As told to Cody Schmitz
Twenty one years ago, professor of health and wellness Deb Monzon tried to bring her newborn daughter home for the first time. This is what it felt like.
Midnight. Two blocks from the hospital. I sit in the passenger seat as my husband drives through a flood. Another contraction. I can see the outline of the hospital through the downpour. Oh my god. I’m going to have to swim there, I think.
The car in front of our mini van hits a wall of water so deep that it laps at the windshield. I scream my husband’s name. He screams back, “This is fucking awesome!” The lead car splits the deepest of the floodwaters. We trail closely behind in its wake and pull up to the hospital.
I’m in the room by 12:30. My daughter is born within the hour.
We baby-proofed our new home before the birth. The last thing to do was seal our wooden floors, but my near-constant nausea prevented us from ever opening the can of finish.
Once baby Courtney is safely in my arms, my husband gets it in his head to finish those floors before our daughter sees her new home. He leaves the hospital the next morning in order to pick up our older daughter and work on the home.
I get a phone call at 6 the next morning. My husband says, “I’ve got some bad news. We kind of had a house fire last night. Everyone is fine, please don’t worry.”
I go numb. I ask him how bad it is.
He says, “well… It’s not that bad.”
I can tell when my husband is lying. I look to my left. Courtney is sleeping soundly next to me in the hospital room. I ask if we will be able to come home in a couple of days.
A pause. “Probably not.”
The ground disappears beneath me. I feel completely alone. As I begin to cry, a nurse places my sleeping daughter in my arms.
I have everything, I think as I look at her face.
I have nothing, I remember as I hang up the phone.
The day that Courtney and I are released from the hospital, my husband tells me what happened. He says that my oldest daughter and he went to sleep after finishing the floors. He had thrown rags covered in finishing solution into a garbage can on our back porch. The mixed chemicals must have combusted, because my husband says he woke up to the sound of our smoke alarm. He grabbed our daughter and ran from the house wearing nothing but a trench coat.
“Do you want to see it?” He asks as we pull into town.
From the outside, my house looks as it did a week ago. The front door shines with a fresh coat of red paint. The cottonwood stretches past the second-floor window. It feels like I’m bringing my baby girl to her new home. Just like we had planned.
Instead, my mom follows closely behind us. She grabs Courtney from my arms in order to take my baby to her house — where we’ll be staying until we find a new place.
We had painted the living room walls a crisp white before the birth. They are as black as tar. My husband says the fire started in the back of the house and worked its way up. If this is the least of the damage, I don’t dare step beyond the entryway. We manage to save a few boxes of photos from the wreckage. To this day, if I open those singed boxes, I can still smell the scent of stepping into our charred home.
Today we live less than two miles from our old home. Whenever I drive by, I thank God for reminding me to change our smoke detectors’ batteries the week before Courtney’s birth.