So, I woke up in the middle of the night last week to use the bathroom and heard the sound of glass breaking and loud voices from the street below. Reflections of rotating lights flickered through the frosted bathroom window.
Not sure whether it was a fire or if it was my building.... Hell, at 3 am I wasn't sure of much of anything! I quickly threw on some clothes, tried to make myself look presentable, grabbed Mickey's leash and headed out the back door, my dog leading the way.
We emerged from the alley to see a couple of fire trucks, an ambulance, a police car or two (I think there were police cars; I was still half-asleep) parked in the middle of the street in front of my building.
Firefighters were in the smoldering garden apartment, breaking stuff. The windows had already been broken out (which explains the sound of breaking glass I heard while sitting on the toilet). Later, I learned they used their tools to bust a hole through the ceilings to vent the smoke. Photos from a local ABC News report showed the apartment was pretty well gutted by the fire. My new neighbors (they had just moved in a couple of weeks before) were lucky to escape alive. Nancy* told me she was almost overcome by the smoke. The story became newsworthy when it was reported on police scanners, I'm guessing, that only 9 of my neighbors' 33 iguanas made it out alive.
I stood across the street from the building, talking with my neighbors, making sure everyone was OK (except for the poor lizards). Thanks to the quick response of our local fire station, Engine Company 102, the fire was contained to the one apartment, though a few of my neighbors who live above the burned-out unit have told me the smoke smell is pretty terrible.
I've heard conflicting reports about the cause. One guy who said he'd spoken with a fire inspector was told the fire was due to shoddy remodeling. The building's maintenance guy blamed it on the tenants.
Regardless, I thought that was the end of it—until today.
The neighbor who was displaced by the fire was sitting outside the closed door of the burned-out unit this afternoon, chatting with a few friends. We exchanged pleasantries. I asked how she was doing and if she had a place to stay, if there was anything I could do to help, if they'd found any more iguanas. (They hadn't—just a few more burnt iguana body parts.)
When I asked about her "partner" (that was the word she used the night of the fire to describe her boyfriend), she looked at me funny.
"Oh, you haven't heard?" she asked. "He's gone."
Not grasping the enormity of what she said, I thought maybe he had left her and moved to another state. But before I could even form the question in my mind, she told me it was a murder-suicide. Just 3 days after the fire, he went to the home of his estranged wife in the West Ridge neighborhood. They got into an argument and he wound up shooting her in the head and then tried to kill himself, she said. He died that night in the hospital.
According to the Chicago Tribune report, my neighbor's partner was in the middle of a divorce. Their children locked themselves in a room while their parents were arguing and called 911. Unfortunately, it was already too late by the time police arrived.
My neighbor told the story calmly, as if she were talking about the weather, but in a sad way. I told her how sorry I was and asked again if there were anything I could do. She said she was doing OK. I excused myself shortly thereafter, hoping I had managed to keep my jaw from dropping.
The posting on my Facebook wall elicited responses such as, "The fire and the death of the iguanas was probably the last straw. Clearly something more psychological and emotional was present before the fire"; "So sad"; "We live in CRAZY TIMES, chica!" (Sorry, Ken, but I'm going to pass on the BBQ iguanas comment—that was just too sick.)
Crazy times, indeed. When I asked my neighbor about her partner I expected to hear he was fine and they'd be moving back in within the next couple of weeks. I guess life doesn't always work out the way you expect it to.
*Not her real name.