I heard an oddly familiar, but very loud beep. I assumed it was an alarm at a nearby house and brushed it off. Then I heard another, similar sound, followed by my mother yelling that there was a fire in the basement.
My mother is strong as fuck. I hate referring to black women as “strong” because it robs them of the room to be delicate, to feel pain, to be vulnerable. On the same token, I’ve watched my mother not flinch during shit that would’ve killed me, seen her stand up for people whose voice wouldn’t have been heard otherwise. She is a wonderful woman with a gigantic heart who ALWAYS sees the bigger picture. And that is strength, to me.
But she was concerned. I could tell from her voice. It’s the same way she sounded as she saw me spiral through a depressive episode for years. Just like back then, she saved my ass, yet again.
I ran down the steps, leaving everything behind. I was in disbelief, almost if my mom was mistaken. But nope, it was real, the dryer that I put my clothes in just ten minutes ago went up in flames, quickly overwhelming the basement, if the smoke that was seeping upstairs was real. My mom tried to go back downstairs to the fire, and I yelled (without cursing, because yes, I wanted to) for her to not do that and just leave the house. I told my dad the same; I also told him to just close the basement door instead of running down there. That move was done to save my mother’s cat Cathy from accidentally running downstairs and dying.
I get my parents outside of the house. I’m standing outside, hoping the fire doesn’t reach the boiler and blow the house up, and that the cat doesn’t die. I’m also extremely concerned about me or my family contracting Coronavirus outside, as the entire neighborhood is outside now, talking to us. My parents, thankfully, were masked up. I wasn’t, but kept my distance when I remembered. Long story short, FDNY put the fire out, the cat was fine (but scared, hiding in an upstairs closet), and the house is intact. We can’t stay there for some months, but we’re in a nice rental crib, my family is good, shoutout to the insurance my parent’s busted their asses for over the years.
My mother said I saved her and my dad (and by proxy, the cat’s) life. I decided to just be modest and not think about it. I talked to my girlfriend about it and admitted that I agreed with my mom’s sentiment, but it was a lot to stomach. The entire time I was trying to get my parent’s out of that house, I was thinking that the house was gonna blow up and they were going to die. That’s all that was on my mind. But I got them out, got outside and called 911. I was semi-hysterical but I was much more composed than I expected. But my mom thinks I saved them. And that conflicts with my idea of heroism.
My father is a hero. He saved my neighbor’s life when I was a kid, when she fell taking garbage to the incinerator on our floor and cut herself on the glass in the bag, leaving blood all over the hallway. I don’t know how he realized what was happening from inside our apartment, but he got to her and called 911, and saved her from bleeding out, and got his kids, who didn’t have local friends, a close friend down the hall and a family that embraced us. And he saved my friends lives too, with the way he has always been welcoming; they love him and admire him the same way I do. Because he’s a hero. And he’ll never admit that shit, because that’s not his style.
My mother is a heroine. She spent a lot of years in the New York Board of Education. She was a teacher, administrator, assistant principal and principal. I’ve seen the kids and adults that spent time in her schools, the lives she’s touched. They have an unending respect for her, as does everyone who has ever worked with or known her. She’s saved a lot of lives, directly and indirectly. She’s won awards for her work in schools, she has had students that would and have put their safety on the line for her. But she also would never admit any of this, because she is modest, and humble.
I have done a lot in my life. I am not modest or humble or anything of the sort. But I try to be my best self each day, and all I really want to do is help and do what’s right. With all of that said, I am (still) taken aback by the idea that I saved my family, because I just did what was correct to me, while being terrified. I understood that my fear could cost me the lives of my loved ones, so I acted as if I felt nothing, besides urgency. I do truly believe that I am a star that hasn’t evolved yet, but I’m no hero. I’m just someone who is trying to do his best, who experiences ups and downs like anyone else. And perhaps that’s enough. But, maybe, just maybe, I need to accept the love when I get it.