that I have ever had; which is saying something, because I’ve never gotten along with girls very well. I realize now what a true friend is supposed to act like. The relationships I’ve developed and the people I’ve gotten to meet, whom I otherwise never would have met, has made for such an incredible experience for the past year.
I can go to shows now with people who actually want to go to them as well. That was something I could never do before. Ive become involved more with music and I’m even in a band now. NEVER saw that happening a year ago.
More importantly than any of this, I am thankful to be alive. I am so unbelievably lucky to not have lost my life that night. I wonder every day why it wasn’t me. Not in a way that I wish it was me, but if I can get a little existential for a moment, I just constantly wonder why the universe had it this way. I wonder why anyone’s life had to be taken that day. I wonder all the time why it happened to me. But I think maybe the fire was the kick in the ass I needed to get away from a bad situation.
I sit here, one year later, in clothes I love, in a house I love, with roommates I love (Sarah and Anna). I’m listening to records as it rains outside and I couldn’t be happier. I’m doing a 5th year of school, partially because of academic reasons, but honestly because 1 year with such amazing people was just not enough.
Lastly, I want to dedicate this post to a few people who may or may not read it.
- To my Mother, who is the strongest woman I know. I love you so much.
- To Sarah, Rachel, Renne and Anna, who are responsible for making my life so wonderful that I decided to take on another 10,000 in student loan debt.
- To my Dad and my sisters Leah, and Katie, whom I love endlessly and have always been Team Meredith no matter what.
- To Megan Shafer, who made me delicious apple muffins the day after
- To all my other friends, all the boys and gorls (not a typo). You know who you are.
- To Sarah Van Tassel for finding me a house and roommate so quickly. And the rest of my WIUX family for being so supportive.
- To Andrew Cambron, for being such an awesome roommate and being so accommodating to me.
- To Andrea Fancher, I really miss you.
- To Alicia Frost, Mallory Essig and anyone else who donated clothing to me.
- To anyone else I’m forgetting that has made this past year the best year of my life.
There is so much more to say, but i’m mentally exhausted.
I just love everyone.