journal entry

Dispatch #046

By: Leah Mele-Bazaz

Saturday May 30th

Philadelphia, PA

A thick smoke filled our courtyard area and entered our apartment through our bedroom windows. I knew this because my cheap twenty-dollar makeshift desk is right by the window, and I was finishing up a work project as smoke began to infiltrate my nostrils. I had liked working by the window because it felt like I could get fresh air in our one-bedroom apartment in the city, and patches of sunlight would jump on my skin throughout the day. After enough months, I knew how the sun would start at my shoulder and work its way down to my thigh. I even kept a yoga mat rolled next to my desk and would practice a few times a week after work. I was pleased with myself about how such a small space could function as an office and yoga studio. But now, something seemed wrong.

I messaged my neighbor, and she responded that she had a better view from her apartment of the smoking building. I walked across the hallway and entered her apartment, the first time I entered another person’s home since March. We kept an eye on the smoking building, and stood at an awkward distance, taking turns looking out her window. Within ten minutes, a massive electric fire erupted like a bomb. Thick orange flames consumed a massive building behind ours. Only a measly little alleyway divided us from the fire. My first thought was how pointless my months of anxiety around coronavirus was (all of my late nights not sleeping, thinking I had it or spread it), while the new threat of fire seemed to overpower my body with adrenaline.

We had to move.

I went back into my home and alerted my husband. We broke our three-month isolation as we raced down the city streets, blocked by cop cars and firefighters with our dog leading the way. In my arms, I had my valuables in case the embers spread to our home; my passport, my wedding ring, and the memory box the hospital made me with my daughter’s ashes. It was the first time I left my house and forgot to wear a cloth mask wrapped around my face.

My father was able to drive over the Ben Franklin Bridge and pick us up on the street corner. I tried not to panic in the car, and rolled the window down, worried that my breath would spread something to my father.

The last time I saw my parents, we had our annual memorial balloon release for my daughter during the first week of March. Despite early March weather, it was sunny and had just enough wind for the balloons to be swept off into the sky. It was the last moment in time where I had felt fully supported in my grief; shortly after, all of my usual ways I handled grief were ripped from my hands. No more monthly grief support groups, no more marathons, no more after work cocktails with friends to make me laugh, and no more busy work schedules to distract me from the all-consuming nature of my grief.

While I was comforted that I was away from the fire, I couldn’t sleep that night. When I pressed my eyelids shut, I could only see that bright orange fire. I reminded myself that I had the important items with me. That my husband and dog were breathing next to me, and that my daughter’s ashes were safe.

                                                         ****

The fire never spread, although it took another day to put out. The smoke lingered for a week.

Almost a month later now, and some measures are being lifted, but it still feels like quarantine. When will I be able to get into an elevator, and have a clipped conversation with a stranger? When will I get to be in my brightly lit office?  When do I get to laugh again with my co-workers? When will I get to be on the starting line of a marathon?

The worst part is, while I miss what life used to be like for me, I still miss my daughter the most.

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