When Mary Rose Deak sat in her car at night, she looked up at the sky and let her imagination run wild.

“You can look at the stars and sometimes you can pretend you’re in the ISS,” she said. “You’re in this little space, kind of like it must be to be in spaceships.”

From her car, she also learned trigonometry and calculus. With workbooks exploring vectors and derivatives, some of his favorite equations, Deak took online classes and devoured college-level worksheets and materials.

For the past decade, Deak’s car has served as his home. His life was concentrated in the trunk and backseat, his front seat functioning as a classroom, kitchen, and bedroom.

Yet last Tuesday, when Deak went to make coffee and a cup of soup – using a small stove with Sterno fuel – as she had done many times before, a small ring of fire ignited.

She put out the first bell with a bottle of water. But the fire spread under his seat, the flames raging on his life in the back of his car. A passing woman urged Deak to get out of the car.

Within minutes, flames engulfed the Kia Soul – her home and belongings were gone.

The only items Deak recovered were her purse and a DVD player with a trigonometry lesson.

Kelly Thompson, Deak’s daughter, remembers when her mother started living in her car. She was entering her senior year of high school when Deak suggested they move from Concord to California. Thompson went to live with a friend to finish school, but Deak never made it out west.

For periods of time, Deak held steady jobs. She worked as a laboratory scientist for the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Environmental Services. Here and there she would also have accommodation.

In 2016, she applied for a housing choice voucher, commonly known as Section 8. She was told the wait could be up to six years, but now she hears it could be up to nine years. Until then, she found solace and routine living in her car.

“In the car, at least you lock the door, sit down and have some privacy,” she said.

In his car, Deak kept binders of math problems. She had computers that she used to watch math lessons online and a Jackery portable power station and a solar panel that she used as a charger.

She pondered the intricacies of the natural world from the driver’s seat, like Einstein’s unified field theory. Reflections on the mass of protons and electrons captured his attention for hours.

“Why is the electron so much smaller but carries an equal charge and does that mean it’s somehow enveloped in a different sort of space?” she says. “So those are the things I think about in the car.”

Some days Deak drew to pass the time. She would set up her solar telescope to observe and draw the sun, noticing different sunspots and bright flashes.

Living on the road, she also travelled. She drove west to Joshua Tree and the Grand Canyon. She watched the solar eclipse from Nebraska and also visited Arches National Park.

“I love the homeless life, I have to admit,” she said.

She didn’t worry about how to get stable housing, in fact her daughter said she was used to living in her car now.

Deak spends most of his time in the Concord area. She knew where to shower — whether at the homeless resource center, Planet Fitness, or a truck stop near the freeway — and she also took a few cashier jobs to earn extra cash. .

When her car caught fire, it was parked on Capitol St., right next to the State House. She slept outside that night under the statue of Franklin Pierce, before Thompson found her and took her home on Wednesday. She is temporarily staying with her daughter, who lives in Concord with her husband and children, while awaiting news of insurance claims.

With his car gone, Deak concentrates on finding a place to store his remaining belongings. The other day, Thompson and Deak went to Walmart to replace essential items. But she knows that her math books and her telescope are missing.

Thompson and her husband created a GoFundMe for Deak. In five days, they raised $3,530. Deak never imagined the generosity of strangers online. She was thinking of ways to supplement her fixed Social Security income when Thompson created the page.

“I’m just amazed at how nice and friendly people are,” she said. “I don’t always take to the streets.

With the money, she hopes to soon be able to afford a new car.

From the front seat of her next car, she plans to return to her love of learning – from stars to vector problems to guide her time and thoughts.

“It’s silly, but I just try to draw on all the resources I have,” she said. “There are so many things online now that can help us feel personally connected to knowledge.”