In memory of the deceased in the Santa Maria fire


A mother wakes up in the night, short of breath. The alarm clock on her nightstand says 2:30AM, the early hours of Sunday. She gets up to check if her daughter is already peacefully asleep in her bed, back from her night out with her friends.

The bed is empty, the room all alone.

Though she flicks the light switch on herself, her eyes burn with the brightness and she sees red…

Deafeningly, the phone screams. Whoever is on the other side screams too, and the next few hours are a continuous howl. There was a fire, everything was burning. Where her daughter was, it was boiling, red. The street looked like a battlefield. Smoke was pouring out of the doors, bodies on the floor, some breathing, some dead. Men were moving the injured, helping the paramedics take them to safety. The mother was looking for her daughter, where was she? She wasn’t on the sidewalk with the breathing corpses, she wasn’t in the ambulances, she wasn’t being carried by anyone. She wasn’t being saved.

Men were breaking down the walls to get more people out, slowly opening a hole where more and more smoke was seeping out. Work was too slow, the mother thought. Where was she?

Minutes turned into hours as more corpses were moved out of that godforsaken box. She still wasn’t anywhere to be seen, and the mother could feel a piece of her heart being cut off slowly, with every tick of the clock. The pain and worry stabbed her deep, only last night her daughter was alive, breathing, happy, now she was missing.

Had she really woken up at all? It felt like a bad dream, like so many she had where she was powerless to help her daughter. Other mothers and fathers were looking for their loved ones, and she wondered if this was just a collective nightmare, if it wasn’t real and everyone would wake up safe in their homes. She crossed her fingers. Someone pushed her into a car, and somehow it was already morning and the sun was shining without a license.

And then her daughter was lying on a hospital bed, pale with the lack of life inside her. Her eyes were closed, as peacefully as she might have been sleeping in her own bed, in that room that now stood lonely and empty. But she wasn’t asleep. She was dead. She was gone.

The next day they said their goodbyes. There was still constant howling and crying, other 50 families were burying their young kids that same day. Fifty young bodies, all vacant of life and soul. Their minds, where new ideas, inventions, careers and families could have come from, were turned off. A whole generation in this big nation felt a whisper in their ears, a ticklish fear in their bodies – it could have been any of us.

The mother still wakes up every night at 2:30AM, gets out of bed and watches an empty room. She wakes up from a dream, a hazy and happy dream, where she gets up from bed and her daughter is safe in her bed and the room isn’t empty. She looks serene and as beautiful as ever.

The nightmare begins when the mother wakes up.

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 Photo by carterse / Flickr Creative Commons License.


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