The fire was extinguished swiftly with no one hurt. Seasons passed and blackened trunks fell to earth. Most trees scorched, returned quickly. Like magic, nature sent up new, lush flora. Critters and ground birds flourished. I never have gotten over it.
Though nurtured by responders to the fire, I was inconsolable. They recognized and respected my nature. My parents behaved fearfully, as though they were being exposed, unable to comprehend the depth of my suffering. I desperately wanted to be held responsible for my actions. I wanted to make amends and be forgiven.
I suffered an abusively long period of jarring public insults from a mean little town and from teachers and classmates. Firefighters and police comprised of volunteer Dads from school, proved instantly forgiving. Their compassion touched me. “He’s a really good kid”, I heard one say to my parents, “Don’t be too hard on him”. “It took real courage to do what he did”. After mild scolding by authorities, I began the short but public walk home. Shame overwhelmed me. Cars left the scene, horns blaring as they passed. Several kids yelled stupidly from their windows. With the rules I had broken and the trauma of the fire, I was now feeling first pangs of fear. My step father’s fingers began curling and uncurling while lips moved, fueled by the depth of his hatred of me. Ugly, spitting sounds emanated from his mouth. A precursor to full throttle rage, I knew what to expect. Only a good old fashioned beating would release his tension. I walked silently, in mourning. I heard the voice of my rescuer. “Get out of there”, he had screamed as I stood alone in the flames. “I can’t”, I sobbed. He had clutched me, his arms strong and comforting. I had wished he was my father. With each footfall my stepfather became more agitated and vocal. My mother separated from us, leaving me to fend for myself. I clung to the feeling of safety I felt with my rescuer. My stepfather let loose, drawing back his arm. He kicked the door and stormed into the house alone. As I entered the back stoop a police car pulled in. The officer approached me. I dried my tears and faced him. The parents spoke in secret with him. Nick and I rode to the station house and were placed in a jail cell until further notice. Decades later I learned Nick’s Father had orchestrated this.
The ride to lock-up was a show. Sirens loud and lights flashing, we were read our rights and denigrated for criminal behaviors. Resolute in the innocence of our intentions, I still felt the punishment not sufficient for the crime. With this official presence in the car I felt safe. At the station we were fingerprinted and locked together. I worried for Nick. He was unable to contain his fearful tears. Head low in his hands and shaking, he let out, “My old man is goin’ to kill me”. I never felt this deep fear of my stepfather’s raging or beatings. “If Nicky is this scared what must be waiting for him at home”, I thought sadly. I tried to divert his thoughts, assuring him we would be fine. I held little faith in my own assertion. The men in blue were very kind. Their solemn lecture schooled us soundly. The afternoons’ incarceration proved another rescue for me. It allowed things to quiet down; less chance of a beating! With the police over seeing things and the passage of a few hours, I felt confident I was safe facing my stepfather. He was a cowardly pip-squeek, petrified of authority. He would be very careful of me when I returned.
In the west wing, a dimming light and cooling temperature led me to believe our day in jail was ending. Children fear what they do not know. I heard rattling keys, footsteps echoing through the hallway; a gruff voice I did not fear.
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