You come to the door–or what’s left of it–at a house number you could never forget. A turn of the knob, a shove with your hip and a broken hinge that gives way to crooked entrance: No matter. The floor creaks under your feet and the burnt smell overwhelms your senses and bites at your throat. This is when you typically turn back, figure it’s not going anywhere, and move it to the back of your mind for another day. But today is different. Despite the smoke lines and the wreckage, this is the day you face the loss and weigh your options. For every broken window and blackened wall, there’s a memory: The time you locked the keys inside and had to climb on his shoulders and squeeze your way between the ledge, only to fall, laughing, to the foyer floor below. That impulsive day you decided that you wanted a terracotta-colored accent wall and you had a terracotta paint-splattered floor, instead. And when you ran your fingers through his hair and across his face, you had a terracotta-hued lover, too. You remember summers when the sun warmed every inch of skin it could reach and arms did all the rest.
You remember a love unwavering enough that it could have–should have–withstood a fire. After all, he was the spark that ignited your dreams. But when that fire went out, got out, it traveled into your home and caught the drapes, rushed up the sides and overwhelmed your ability to see a way out together. So you stumbled through alone, choosing separate exits along the way, and watched it go to ashes. Or it would have, had it not been for those people in your lives who intervened to make sure that something–anything–remained. Every insistence felt like a taunting: The backyard gatherings in full view of the damage, the quiet urgings to own what it was that you weren’t doing. You put it off until you couldn’t any longer: The exposed roof left the framework itself susceptible to collapse, and if you were going to save anything–the house, this love, yourself–you needed to face what little remained. You walk along the bannister, running your hand along melted varnish. Nothing a little sandpaper couldn’t fix. You pull up the ends of the carpet to find a floor less exposed than the one you encountered on the way in. You make your way through the house, identifying the places that need the most work and becoming more hopeful along the way: Not because you notice what can be fixed, but because you decide you want to try.