Enter the fear. Enter the chaos. Enter the numbness.
My writer’s lips are numb. I can’t explain what or why or how or what again or how or when anything catapulted us into somehow being in Dan Ford’s bedroom. Safe with both our kids safe. And a dog. Not a cat. Fuck….not a cat.
THE STORY OF THE FIRE
Luke and me and Kai came home after a long day of working in my non-grownup job. We were gone from 6am to 615pm. I did my usual unorganized home hustle in an attempt to professionally hustle a remotely organized and purposeful outdoor workout in my front yard. A workout I did weekly at 630pm. And at which time I almost ALWAYS put Kai to final late nap in my room around 6pm. (Except for this day, for some reason).
This home hustle consisted of the usual afternoon mom-ing routine, plus a little extra darts in and out for clients. Get groceries inside. Get dinner started. Get Luke fed and started on homework. Get Kai fed and started on baby chaos agenda before final nap. Getting clients warmed up and hydration stations ready. In and out of house with work and home tasks to make this parallel work hour and mom-ing hour not appear scattered. Not appear as though I couldn’t multitask effectively in giving my clients attention needed right alongside meticulously fielding the needs of home/family. If there were one way to describe my efforts on these home workout evenings, it was to give the illusion of control all around.
THE FIRE CAUSE
The running through the house in my efforts to orchestrate three tasks in harmony as though only one, was the smoking gun. In our Boulder City historic communities, poor electrical comes with the territory. Days before the fire, we might have had one too many things plugged in and overloaded the 1930’s advanced system. Therefore causing an overload in the attic amongst all the tired antiquey wires and cables that were forced to work to today’s busy home standards in the wake of OUR family moving in. Not only did we unknowingly overload the system to create a quiet smoldering undetectable attic disaster by who knows, using our toaster that morning. But upon coming home in the flurry and swirling mom dance, opening or closing doors with haste creating more air traveling throughout home than the whole day had provided….
I somehow gave the smoldering the power to breach the bedroom in which Max, me, and Kai sleep nightly.
But, Here’s the ‘lucky’.
Max was at work.
Kai was with me outside swinging/napping on outdoor tree swing while my clients played auntie and took over when I was absent for house handling needs.
Luke was weighing the volume on the fun scale between watching me work vs youtube and therefore in and out of the house and out of harm’s way.
Luke was astute through the emergency to recognize that when I was running in and out of the burning house, so was Archer. He brought Archer to the neighbor’s and away from his usual post on my ankle away from smoke harm.
Our daughter was so luckily placed to nap outdoors in the tree swing vs the usual bedroom crib where the smoke would’ve devoured her little lungs and possibly life.
Yes, we were so lucky.
Not all of us.
There was the cat. Luna.
THE SMOKE SHOWDOWN
Luna was hiding in one of 3 places if the ‘cat shit went down’ and she was scared. Every time Archer did his cliche kitty chase, I knew where to find Luna in her chosen small safe-from-dog passages. A fire for her, unfortunately, was the same level of emergency as an out of shape chunky dog’s advances which never had any real consequences.
Three places to find my sister’s cat.
Deep in closet
Even though the smoke was debilitating and seemingly doubling in volume every second, I so foolishly thought that I could grab Luna and emerge from the billowing smoke like some, well, firefighter. 911 was called and my kids were safe and my house burning down and there was nothing left to to do but get Luna. Right?
So, I held my breath.
First visit under crib. No Luna.
(come back cough cough no oxygen chest so fucking tight)
Second visit under dresser. No Luna
(come back cough cough no oxygen chest fucking dysfunctional and can no longer inhale or exhale and is just stuck)
Third visit into closet. It’s too long in here. Actually, it’s not that long. I’m just drunk. But, didn’t drink. I’m so poisoned with carcinogens in my lungs and brain and so I’m not even sure if I can find my way out of here.
