A year ago tonight one of my oldest friends jumped off the rickety homemade second story of the Ghost Ship into the pitch-black first floor below her to escape the fire. None of the people she went to the party with that night made it out. She told me later the last thing she remembered was the lights going out and someone’s hand grabbing her shoulder right before she made her leap into the dark. Nobody jumped after her. She came to on the street outside of the building. She was likely one of the last people to make it out of the building.
I was sequestered on an island in the middle of the sound when the fire happened. A day later and back into cell service my phone blew up:
“She didn’t make it out…”
“Actually she’s missing.”
“Scratch that, she’s safe and in the hospital.”
I got out of my truck, stood on the ferry watching the waves lap below, and tried to get my breathing to go back to normal. Out of the myriad of things I’m grateful for here, was that all of those text messages came at once. I was lucky enough to not have shared those sick and waiting with worry hours with the rest of my friends. A second later a text from HP came to tell me that one of her close friends didn’t make it out. He had escaped, heard people were still trapped, gone back inside, only to be in there when the roof collapsed.
I got home and HP came over so we could cry together for an hour in my room.
“I’m so sorry your friend is gone.”
“I’m so glad you’re friend is still here.”
Dawn still followed night and we kept breathing and moving on. My friend came to visit during the summer. I didn’t think seeing her would affect me the way it did. I sat in my truck; waiting with the summer breeze coming through the driver’s side window. And there she was, walking up Marion Street. That peculiar gait I didn’t even realize I had memorized for almost twenty years. That’s when it hit me for real, despite having been talking about it all winter: We were a split second from never seeing that walk again.
I cried quietly in my truck for a second, Making sur to compose myself before they made their way the rest of the way up the street. I got out of my truck and hugged my friends, maybe a little tighter than usual, but not so tight as to stifle them.
Out in the woods she confirmed what HP had heard about her friend. He had made it out, then run back into the flames when he heard people were still trapped inside. I told HP later and we held onto one another and cried again, just like in December.
I don’t know how to end this, or why exactly I’m writing it, other then to commemorate time passing and acknowledge the lives lost that night. It could have been any of us, seeing as how we have all lived in, played shows at, or gone to parties in places just like the Ghost Ship over the years.
I mean, once upon a time in Denver, some of my friends paid $750 a month to live in a rundown rattrap punk house also named The Ghost Ship. We named it as such, because of the narrow stairwell that connected the first and second stories. Walking upstairs, you felt like you were in the hold of a ship. Had it never caught fire, the upstairs residents would have been trapped for sure.
I fell in love and got scabies there. Both from the same person. I have only ever regretted the latter. The thought of paying $750 a month to live anywhere in Denver is virtually unfathomable a decade and a half later as late capitalism transforms all the cities we’ve loved into shopping centers for wealthy white people who can afford to live in them.
Right after the Ghost Ship fire, a different dear friend called it quits with the Bay Area for good. Hoping to recover from a relentless depressive episode and catch his breath, he came here. Shortly before making a break for it he cried into the phone with me one night:
“There’s no place left for us to go.”
I tried to stay quiet and just listen. What could I say? I know in my heart that he’s right. All the poor people, all the POC, all the queers and the freaks get pushed out of the cities we helped to breathe life into and make “quirky” or what the fuck ever real estate developers look for when looking to make way for the next wave of speculation and get displacing.
So in the end, we make our own spaces. We almost always have to fight like hell for them. We hold those spaces close under constant threat. We build and breathe and thrive. We try to live in a malignant culture that does it’s best to take everything from us. A year ago tonight, a whole lot of us died.
I don’t know what else to say.
Sleep well, friends.