Reading “What precious things would you grab in a house fire?” on Offbeat Home & Life last month made me realize that having my apartment destroyed by a fire two weeks before my wedding was a blessing in disguise.
Did I just leave you scratching your head? The blessing the fire gave us was the gift of freedom, and here’s why…
Exactly two weeks (to the hour) before my wedding day, my now-husband and I came home from work to what was supposed to be our first apartment together. We saw some white smoke rising along the side of the building. It was May and really nice out, like 60 degrees, so we figured maybe someone had lit up a barbecue. We laughed and thought burgers would be amazing for dinner.
Then, we turned the corner and saw the flames. Bright orange and red flames were shooting out of a bedroom window, the bedroom directly adjacent to our second-floor apartment. My now-husband raced up two flights of wooden stairs yelling “I’ve got to grab the cats” while I dialed 911.
I worked as a news reporter at the time. Somehow, I kept my cool long enough to tell the dispatcher my apartment was on fire, give the full address, confirm I was safe, and, as far as we knew, no one was in the building except for my two cats and the landlord’s cats/dogs/hamsters.
Smoke forced my husband, choking, out of our apartment before he could reach our cats. We stood outside, with nothing in our hands, watching as the apartment I had just decorated to be our first home together, burned for three hours.
My engagement ring, his promise ring, and his custom-made Renfaire tuxedo vest was up in the bedroom. Our marriage license, our birth certificates, our passports for the honeymoon to Costa Rica had all been left on the dining room table. We had no clue whether they would be destroyed by the fire.
…Could we get legally married without a marriage license?
It wasn’t until midnight that firefighters allowed us in the apartment. Our bedroom was reduced to a smoldering black hole that we weren’t allowed to enter. The rest of the apartment was heavily smoke-damaged and water-damaged.
I found our soaking wet marriage license, birth certificates, passports, and documentation for the honeymoon, and carried them out. I remember using a hairdryer to gently dry the soggy papers until I could gingerly peel them apart — while trying not to cry on them.
Twelve days before my wedding, I skipped my last dress fitting to spend the weekend pulling our belongings out of the apartment. We spent from sunrise to sundown sorting through what could be cleaned and saved, and what was destroyed. As we found silly memorials of our dating years, there were moments we had to stop and laugh to keep from crying.
“What did you need to get done for the wedding? Didn’t you have a list of errands?” my mother asked when she stopped to see the burned shell.
“Yes. I did…” I said, wracking my brain. Who doesn’t have a million things to do two weeks before their wedding?
“You know what — it’s not important now. I… It doesn’t really matter. I can’t do it now, whatever happens happens,” I remember being along the lines of my response.
In that moment, I found my freedom from wedding planning. The seemingly endless list of phone calls, chasing down RSVPs, double-checking meal preferences and allergies, coordinating other people’s transportation, double-checking all my arrangements for flowers, photographers, wedding parties, setting a timeline and making it clear to other people — suddenly it didn’t matter.
All that mattered was that my husband-to-be and I were both alive, we managed to find one of two cats alive, and we would be getting married to form our own family.
It’s like the fire burned away all the stress, all the tension and left us just joyous that we were alive. We survived, we were madly in love, and we wanted to share the joy of that with everyone on our wedding day. That’s really all that matters about a wedding.