Friday, December 13, 2013

Burning Down the House

In the middle of all the wedding planning hoopla, JT and I decided we weren't going insane fast enough. So we decided to buy a house.

Truth be told, a one-year-old's birthday party actually decided it for us. My best friends, Jason and Becca, were hosting a shindig for their beautiful son when Bec looked around and realized the layout of the house wasn't exactly ideal for entertaining (upstairs, the rooms don't really connect in a way that lends itself to mingling, and the only way to get to the game room is down a set of steps - not great for older family members). That moment planted a thought in her head. Hm. Maybe it was time to think about moving?

And in typical Jason and Becca fashion, within two weeks, that was exactly what they decided to do. I was so sad. I loved their house, entertaining challenges and all. It was so homey, with its built-in shelves and window overlooking the entire neighborhood. I had helped them move in a few years prior, helped them paint, watched them make it their home. We had so many great memories there.

As I articulated all this, I saw my friends exchange a quick glance. When I ended my whining, Jason spoke up.

"Why don't you buy it, then?" he asked.

Well, that was an idea.

A few weeks and many conversations with JT later, we took them up on their offer. All of us were beyond excited. Jas and Bec were just moving down the road, so now we'd technically live even closer to each other than we did. They got to come back to their beloved starter home whenever they wanted. We got to become homeowners! Woo!

And then it dawned on me. This meant we all had to move.

The last time Jason and Becca moved, I spent a freezing cold January day slipping and sliding on the ice rink that had formed in the back of their U-Haul thanks to an endless barrage of freezing rain. Their marble end table cracked when it decided to perform a triple axel/double toe loop midway to the new house. You know the scene in “The Day After Tomorrow” when helicopters start crashing because they literally freeze mid-air? I expected that to happen to our U-Haul at any moment. 

Never again! I told myself. Helping friends move is the worst. Just, no.

But when you're the one nagging your friends to get a move on so you can get into your new home, “No” goes out the window. You just move. And in this case, I ended up pining for the days of sub-zero temperatures. This time, there were renovations.

Jas and Bec truly had no choice. Their new home, while lovely from the outside, was a legit nightmare past the threshold. The woman who had lived there prior had clearly been a student of "Better Homes and Gardens." Circa 1983. 

Every room of the four-story, five bedroom home had a different color carpet. That carpet matched whatever wall treatment this lady had chosen, and in most rooms, that meant wallpaper. Lots of it. Shiny, '80s, foil-like wallpaper in the dining room. Seashell patterned wallpaper in the powder room. Faux finish wallpaper in the sitting area. There was enough wallpaper in this house to coat Massachusetts. Twice.

The living room. Sweet Jesus, the living room. The walls were painted a deep maroon, which would have been tolerable, had the carpets not ALSO BEEN THE SAME SHADE MAROON. The far end of the room had clearly been an addition, so the big window that should have been there to provide some relief from this murder room  just wasn't. No natural light. Just red. It was like walking into a nightmare. Or being inside a “True Blood” episode. So. Much. Red. Everywhere.

The upstairs was no better. But perhaps the best of the worst was the master bedroom, which had a deep rose colored carpet. Here the decorating visionary decided to pair her pink carpet with an entire 18-by-20 room full of floral wallpaper. And because that's not enough, the drapes also were done in a heavy floral. And not even the same pattern as the wallpaper.

Within seconds of moving in, Bec had whipped out a wallpaper scraper and got down to business. My job was to follow after her with a warm rag, wiping off any remnants of paper glue. When Bec took her blade to the floral wall, a rosy pink revealed itself underneath the first strip of discarded paper. It was the same exact color as the carpet. We lost it. By the time all the paper was reduced to shriveled strips on the floor, Bec and I were in tears, standing in the middle of a bottle of Pepto-Bismol.

Over the course of a few weeks, Bec and Jas basically existed off cigarettes, coffee and two hours of nightly sleep. I helped when I could, slathering on paint, peeling off paper and supervising wine breaks.
Once “Extreme Makeover: Jason and Becca's House Edition” ended, we were all exhausted, but I was also ecstatic. I knew the next step was the actual move, complete with U-Hauls and all.

I had but one more mountain to climb. I had to help Bec move. In true retail industry fashion, Jason had to work the day their truck was coming. So I broke my own rule and showed up ready to work.  

It will be fine, I told myself. It's not even freezing outside. It will be nothing like last time.

And that turned out to be true. Because the last time, no one had to call the fire department.

It was 8 a.m. on moving day. I stood in the driveway of my friends'/my house, dodging the pro movers. Having already stuffed my Honda Fit full of plants, pots and other last-minute random, I was now packing up the back of the pickup truck belonging to Bec's dad. As I considered the jigsaw puzzle going on the truck bed, I heard a siren in the distance. The house was a softball toss away from a fire department, so I thought nothing of this. Soon, it sounded like another unit had been called out, this one located a few miles away.

I listened as the sirens grew both louder in volume and higher in quantity. I turned to Bec's dad, who was surveying the back of his truck while holding a candelabra with one hand and scratching his head with the other.

“Sounds like an accident,” I said, gesturing to the direction of all the ruckus.

“Mmmmm,” he said, finally chucking the candelabra on top of the rest of the rubble.

Once the movers were ready, we all jumped in our vehicles – the movers in their truck, Bec's dad in his, me in the Fit and Bec in her SUV – and drove the three miles to the new house, Bec's dad leading the charge.

I was so focused on keeping the plant on the Fit's passenger seat upright, I nearly slammed into the back of his truck when we turned into the plan. Beyond him was a sea of emergency vehicles – fire trucks lined up back to back, ambulances at the ready, police officers holding out hands to stop us in our tracks.

The caravan pulled off to the side of the road, Bec's dad looking back at me with a “No idea” shrug and me mimicking it to Bec. After about three minutes, the sea parted to let an ambulance through. When I could see past the trucks, my heart sank. A dozen frenzied firefighters scrambled to douse the flames licking out of a roof two doors down from Jason and Becca's.

We all jumped out of our cars at once. As we waited in stunned silence, Bec's dad ran up to a man standing gawking in his robe on his front lawn, got the scoop then ran over to share with us.

“The roof caught fire,” he said.

“Really?” Bec seethed in hysteria-induced sarcasm.

Another neighbor wandered over, and took note of our truck.

“You folks moving in today? What a welcome to the neighbohood!” he joked.

Bec smiled and introduced us all.

“Which house is yours?” she asked.

“See the one with the flames shooting out of it? That one,” the man said.

Bec balked and stammered to find the right response.

“Oh don't worry about it,” he said, waving a dismissive hand at the mess. “They were doing some work up there, a guy dropped his cigarette. Not a big deal. No other homes are affected. No one was hurt, that's all that matters.”

Bec and I shook our heads. Here was a guy literally watching his house burn, casually making small talk with a perfect stranger. You would have had to take me away in one of the ambulances, I'd be so insane. He was seemingly fine. No one was hurt. A roof's a roof. Not a big deal.

It was a great lesson in perspective. It didn't make the stress of the last few days magically fade away, but it did make me a little ashamed of my initial selfish attitude about helping friends move. If this guy could take some time to greet a new neighbor in this moment, surely I could spend a few hours helping the people I love.

Though I don't think I should ever help them move again. First time brought an ice storm, now actual fire? What's next? Sharknado?

Probably best they just stay put for a while. Or forever.

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