My Husband Caught On Fire (and now I’m damaged)

Art out of the horror and ashes. Haunted Hotel. Okinawa

I was walking through my neighborhood today, off to my favorite quiet little cafe to read and relax, when I turned a corner and stopped dead in my tracks at the sight before me. It was the old Ryukyu house that I had always loved walking by because it reminded me of how ancient my village is, and it was reduced to charcoal! I was shocked. I forgot I was standing in the middle of the road and was nearly flattened by three boys on their bikes.

The Ryukyu House as seen today.
More neighborhood wreckage in Kitanaka.

My god, what on earth happened? And why hadn’t I known? I peered over my shoulder and yup, there was a direct view from my living room balcony. How did I MISS THIS? This was a phenomenal old home, very large and roaming on the side of our shared hill looking off onto the ocean below. A blaze that size should have had the whole hood awake and freaking. Especially since more than half of them are extremely wealthy yakuza bosses and the other half works for them. That got me thinking, was this a retaliation move? Some mafia shit going down? I found myself on tippy toes trying to inspect the wreckage, staring at the burnt books and blackened personal possessions in a manner that was skating the tasteless thin ice into voyeurism. Yet I couldn’t look away. My eyes crawled through the gaping wounds where windows and door used to stand guard against the outside world. I surveyed the floor plan of a house I had been fascinated by for years. I wondered about their dog. Was it rescued? Did it get burned alive? Or had one of the inhabitants rush through flames with no care for themselves to scoop it up and then both tragically expired due to smoke inhalation? After a few minutes of creating an elaborate story in my head I shook it, knocking some reality back into skewed and morbid reverie.

The Haunted Hotel

As carried on my way I pondered why on earth I was so fascinated, AM so fascinated, with destruction and remnants of people’s lives. Recently I took a friend to the famous “Haunted Hotel” ruins in Nakagusuku. I mused as we drove there about how often I had hiked through the rambling, Winchester Mystery House-esque, abandoned and half finished hotel ruins from the 70s that was supposedly cursed. Why is THIS creeptastic parcel of land and cement one of my favorite places on the island of Okinawa? Why did I keep coming back? Why on earth did I act like a tour guide/historian and delight in every new discovery of things like carpet swatches and broken toilets?

Dare the stairs?

The place truly is amazing for anyone interested in urban archeology, ghost hunting, or scaring the shit out of your friends. Or yourself. It’s remote, sometimes almost unfathomably silent, and carries the story of a millionaire who wanted to build the best hotel ever in all of Japan. Supposedly he cared not about demolishing several ancient tombs on the site for his swank monstrosity. As the story goes bad things kept happening during the build, people died in accidents, the lucky ones were only injured. Eventually the whole crew just walked (or ran) off one day, some even leaving behind their cars, which you can

see in the parking garage. Eventually the millionaire went mad and is rumored to be in the mental institution to this day. Or so the story goes, anyway.

That sort of thing is mother’s milk to me. Mom and I used to “investigate” abandoned buildings and haunted places from as long as I can remember, as she did before I was even born. And my dad being an anthropologist and sociologist doesn’t really help the curiosity factor. Whatever it is, I have always been drawn to the “kipple,” as Philip K. Dick calls it. People leftovers.

Where is this family that lived so close to me and now has no home? What HAPPENED?

And why am I so obsessed?

I am stumbling around in my brain considering whether this is a humanity thing or just a “Tashie thing.”

Why do we like to look at other people and speculate about their lives? Why do we slow down near a car accident to see the blood? Hell, why do we watch TV shows about crime and murder and devastation? Why can’t we look away?

Why? Because we feel better about ourselves because that is “not us.” We aren’t the one who got so unlucky as to lose half their head in an auto accident. We weren’t raped. We didn’t lose our worldly possessions in a fire.

About a month ago my husband caught on fire. In doing so he lit the hall and bedroom on fire. I was in the bath. By the time my naked, slippery self got to him the bedroom was alight from floor to ceiling and with no thought in my mind but abject fear, I slopped a bucket into the tub and threw bathwater on Jason. We then ran through flames to rescue our cats, towels dunked in bathwater over our heads and faces. I was still naked, red and raw as we flooded our flaming bedroom with anything liquid we could find. Jason stamped out the last of the embers and the world was quiet. Dripping and smoldering. Hot and shivery. But we were all there. Cats and spouses accounted for. A stinking, crumbly pile of what was once our clothes and wallpaper lay as a swampish heap. My breath still quickens at the fierce rapidness of the destruction. We acted quickly. We won. Others weren’t so lucky.

Fire was my biggest fear as a child. I had insomnia from the age of 3. I couldn’t even tell you how vigilant I was, looking out for fires as my parents slept. For some reason I was terrified they would be burned to death in their beds. I blame McGruff the Crime Dog. Stop Drop and Roll. Crawl on your hands and knees. Wet clothes to breath. I was terrified. And yet it sunk in so deeply that I handled my potential devastation with a frantic finesse.

I’m sure the images, had they been filmed or photographed, would have been sensational. “Naked Lady With Cats and Fire.” People would have eaten that up. Trending! Because we all want to see people suffer. Because if they are suffering that horribly your life is pretty fucking good right?