You knew what you had, you just never thought you’d lose it

 It was Friday, March 5, 2021. I’d say it was an average day but it wasn’t. It was dreary and damned from the start. My overly toxic and manipulative relationship officially ended. It was a long time coming; of course it wasn’t ALL bad and I guess that’s what made me put up with her so long. I was finally free but it hurt anyway; she made herself my only friend. I cried through my entire telemed therapy appointment. My therapist encouraged me to go to work even though I wanted to call in and cry in bed all day, curled up with my babies(my three cats and puppy; there were also two super cool axolotls that I had named Perseus and Adonis but they unfortunately couldn’t cuddle with us for obvious reasons.) I took her advice. 

    So I showed up for my regular 3-11:30pm shift at the Monroe County Jail. Nursing management sucked but man, I loved that job. I counted the needles and narcotics on my med cart to prepare for my first medication pass, talked shit with the other nurses per usual, and doused my face in cold water to prevent the inmates(my patients) from seeing my puffy eyes and chewed lips. The med room phone rang. “Please don’t let it be Jess,” I whispered repeatedly under my breath. Nurse Ramos—my closest friend at the jail—picked up the phone, put it on speaker, and of course it was her. Ramos told her I was on my med pass already. Jess sounded manic, like she would when we’d argue—she sobbed and yelled on the phone incoherently. Thank God for caller ID. I left to serve meds promptly, starting in 2S like always. 

   2S was my favorite unit on my cart. I called them “my children.” They were always so excited to see me, making me laugh, and had the utmost respect for me. They knew I ran the show, and they bowed down. To be honest, they were the best group of criminals I’ve ever met(if that’s even a thing). A couple minutes after the start of meds, Deputy Bishop told me I had an urgent phone call. My heart raced and anger began to well inside. I thought it was Jess. It was worse. I was in the middle of drawing up insulin for JP, my favorite inmate, when I took the call. It was Tete Nikki. She was in a panic. She’d never called the jail before, let alone a specific floor. I won’t ever forget her words that day and I’ll never forget the look on my patients’s faces when they saw their bad ass, tattooed, shit talking, favorite nurse uncontrollably well up with tears.

   “Jenna it’s Tete. You need to come home. Your house is on fire and your animals are inside.” Even just writing these words bring me back to the awe, anger, panic and pain in an instant. Bishop told me to finish my med pass on his floor and then leave because I ‘wouldn’t have made it anyways’. I sobbed, hands shaking. JP even told me to go. I told Bishop to “unlock the fucking door.” as I gritted my teeth. “I need to save my fucking kids,” I screamed while I slammed my body against the door as hard as I possibly could repeatedly until the door buzzed. I ran. I screamed and cussed waiting for doors to buzz and fumbling for the right key for the other doors. I couldn’t see a thing through the tears. I shoved my med cart into the nurses office, slamming the locked door behind me. Everyone wanted to stop me, to see what was wrong, but there was no stopping. I screamed to the charge nurse while running through REC(another unit in the jail) exactly what my Tete said on the phone. Next I knew, I was in my car. 

   I couldn’t leave quick enough. I was laying on the horn, screaming at red lights, going AT LEAST thirty over the city speed limit. Was this the work of Jess? Was this a total accident? Why the fuck is this happening?? God, why?? These questions flooded my brain. My head was spinning. My sister, Jessica, called, she wanted to calm me down; no one should be driving like that…unless, of course your house is on fire and your kids are inside(yes my animals were my kids, not simply pets.) My street was lined with fire trucks and police from all over, the neighbors all outside, and my family a safe distance from the house. Even some jack ass from the news was posted on the corner taking photos while my home and life fell apart. The windows were blown out, smoke everywhere, but no more flames. All that was left was a house frame, 22 years of memories burnt to ash, and a broken family. I asked the fire chief about my animals AT LEAST five times. They wouldn’t tell me anything no matter how much I begged and pleaded. I wasn’t allowed in the house either as it was still deemed “unsafe”. So I had to wait. After about an hour of waiting and being consoled—which felt like eons, I got pissed. Grey, Phoebe, Luca, Lila, and the axies were in there. They should’ve been out already. I marched over to the fire chief and asked for the final time: “Where are my babies??? Did you find them?? Did they make it??” I knew the answer but I prayed I was wrong. He looked at me and then to the ground with disappointment and shook his head ‘no.’

