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Here is chapter 8 of memoir “Government Property – A Memoir of a Military Wife”

Here is the link to the rest of the memoir. Parts 1-7 are already posted.

Chapter Eight

Wall of Fire

The smoke wafting down the hallway was not a nightmare; this was my worst nightmare come true. FIRE!! Real live burning fire, and I was trapped inside with some of my friends. Nothing in my life had prepared me for this.

            I was so terrified of fire as a child that I could not watch anything that may contain a fire. I was sent out of the room when the news was on TV because there were always fires. The film “Towering Inferno” debuted in the theaters when I was a teenager, but I was forbidden to join my friends when they went. My fear of fire was a real phobia.

            I would wake up screaming from the nightmares as a small child. I could not articulate to my parents at that time precisely what was wrong. I told them I was seeing my bedroom walls burning, and I couldn’t get out. My parents were mystified. Nothing of a traumatic nature had happened to me as a small child with fire.

We believed in reincarnation, and when I tried past life regression, it showed that I had died in a fire in a previous life. Considering how it affected me, I would think it was my very last life before this one.

            As an adult, the fears did not dissolve, but they lessened in severity. I started to watch tv, movies, and the long-awaited “Towering Inferno.”

            On one of our trips back to North Carolina during my husband’s military years, we ran into a real fire. The house was right on the highway. They were slowly letting one car at a time pass so they could keep the traffic moving.

            Here I was confronted with my first real fire. We had to wait our turn to drive past the area, and I was traumatized for several days with nightmares. It brought back my childhood fears.

            Not too long after that trip, where we witnessed the fire on the side of the road, I had gotten a job at the Officer’s Club on the base. It was a 3-floor building with a basement that had restrooms in it, which we sometimes utilized.

            I was working in the kitchen one day when I heard the shrieking of the fire alarm. I was looking for it in one of the dining rooms near me, and someone else came running down the hall looking for it too. We couldn’t find it, but the smell of smoke was coming down the hallway towards the kitchen by now. We gave up looking for the alarm as it became desperately real since we could see the smoke. We ran to the kitchen to gather everyone up and see how we could exit the building from the back, which faced an area full of trees and a tiny path.

            Talk about being close, and this was the closest yet. I was panicking, and the person who had taken charge urged me on as my panic stopped me in my steps. I was paralyzed with fear and couldn’t move. He pulled me with him, and we headed to another dining room away from the smoke that was now filling the kitchen. The doors were locked as they always were when the room was not in use, and more people began to panic. Finally, someone picked up a chair and threw it through one of the picture windows in the dining room at the back of the building. Others followed suit.

            We started hurrying out of the building towards the path behind the building. It was the only way we could go. It ran alongside the back of the building. The fire had cut off the front, so this was the only way to go.

            We ran along the small path covering our heads with our hands as the windows were exploding overhead, raining down fire and glass on us. We started choking on the smoke. I was petrified, but the others urged me on. The building was long, and that was the longest but fastest run I had ever made. The beast of the fire was on our tails.

            We finally came out to the front of the building and stared at the fire as it reached further and further. A real-life burning fire to bring out my fears again. It brought it all back. I was choking on the smoke, and now I understand how people die from smoke inhalation.

            We all got out, thank God! No one got hurt except for smoke inhalation. One of the secretaries came out with a box saying that she had grabbed payroll so we could get paid. She was in an area that wasn’t as affected as those of us in the kitchen. They all came out the front of the building where the fire hadn’t touched as much.

            I went through a grueling interrogation by Naval Intelligence, along with everyone else. The investigation took several days, and I had to drag my two babies with me as I had no one to watch them. I walked with the babies in the stroller. I didn’t know it when I went out of work to give birth, but I was entitled to Unemployment Insurance. It was enough to buy a twin-size stroller, so I could push my two children together as they were both under two years old.

The officers wanted their club back, and so they reopened the building three days later as the upstairs was damaged, but most of the main floor and the basement restrooms were still usable. The building smelled of smoke still. I tried hard to forget the fire, but it was impossible to forget with the awful stench. I had horrible nightmares. I had sunk back to my childhood fears. I was terrified to go downstairs to the restrooms in case of another fire. We would be trapped down there.

            That fire was not a mistake. A disgruntled employee set that fire on purpose in a small office right near the restrooms that I had just exited. That was just way too close for me.

            I still panic whenever there is a fire drill or when the alarm goes off unexpectedly. Most new jobs would have a fire drill not long after my arrival, and several of my workplaces have had fires and have burnt down over the years. They seem drawn to me.

Within a few months after that fire, I quit working there. It was just a few months until Andy’s enlistment was up anyhow, so I left at that point. I couldn’t stand working in a building that smelled of smoke and put me in a possibly dangerous position of having to use the below-ground restrooms and taking the chance of getting caught down there if a fire happened again. I was still suffering the effects of having been in that first fire. The nightmares were haunting me terribly. It took several weeks for the dreams to start to ease at all. Now they would probably say that I had PTSD from the situation. After that, I took up babysitting until his enlistment was over. We still had to decide whether he was going to re-enlist.

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