I should have figured out what I wanted to be on the day that I first met Ike Blessing. He was what I wanted to be. But more about that much, much later.
The aftermath of a fire is generally about as bewildering as surviving a car crash or witnessing the commotion of objects being hurled around with random violence during the tempest of a tornado. You're shocked. If you move at all, it's generally in response to something that somebody tells you to do ("Check her for bruises," "See if she needs oxygen," "Get that blanket and put it around her shoulders."). You aren't at all sure of what happened to precipitate the confusion, and you have no idea what's going on.
The fire engines arrive.
Your parents rush across the street.
Someone, maybe the fire chief, asks you questions.
Your mother brings Bradley to your home and puts him to bed.
Your father – or maybe it's Mr. Tallman from the corner house – extracts from you the location of Mr. and Mrs. Borkin, whose house, apparently, is on fire.
How can that be?
Just a few minutes ago, you were reading Dostoevsky.
The Borkins return.
Mrs. Borkin, the compulsive talker, is now compulsively talking hysterically.
Mr. Borkin's face is deadpan. Possibly he's thinking that with the insurance money he'll receive, instead of repairing the damages to his house, he'll go out and buy a thick steak or a blonde with a pert nose and no vocal cords.
A man who writes for The Conversation Bulletin, our weekly newspaper, comes up and asks me questions. I recognize him from the last tennis match I won at school. He took my picture then, and he takes one now as I stand, huddled in a blanket I don't need, by the flashing lights of a police car.
And then, almost without transition, I wake up the next morning and it's over. How did I get from there to here? Was I really babysitting for the Borkins last night? Do they really live across the street? Did what I think happened really happen?
I got dressed, went downstairs, and reassured my parents that I was quite all right and definitely capable of going to school that morning, to which they responded, "There is no school, dear. It's Saturday." Then they proceeded to become involved with one or another of my multitude of siblings, and I went out the side door of our house.
I could have gone out the front and been instantly confronted by the sight of the Borkins' house across the street, but I wasn't ready for that yet. If reality had to be faced, I wanted to sneak up on it.
It's amazing how slowly I can walk when I try.
I'd slept late that morning, and it was almost noon before I left the kitchen. I had considered myself an ultra-mature fifteen-year-old until about midnight of the day before. Now I felt young, inept, useless, and as if I would spend the rest of my life being pummeled by an ego-deflating and arbitrary fate.
It's amazing how quickly a teenager can turn into a two-year-old when everything doesn't go her way.
It took me about three years to cross the street, because it's difficult to walk across a slate path, down a flight of garden steps, over a patch of grass, down a curb, across a street, up a curb, and over another patch of grass without once looking up.
When I finished performing this inefficient combination of somnambulism and trespassing, I found myself on the sidewalk that intersected with the brick path that led to the Borkins' front door. The configuration of the house where I had babysat the night before was not complicated. Think of a loaf of bread. Square off the corners. Put a row of windows on the top floor. Put a row of windows on the bottom floor. Put a roof on