Previously on Latenightcravings!
Panic ensued as I sat in the dimly lit hospital room. Waking up shortly before midnight, two separate emails suggested that my home might be on fire. I had tried calling Shanti on both her cell phone and our landline to no avail. The messaging system for our landline was set to ring three to four times before going to voicemail but there was no ring on any attempt. My calls were going straight to voicemail and I assumed a power outage. I was hoping to reach my family before the nurse returned to check my vitals. Otherwise my numbers would have undoubtedly spiked off the chart. It was a good thing I was already at a hospital – if I didn’t have a heart problem to begin with there was a good chance I may have quickly developed one.
My phone finally rang. What seemed like several hours was actually only five to seven minutes at the most between my last call to Shanti and her calling me back. I answered, I might have said “Hello”…or possibly something I shouldn’t have. But I don’t recall. The first thing I recall was that before she finished her first sentence her tone itself clearly indicated that she and the kids were safe. I don’t think she had three words out and I was already a bit calmer. She confirmed that there was indeed a fire but I fed off her disposition; she was exhilarated yet in control. Her adrenaline was obviously in high gear and it transmitted through the phone as she gave me a quick rundown of the evening’s events. Within all the details and dialogue there was an unspoken notion between us that we knew we were in the midst of a God-sized adventure.
In the immediate moments after first talking to Shanti I envisioned the scene on the other side of the phone. The Monroes were our most awesome next-door neighbors (if you don’t have a Monroe family next-door, get one). Their home became my family’s safe haven that evening. The kids went straight inside of their house while Shanti was outside with other neighbors waiting for the firetrucks to arrive. Mr. Monroe, along with his son and some of his friends, helped gather some valuables from our house including our parakeet. Soon after the firemen were on scene they advised everyone to clear the house as the smoke was getting too dense. This was all happening as I sat helpless in a hospital. But I felt an inexplicable peace and strength that I knew flowed from God through Shanti. Not once during our conversations did I sense she was terrified or overwhelmed when she very easily could have gone down that path.
I spoke with Shanti a couple more times as the night wound down. The fire was finally out, any openings in the house were boarded up, and the kids were asleep in the Monroe’s basement. Knowing my family was safe was paramount, but trying to get back to sleep alone in the hospital was difficult to say the least. Obviously I wanted to be there for my wife and kids throughout the ordeal, but since I wasn’t it was eating at me to know every last detail. Although Shanti was able to give me the cliff notes she simply didn’t have the time to tell the full story in the heat of the moment. Being somewhat in the dark kept me up. When I finally came close to falling asleep another thought crept into my mind. My mother’s flight came in first thing in the morning. By the time the fire took place she was already in bed back in Florida and would be up by 4 a.m. to head to the airport. She would be flying out to Kansas City for my so-called heart issue and arrive to find out that our house caught fire. Shanti would have to pick her up and say, “Erich is fine, but guess what?!” My sleeplessness was extended.
Knowing a busy day was ahead of us Shanti figured it was best for the kids to stick to their routine as best as possible. Despite the evening’s events and losing quite a bit of sleep she woke them on time, dressed them in clothes that various neighbors brought by the Monroe’s early in the morning, and got them on the school bus without a fight. I think they were somewhat relieved to be able to go to school that day.
After the kids were off Shanti headed to the airport to pick up my mother right around the same time I was eagerly checking out of the hospital. While I did have an eerie sense of calm despite my house catching fire I was also anxious to see the aftermath after being sequestered for the last twelve hours. While Shanti and my mother were on their way to get me I began walking away from the hospital. Perhaps thinking I would get home quicker I strolled about fifteen minutes to a McDonald’s down the street and waited. A soft smile of bewilderment adorned all three of our faces as we made eye contact. We were speechless when I first got in the car; silently basking in the fact that everyone was safe. I kissed my wife, hugged my mother, and strapped myself in as Shanti proceeded to give the play-by-play.
Our son Parker had turned 10 years-old just eight days before the fire. At that age he had a fear of the dark and extremely loud noises, especially those related to thunderstorms which were commonly intense in Kansas City. This evening was no exception as he was quickly awakened by a thunderous bolt of lightning that struck the house between 11:30 p.m. and midnight. The power was out and the alarm system was blaring incessantly.
Peyton is our middle child, she was just shy of 7 years-old at the time. Out of our three children she was and is the one that falls asleep quickly. To this day there’s not much that will wake her. I’m quite convinced that not even an elephant jumping rope next to her bed would do the trick. But if on the rare occasion she did wake in the middle of the night our initial parental instinct has always been that something is wrong. Something was wrong this particular night, terribly wrong and it was seemingly louder than a thousand elephants jumping rope.
The thunder and lightning had Parker sprinting down the hall to our bedroom. As he entered the room he found Shanti and Peyton awake. We had not yet severed ties with our landline in this era so we relied on it for any emergency phone calls. That wasn’t happening in this scenario since the power was out. Shanti told Parker to stay with Peyton while she ran down stairs to get her cell phone. As she walked through the main floor she notice the thermostat was blown off the wall. She called her father first as she hadn’t yet talked to me at the hospital (she was hesitant to worry me). He lives in Oregon so there was no concern for waking him in the Pacific time zone. He advised her to get the kids and get out of house in case there was fire. In the midst of the chaos she wasn’t really sure what had happened and didn’t care much about anything beyond making sure they were all safe.
Shanti made it back upstairs and had Parker and Peyton accompany her to get shoes for everyone. Once they reached Peyton’s room and approached her closet they could smell smoke. They looked at each other in agreement to leave the room then quickly turned around to go get Penelope, our youngest daughter who was three at the time. As they approached her room Penelope had just come out into the hallway wondering what was going on, almost as if lodging a complaint that something woke her up. They scooped her up, gathered the dogs and ran over to the Monroe’s.
After getting out safely and 911 had been called they stood outside along with onlooking neighbors. As the firemen began their work Shanti and other onlookers witnessed a large plume of smoke and flames burst out of the front of the house above the garage. That was Peyton’s room…where she wasn’t sleeping that night. We have no idea how the events may have transpired had Peyton been in her room. Everyone may have exited safely just the same. Nonetheless, earlier that very day an anomaly of chest pains landed me in the hospital which was the sole reason Peyton slept with Shanti that night. Within the walls of her bedroom was the origin of the fire and smoke, the walls by which her bed rested against.
I can’t begin to explain the whirlwind of emotions in the immediate days following. We all reflected in awe at the chain of events. In bold print was the fact that Peyton was in our room instead of hers that night. In parenthesis was that my heart was fine. The cardiologist gave me a clean bill of health and stated they found absolutely no heart-related issues. He had no explanation for the discomfort I was experiencing but suffice it to say, I’ve had no chest pains since the fire.
To this day I vividly recall how I felt walking away from the hospital that morning. I had no stress or concerns about the fire or the house itself. I had a very peaceful and vibrant buzz throughout my entire body knowing my family was safe despite having been trapped in the hospital when it all went down. There was nothing I could do…God was in control. And while my family being unharmed was top priority and the most important piece of this story it was just the beginning of what God was about to do NEXT!