LEWISTON — Jessica Ramsey's baby, Ayden, was born April 24, a perfect little boy with lots of dark hair. Five days later, she bolted from an apartment fire with him tucked in her arms.
Ramsey, 27, is thrilled they're safe. She's also weighted with guilt.
In the panic of firefighters screaming from her porch to get out, she forgot the dog.
When she remembered 8-year-old Milo shut in the bedroom, it was too late.
It's been a week of joy — her new baby is beautiful, born on her late father's birthday. And sorrow — she lost all her father's belongings in that fire.
She lost everything.
Ramsey has enormous gratitude for people like the Kmart employee who bought baby outfits on the sly this week, then chased her down in the parking lot.
There's also simmering resentment. She'd put out a plea on Facebook two months ago: Her baby was coming and she had nothing. She needed help.
After a freak disaster, help seems everywhere. She's enormously grateful, but deep down wonders where help was two months ago. Where it is for people worse off than she is.
She spent much of the week at the Ramada Inn, put up by the Red Cross, worried a smoking neighbor would accidentally burn the hotel down.
Ramsey outran that fire. There's been no escaping its aftermath.
'So many things'
Ramsey moved into 105 Blake St. in early February, relieved that she'd found a landlord willing to take her General Assistance rental voucher for a one-room studio and give her a one-bedroom apartment.
She spotted the "condemned" signs in the windows a month later.
Ramsey said she was never clear on whether the whole building or just part of it was condemned. (It was the whole thing, street addresses 105 to 111 Blake, according to the city.) A maintenance worker told her she didn't have to pay rent until the property was back up to code, so in mid-March she stopped. Some tenants were served eviction notices; she wasn't. About that time, her boyfriend, the baby's father, Caleb Browne, 30, moved in with his pit-bull mix, Milo.
On the day of the fire, a friend had been over visiting Ramsey and the new baby. Browne had just stepped out to the store and had gotten a few blocks away when he smelled smoke.
"I said, 'Boy, that's awful close to home,'" said Browne. But since he'd just left, he thought, "It's safe to assume it's not us."
In the apartment, Ramsey heard a loud noise, looked over and saw smoke seeping into the living room. Within moments the firefighters were yelling.
"I grabbed nothing," she said, just Ayden, then booked it down three flights of stairs. "I wanted to get the baby to safety. There's probably so many things I could have done."
Outside, her friend left to move her car in the commotion. That's when Ramsey remembered Milo. She wasn't going to run back into the building with the baby. Nor did she want to hand Ayden to a stranger.
Ramsey pleaded with people around her. The building wasn't yet on fire. Still, no one would go back inside for the dog.
Browne found Ramsey and the baby later on the street. He's taken Milo's loss hard.
"It kills me to think he's in the bedroom scared, alone, terrified, trying to get out," Browne said. "I was relieved (Ramsey and Ayden were safe). I was devastated at the same time. My best friend didn't make it. I have a hard time thinking about his final moments. I'm not able to recover his body; there's a pile of rubble out there."
Ramsey lost her clothes, furniture, baby gifts that hadn't been touched and the tangible memories of her father, like his Dale Earnhardt drinking glasses. Her father died in 2002, when she was 17.
"It was almost like my dad died again on me," she said. "Every little thing I had of his is gone now."
Kindness and hope
Ayden is Ramsey's fourth child. The older three live with her grandmother. She said she's in the process of getting custody back. Her last job was in October and ended because of her pregnancy. The couple didn't have renters insurance and things had been lean before the fire, prompting that plea on Facebook.
In the last week, strangers have given her 800 newborn diapers. They've bought bath supplies, formula and clothes.
It's been overwhelming.
"All of a sudden a community becomes amazingly wonderful," Ramsey said. "It's like God sent millions of angels in our direction. You wouldn't receive this stuff if you were just crying out and being honest."
She plans to give any extras or, eventually, things Ayden no longer needs, to "people out there who need more help than I do right now."
By Friday, the Red Cross had given her one extra night in the hotel. She hadn't found a new apartment yet.
"I've been calling, but you can't really do much when you don't have an income," Ramsey said.
She'd likely spend a few nights with friends, likely reapply for the city's General Assistance help.
Asked about her plans further in the future, Ramsey struggled to answer, but she tried.
"I'm very hopeful to make it so my son gets everything he needs," Ramsey said. "I will eventually work on my own and stand on my own two feet again."