He gasped for breath as he woke up in a cold sweat, shaking. It was the same nightmare. He swore he could still smell the smoke and feel the flames as he lay, trying to get a grip on reality. What would make them stop?
He didn’t know why, but he hadn’t been able to bring himself to visit the cemetery since the fire. He felt guilty, but it was just too painful. He knew he should tell his wife and daughters he was sorry, that he felt so guilty for surviving that horrific night, but….he just couldn’t.
He felt like a coward in every waking moment. Why he survived and they hadn’t? He would never leave them, never abandon them. The memory was still hazy and uncertain. He HAD to have answers. He couldn’t ever move on feeling this way.
Later that day, he stood on the street corner, staring across at the peaceful plot of land where his family lay. As he tried to force himself to cross the road, he saw a sight that brought his heart into his throat. A fireman in full gear was standing across the street, gesturing him to cross. As he stood there, mouth agape, the fireman called, “I can your family back to you.”
He didn’t hesitate a minute more, but sprinted across the busy street, somehow avoiding the cars that sped by. He reached the other side, but the fireman had gone past the old, iron gate and was standing among the stones. He threw open the gate, ran up to the man and demanded, “Why have you brought me here?! You said you could bring my family back to me!” The fireman smiled sadly, and pointed to a single plot just a few yards away.
There stood a woman and two little girls, each telling the cold stone how much they loved him and how brave he had been. A cold, sickening shudder came over him as he turned once more to the fireman. “You….you said you could bring them back to me…..how are they here???” The fireman gazed at him for a few moments. Finally, he said, “I have brought them back to you. I couldn’t bring YOU back to THEM.”
He stood in utter shock for what seemed like an eternity. When he realized where he was, he was once again alone. He fell to his knees and sobbed bitterly. Gradually, a smile crossed his face and he laughed, just once. He hadn’t abandoned them after all.