The year is 2000, and I am on summer break after my first year of college. It is six months since we all survived the y2k bug, six months since the dramatic falling out between my me and my high school best friend over a boy from Canada who we met in an Internet chat room. The Boy (as all my college friends call him derisively) and I have been dating for those six months, and for most of that time I have been practicing Wicca, otherwise known as modern witchcraft. Today I am in a van headed to Williamsburg, VA with my parents and brother for a week long family vacation.
My father’s cell phone rings. My grandmother just called to tell us that our house has burned down.
“It’s gone…” she tells my father, and he hurriedly tells my mother to pull over. “Easy for you to say,” she mutters, glancing at the three lanes of traffic between her and the shoulder.
There was a freak lightning storm, my Grandma tells him. A bolt of lightning hit the ridge our house is on – a business owner in the strip mall down the hill told us later that she was standing at her back door, and the noise scared her so badly she dashed back inside and shut the door in a hurry. Our neighbors all live far enough away that no one knew until they heard the sound of the windows being blown off.
We stay the night in a hotel in Baltimore and then begin the 8-hour drive back to Maine, fearful of what we’ll be returning to.
I think of the little altar to the God and Goddess that I’ve set up in my room. “Please,” I pray through my tears. “Let the altar still be standing.” I don’t know what else to do. I think back to the night before, sitting on the front stairs with my father, enjoying the evening calm until the mosquitoes drive us inside. He handed me a peony blossom that had fallen from our hanging basket, and I had placed it in a shallow jar of water in the middle of the altar, amidst four candles representing the four cardinal directions and the four elements of fire, water, air, and earth, and the two figures representing the God and the Goddess, the male and female energies of the universe.
When we pull into our driveway, I am expecting the house to be leveled; instead, what we are greeted with looks a little worse for wear, but shockingly recognizable. The windows are gone, and inside is a blackened mess. The dining room floor has caved in; the living room is a charred husk. Upstairs, however, after navigating the weakened hallway, I find my bedroom much as I left it, with the new addition of holes in the walls and ceiling left by the firemen’s axes. Everything is blackened with soot, but the altar is intact and unharmed. The peony sits wilted in its jar. I say a prayer of thanks and cry.