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Rekindled friendship became fire

I’ve had an old flame on my mind.

On a warm May evening in 1974, I answered a phone call from my ex-fiancé at around 9:30. He had pursued me, won me, and then dumped me the previous October, two months before our wedding; like a good Boy Scout, he really knew how to drench a fire. I was expecting the call and after months of heartbreak, I wanted to seem smooth and over it, which I pretty much was by that time.

This story isn’t really about that old flame, though.

Because Mr. Boy Scout and I had exchanged only a few words when I heard voices outside and the words “fire” and “garage.” I looked out the living room window and saw more light than there should be. Abandoning suavity, I blurted, “We have a fire!” and hung up.

The fire was less than 8 feet away from our patio door. My roommate Brenda and I dashed outside to discover a stunning conflagration behind us. And my car, my sweet little blue 1971 Toyota Corona that I’d worked so hard for and paid off, in flames, as were several other cars.

Realizing few of our neighbors knew about the fire, Brenda and I hurriedly knocked on their doors. As our patio wall was also the carport wall, by the time we returned it wasn’t safe to re-enter the apartment. I had few material possessions to lose, but wished I’d grabbed my Bible. It was full of handwritten notes, with a beautiful hand-painted leather cover created by a local artist.

Watching the fire and all our cars burn up was terrifying and unreal. It was creepy, too, as I suspected the arsonist was among us enjoying his handiwork (ours was the first in a string of carport fires he set).

My only mode of transportation was becoming a cinder and my home was threatened. But idiotically I was embarrassed over what I was wearing – a dorky old dress bought at Goodwill that I was altering for an “American Graffiti” party (“Where were you in ’62?”). To complete the sartorial blunder I had on clogs and my long hair was stuck up in an outdated French roll. I looked like a refugee from a bad version of the 1940s, so ridiculous Tim Gunn would scream, “My eyes!”

Then, to my utter mortification, one of the firefighters was a cute classmate from high school I’d crushed on and he recognized me. Crank the evening up to 11 on the humiliation dial.

Youth and self-conscious pride won over prudence and I charged, practically hyperventilating, back into our apartment to grab the Bible and quickly change clothes.

A girl has to look hot for her first inferno.

The next morning I morosely viewed the devastation: torched car and carbonized overhead storage closet axed open, with my damaged and broken possessions strewn on the ground. Bye-bye, original Barbie! Our patio/carport wall was charred over a foot down. The stink was atrocious.

My next door neighbor and I commiserated over our losses. He was a nice guy, a classical pianist who was a fellow church member, and we occasionally chatted on our walkway. Ironically, he’d just bought a great car and had complained to the manager over someone else parking in his space. If he hadn’t gotten his space back, his car would have been spared. Not long after the fire, we both moved away and lost touch.

But a few years later we reconnected and sparks ignited. It was a hunka hunka burnin’ love nothing could douse.

And on June 6 we celebrate 31 years of marriage.


You can reach Deborah Chan at Previous columns are available at columnists/.