   I let out a blood curdling shriek, screamed for my babies and fell to ground. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t blink, I couldn’t even bear my own weight. Everything went black. It felt like the air was sucked out of my lungs, like my heart was ripped from my chest and thrown into the flames of what used to be my home. I think I died, just for a moment at least. When my mom picked me up off the wet grass, I was angry again. I wanted to stay there, sink into the ground, melt in my sorrows. I wanted to switch places with them. But that wasn’t possible. So I wanted to be dead, too. Everyone talked about how lucky my dad and I were to be out of the house during the fire but I begged to differ. If I had stayed home like I originally wanted, I would’ve at least had the chance to save my babies, even if it meant I didn’t make it out with them. 

   Grey was 16, I grew up with him—he could be a dick when he wanted(more than the usual feline) but loved his family more than anything. He always knew when we needed him and he was there. He ran the neighborhood, he even walked the dog with us. He took care of his nieces and nephew up until his last breath. I say nieces and nephew because like I alluded earlier, these are not merely pets. Grey was my brother. Phoebe was 7 years old, my first baby of my own, the one who made me a momma, and the best friend I could’ve ever asked for—she was my cow kitty, my beefy girl. She got me through some of the hardest times in my life. She loved the sink and loving on her momma; she was very selective about others but adored by all, anyways. And she was the best big sister to her siblings. No matter what happened, I had Phoebe and nothing could change that bond, no one could take her from me, or at least that’s what I thought. Luca was 4 and had the coolest coloring—tiger and cheetah at the same time with the cutest, pinkest nose the world had ever seen. I rescued him as a kitten(4 weeks) from an unhealthy home. I was legit mom in Luca’s eyes. He was bottle fed, cuddled and loved the way he deserved, especially having to leave his mom so early. We had a special bond but he was the sweetest boy and had kisses for just about anyone. Up until the day of the fire, he still kneaded on me and sucked on my shirt. He knew he’d always be my baby. Lila was the newest member of the Barry Roaders(as we’d call ourselves on Christmas cards and such), adopted at 8 months. She was the sweetest girl, black and white with chocolate chip feet and an upside down white triangle in the middle of her forehead, her ‘nova’ as I called it. She loved her siblings, her chicken toy and making new friends but loved her mom most. She was just full of love. She spooned in bed every single night and would’ve been a year old just nine days after the fire. She was special; they all were. 

    Soon after I got the news, animal control arrived to take my babies away. My mother went into the house—god bless her soul—to help the animal control woman and also monitor the care she gave to the bodies of my babies. My mother said she was gentle, she was sweet, and spoke kind words to them, prayed over them, talked to them like they were alive, even shed a tear or two. They came out of the house in four black bags. My mom hugged me right. She reassured me that my babies didn’t suffer too long(even though just a second is too long in a mother’s book and she knew that) and that they didn’t have a single burn on them—not even a paw or a tail. I was glad to hear this but that still didn’t change the fact that I would never see them in this lifetime again and I wasn’t okay with that. I’m still not okay with that.

   We no longer had a home, somewhere to lay our heads every night. And I no longer had the lights of my life beside me every day. We had no plan, we just knew we’d stay at Pubby’s(Jessica’s) until we had somewhere to go. We ended up staying in a rental house up the road from our home while we shopped for houses and tried to recover things from beneath the ash of our home. People were very kind—even strangers, they donated money, clothing, bath stuff, you name it. Everyone was so amazing to us, it was nothing we’ve ever seen before. Still, I became more depressed than imaginable, a ball of anxiety. I’d spend hours at the house(THE house) after dark getting drunk alone and crying under the lilac bush. I had suicidal ideations in the past but after the fire, it then became tendencies which ultimately turned into creating a plan to remove myself permanently from this pain. My father and I wound up with a beautiful house. I’m not sure if it’ll ever be home but it’s a start. I was hospitalized on multiple occasions and even took part in both impatient and outpatient therapies. I want more than anything to be with my babies but I don’t want to die anymore. I know I have a life to live and they’ll be at the finish line waiting for me. I know they’re with me always.  I know I have memories engrained from that house, that’ll last longer than me. I have neighbors from Barry Road that’ll always be my neighbors, some even family, no matter where I go. I have some of the sweet fur babies to share my leftover love with at the new house. My grief is great but my love is greater. It reaches through all time and space to my angels. I’m not okay, deep down, and I truly don’t think I ever will be until I’m reunited with my beloved, but until then, I’ll make them proud down here, no matter how tough it gets. 

- Jenna Polizzi