The door is gone; all is blackness inside. A cardinal darts across the porch, a bold contrast of life and color. The dogs have stopped to smell everything around a nearby tree, so I stand looking, from across the street, at the devastation of the house. There is a tarp on one part of the roof which lifts gently and rattles a bit in the cold wind. There are boards where the windows were, and the only view inside, at least from where I am, is the black hole of the front entrance. I see that there are burned items inside the house, but I don’t know what they are–furniture, perhaps. The rocking chair and its cushion still sit on the porch. There is still the small table with a brightly colored cloth.

And now I know–there is something about a burned house, one I am familiar with. I think of the retriever puppy who played under the tree in the front yard in warmer weather, now an adult dog who was carried out amid the flames by firefighters. I have seen things like this on the news, have heard before, “they lost everything,” but I have never seen what that means. This is physical, tangible. More than a loss of things, this is somehow a violation. To lose everything means so much more than stuff, money, mementos–it is to lose one’s sense of place, of safety, of home. A deep breath. The dogs are ready to move on.

Inside my own little house, I hang up the leashes, put my coat on the hook by the door. One dog curls up on the couch for a nap; the other runs to his favorite sun-drenched spot in the backyard. Their habits. My things and their places. I am away from the cold weather, safe from any harm that could come to me out in the wide world. I am enveloped in the sense of ownership, selfhood, belonging. What a terrible feeling to lose.

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