Sunday, 26 July 2009

The day the world changed

It was 3am. My friend Lynell's mum was standing over me, shaking me gently saying: Wake up. For a 14 year old girl, having a sleepover at a friend's house didn't normally involve a parental wake up call in the middle of the night. Confused I asked what was going on.
"There's been an accident and you need to go to the hospital."
"What accident?" I asked.
"There's been a fire at your dad's house. We don't have the details, but you need to go to the hospital."
"Oh, it was probably just my sisters having a midnight feast and setting fire to the food or something," I laughed, not thinking through that perhaps I wouldn't be woken at 3am for burnt toast.

It was the July school holidays, and just like every holiday, my sisters (16 and 11), brother (6)and I were staying with my dad in the house we used to live in before my parents got divorced and we moved closer to Johannesburg, approximately 1000 kilometers away. On this particular night, my sisters had a second cousin of ours stay for a sleep over and I was staying in town with a friend. My gran was babysitting as my dad was out.

Arriving at the hospital, I was walked along a corridor, still utterly confused as to what all the fuss was about. Glancing into one of the rooms off the corridor, I saw a room full of people. But I only noticed two. My sisters, both sitting silently, faces pale with haunting grey circles beneath their eyes. I still couldn't register what was going on, but I knew it must be more serious than a little stove fire to have so many people there.

I was taken into a room and my uncle Dennis took hold of me and said: "There's been a fire. Your dad's house has burnt down."
"What? What do you mean? Was anyone hurt?" I stammered.
"No," he said.

But the way it said it, or perhaps the way he looked at me, gave me the crushing realisation that it was worse than someone being hurt. Someone had died. It was the only explanation. My mind whirled. I'd just seen my sisters. Who was it? Then I remembered.

"Granny?" I asked.
He nodded. Then said: "And Charles."

And just like that, with two small words, my whole world changed. The thought that it could be Charles hadn't even entered my mind. It couldn't be true.

I recall hitting Dennis' chest repeatedly with tight fists while he fought to hold me still so that I could get a tranquilising shot in the backside before being moved to the room of zombies, all of whom were fighting the unreality of the situation.

I don't recall reaching out to my sisters or anyone else. I remember nothing except at some point drinking very sweet tea which I couldn't hold still as my hands were shaking so hard. And the constant rattling of cup on saucer triggered an hysterical giggling fit.

Then nothing.

The next day I finally saw my father, wearing soaking clothes from walking in the sea with a face awash with tears. I briefly saw my mother who'd had to drive for 12 hours to get to us knowing that her son, her youngest child had died. As a mother now with a son approaching his sixth year, I can't begin to understand her state of mind. My imagination won't let me go to a place that dark.

It's been 22 years. Yet on the 26th of July every year, we stop and remember the small, lovely boy who will never be forgotten.

In remembrance of Charlie
1 October 1980 -26 July 1987


Suze said...

RIP little Charlie, hopefully you can play with Daniel my little bro who drowned aged 2, 30 years ago this year.
The balance never seems quite the same again, and I have yet to comprehend how my parents survived it.
Love to you all xx

b said...

Tears are running down my face for your and everybody else who has had to endure the sad loss of a child or sibling. Such a well written post that deals with such a sensitive memory. Thinking of you x

Ali said...

I have been so moved by your post. Thank you for sharing this story. Rest in Peace Charlie.

Home Office Mum said...

Suze - sorry to hear about your little brother. Hopefully they are two happy little souls somewhere

Thank you B and Ali - sorry for causing tears

nappy valley girl said...

So sorry to hear this. Must be every parent's, and sibling's, worst nightmare.
RIP Charlie.

Welsh Girl said...

Oh that is a horrible, horrible thing to happen. I can't find the words I need. I have gone outside and picked a rose from the garden and put it in a vase in Charlie's memory. May he rest in peace, and may all your family find peace as well.

Home Office Mum said...

Thanks Nappy Valley and Welsh, very kind of you to do the Rose. Hope you've recovered from hospitality man

katyboo1 said...

Oh my dear. You have made me cry. And

Anonymous said...

Oh God, how awful. I'm so very very sorry for your terrible loss. I hate the anniversary of my son's death - I hope one day I will be able to feel more peaceful on that day. xx

justme said...

I am so very very sorry. Thank you for this post. I am not good at the moment at commenting, but this touched me so

NML said...

I'm so sorry for your loss and was incredibly moved by your post. The boyf's mum lost a little boy who would have been the oldest son. I know even after 37 years, she still hurts. Thanks for sharing, hugs x

Looking Fab in your forties said...

As a mum of 4 I just cannot comprehend this. My son is called Charlie and adored by his older sisters as your Charlie was by you and your sisters. x

Iota said...

I'm so sorry.

Nicola said...

Oh God. What a horrific thing to happen. I am so, so sorry. And i am sorry that I missed his anniversary on the 26th. But I am thinking of Charlie today. God bless.

Jenny said...

Oh Melissa, I remember your phone call to me that night like it was yesterday and yet, as a mother of two small boys, it now really only has true meaning. I'm crying too now for you, Kathy, Vicki, your parents and of course Charles. I don't know how your mother got through it either.