Na’Dasia Johnson’s grandmother had given her the sweater when she was 8, and it always reminded her of summer sleepovers and going to the beach with family from the Jersey Shore.
But the childhood memento was lost forever last month — along with everything else Johnson owned — when it burned in a fast-moving fire that swept through her apartment on Minneapolis’ South Side.
“My baby pictures were by my window,” said Johnson, 20.
After graduating from Minneapolis North High in 2017, Johnson was finding her footing: She was taking college classes and had moved into her first apartment that she furnished with a newly bought furniture set, complete with a dining room table and lamp stands.
On the night of March 6, she had eaten dinner, showered and gone to bed just after 1 a.m. when she was awakened by a smoke alarm and ran to the kitchen to find a pan of grease on fire on the stove.
She recalled choking on the billowing black smoke filling the apartment as she ran back to her bedroom to retrieve her phone, but thought better of it and headed for the balcony.
At the same time, two Minneapolis police officers were climbing up the side of the building at 3030 S. Pleasant Av. to try to reach her. Johnson vaguely remembers dropping into someone’s arms and then feeling the ground beneath her.
“I’m very grateful, and I appreciate them a lot,” she said. Moments later, she was in the back of an ambulance, an oxygen mask strapped to her face.
At the hospital, they told her that she had third-degree burns up and down her thighs and feet, and second-degree burns to her hands and face, she said. They later sent her home with oxycodone for the pain. She was relieved to stop taking the pills last week because she says they made her drowsy. She still winces when she stands up.
She had medical insurance through her employer, CenterPoint Energy, which covered her hospital bills, Johnson said. And a co-worker is letting Johnson stay with her until she can scrape together enough to get a new place, she said.
For the past few weeks, she’s been sleeping on an air mattress in a room with a TV and little else, wearing clothes she borrowed from the co-worker’s grandmother.
She reluctantly started a GoFundMe page, writing that she doesn’t usually “advertise my personal life so deeply,” but that her present circumstances had forced her to ask for help. As of Thursday, she had raised $890, mostly from friends, she says, but also from a few strangers who’d heard about her story.
Confined to her new apartment since Gov. Tim Walz’s stay-at-home order, she says her friends encouraged her to dress up and take selfies to keep her mind off things. “Sometimes I feel kind of weird because I’ve got scars on me,” she said. “I thought about being a model before, and I don’t know if that’s going to be possible.”
But not being able to escape to the mall or hang out with friends in the era of COVID-19 has left her alone with her thoughts on most days, replaying the fire in her head over and over again, Johnson said.
“I do get very lonely now and I didn’t think I would — I’ve never been that type of person,” she said. Officials estimated the damage to the apartment, which was completely gutted, at $60,000.
For Johnson, it’s impossible to put a number on it. “I lost everything,” she said.