It’s around 10 p.m., just 24 hours after the fire. I’ve had about 3 hours sleep total. I’m almost too tired to sleep. I’m back in the guest room at my neighbor’s house. My hosts insist I can stay as long as I want, really there’s no hurry to leave. I can hardly think let alone plan my next step. My phone rings and I see that my son is calling. He sounds sleepy, probably medicated, and sad, just like his calls to me over the past year. He’s a bit weepy, too. He asks again about the dogs and the house. Tell me the truth – is the house totally gone? No, I tell him over and over. Don’t worry about the house. We have insurance. He starts to tell me how perhaps he hit something on the stove when cleaning it, or maybe he bumped it somehow, or . . . It’s all his fault. He’s crying again. I try in vain to convince him of the firefighters’ confirmation about the origin of the fire. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. He asks if the hospital told us not to visit him at night, and I remind him that he’s in a different city. I feel guilty that I didn’t find a hotel room close to the hospital, but it’s too late now. I’m tired, he says. Go to sleep. I love you. I’ll be there in the morning. It’s going to be ok. I promise.
In the morning we hear from the hospital that our son will be discharged today, hopefully by noon. After breakfast, I return to the house to photograph the outside. I want to show my son that the house is still standing. I remind my ex to find some clothes to bring to the hospital for Jacob. Too bad I didn’t think of contact lens. Neither my son nor I can see much of anything with the naked eye. He’s sitting up and more alert when we show up this time. He quickly changes out of the hospital gown and boxers. Aaaah, he says, nice to be back in civvies. I tell him I’m glad he seems more upbeat than on his call last night. I called? Yes. Yes, adds his dad. Jacob holds his cell phone right up to his face, practically touching his nose, to check. You’re right. I called both of you. That’s what we said. Don’t you remember? No. He believes his cell phone log, not us. Back to normal. Except he’s hardly eating. This is a boy who can put away his own weight in food every day. He’s a chain eater. But he’s not hungry. He’s not back to normal quite yet.
Before leaving the hospital, the nurse gives him inhalers and some suggestions about soothing his extremely sore throat. He wants to know when he can start running again. Wait a few days, take some walks, build up slowly. He’s not happy with that answer, I know. Running is his escape from depression. He runs every day, even in the Texas heat. The walk to the car is slow. He seems a bit unsteady on his feet still. On the journey home, he plies me with questions about what the doctors said about his health, diet, recovery, and more. He still has some internal soot, which he should be coughing up in the next few days. Except it’s painful to cough. He has a few minor burns and the hair on his forearms and shins melted away. There’s a small area of hair that was singed, too. Good thing he had cut his long hair two weeks earlier. Yep, he says, I should be the spokesperson for short hair. We all laugh but know if his hair had caught on fire, it would have been no laughing matter. We arrive at his dad’s house and he’s tired again. All his clothes were at my house, so I tell him we’ll go shopping tomorrow to get some things. Good, he says. But can you go to the house and see if my phone charger survived? My phone is almost dead. He has his priorities!