Tomorrow, in about 2 hours, it will be exactly twenty years ago that a sudden flame shot up in our local pub. It was set off by handheld sparklers. A little spark caught on the old Christmas decorations and in an instant, it was so hot inside that skin literally melted. The fire itself was over in a flash, but the repercussions weren't. Fourteen people died and over two hundred were injured and the majority of those were young. I was fourteen at the time and inside were many of my peers.
Over the course of this week, there's a documentary on tv about a group of friends who survived that event. We'd simply call it 'The Fire' from that day on and it left such a shock that wherever you are in our country if you mention 'The Fire' with capital letters, they know what you're talking about. Add the name of my town and they'll definitely know. The group of friends they are shadowing are almost all girls I grew up with. We went to grade school together. From the age of 6 to 12, we sat in the same classroom. I was even occassionally invited to a birthday party. We weren't close though, not then and not now and not in between.
The Fire has always been a strange event in my life. In a certain way, it affected my teenage years thoroughly. I spent that year going to funerals of classmates. Every week we'd find out how this person was doing or that, who was getting out of the hospital, who would be returning to school. I grew up with burned faces around me and I held hands that had been in the fire. Hands that, even years later, held the scars that showed the nightmares some of them still held inside. But it's not my event. I was adjacent. I still am. It's how I've always felt. My mom asked if I'd watched the first episode and I hadn't, although I caught a small interview earlier this week. Part of me is curious. Another part of me has no interest in seeing anything about them. I'm glad to hear how well they are faring, despite the extreme difficulties they've had thanks to that horrible disaster. They are married now, with children and they are happy, or so they say. And I'm happy for them. But I won't lie and say that my memories of our grade school years were happy ones and that now suddenly I feel a kinship with them. An eleven-year-old child doesn't conceive of suicide by being perfectly happy. I know it's selfish, to still feel some of that bitterness as I remember that. It wasn't their fault either, not personally. And it's not that I ever wanted any of them to be unhappy. But somehow. There they are. Happy, accomplished, thriving. And here I am. Laying in a bed. Back in my hometown. Not a part of life exactly. Just... Adjacent to it. At moments like this, I can't wait to get out of town again.