I thought to myself ‘I’m going to just die and burn in my own sad closet’. An unorganized closet, at that. I’d be a Darwin Award as part of a book one reads on the toilet, making them feel better about their life choices compared to this ‘dumb schmuck getting herself killed by not finding the way out of her own closet’. An unorganized closet.
I gotta find a way out. Feel drunk.
Here’s the way out. Here’s a larger space, yet still smoke. Here’s another door.
Here’s an arm. Grabbing mine.
It’s Dan Ford’s (go figure, if you haven’t already heard about him. Super neighbor family man to whom we owe our very existence on so many levels). He forced my final exit. I followed him to the front yard where I was in front row seats to the event that you assume will always only happen to someone ELSE. I wasn’t watching a video of someone ELSE’S house burning. I wasn’t watching a home crack and fall in on itself from the safety of my own untouched doorway down the street. I was watching OUR HOME burn down. Our space. Growing more unrecognizable and uninhabitable by the second. Feeling the concept of any tiny sliver of control, leave my mind at the rate the flames engulfed it’s doomed dry 1930s materials.
I couldn’t get the cat and no one else was getting the cat (ya, you know all of those pics or stories of fire fighters coming out in all their gear carrying a scared smoke stained animal? Well, I didn’t have that rescue team. And I will comment no further on the subject simply because my anger surrounding the handling of pet rescue, or rather, no attempts of pet rescue, is so high and I refuse to allow it to take over in the memory of our event).
I couldn’t do anything, but watch.
Watch the fastest and slowest moment that completely flip flopped a family’s life. My legs, with whom I’d normally enjoyed a solid good communicating relationship, no longer supported me. I left my body watching the house go up. Detached. Floating above and looking down at Dan holding and trying to calm me.
And then I’m in ambulance to hospital. On oxygen cuz my blood carcinogen levels are insane. I’m way confused which results in an unwarranted hate for the ambulance guy. He’s so cliche and flirty and scripted and I want to tell him that he sucks at his job and he didn’t take my blood pressure the right way and that I want HIS house to burn so that maybe we could have as much in common as he was insisting we had in common based on fitness interests. Actually, he didn’t know I was into fitness. I didn’t feel up for the chit chat and didn’t remark on my fitness at that, I don’t know, moment that fitness didn’t exactly feel a top concern. He made the assumption based on my outfit I was wearing into back of ambulance. No shoes. Pajama shorts. Old race shirt with sleeves cut off. An outfit that was the crap clothes only worn at home. Turned in an instant into the ONLY outfit. He also forgot to take my insurance card resulting in me being billed in full for the awesome ride in the ambulance. Maybe it was the carcinogens, but I’d rather have walked.
THE DAN SHOW AND THE FIRST LAYER OF CARE
Dan went from our ‘cool neighbor that does BBSC races with us’ to being the person that has supported us within his faculties using 100% of what he has available. Just as what one would imagine real family would so easily supply. Many folks can say they have great neighbors. Not many can claim that their neighbors are the reason that they are ‘ok’ after a disaster. Dan is the smaller percentage.
After my stint in the hospital for smoke inhalation and a first and very surreal shower at Zoe’s, Max and I headed back to Dan’s since he was watching Kai. Exiting the car and not going into your house because it’s burned down and instead heading next door, made us pause at Dan’s doorstep. I will never ever forget the moment Max and I shared looking at one another and digesting what had just happened to our lives.
Please excuse me for a moment while I remember the loss and act like a baby and internally throw up over all of this. My family is safe, I know. But, good GOD how I loved this home. My kid and adopted kids tumbling in and out between neighbors coming for a workout or a fitness chat or Dan’s extra food or Luke and friends tearing down the street after trip to ice cream store one block away oh, glorious NEIGHBORHOOD.
EPISODE 3- The Return of the ‘Foundation’ and the layer cake of lessons that will never…ever….collapse.
Have you ever been in a state of shock from a surreal tragedy while answering the question-
“What do you need?”
What. Where do I start?
Nothing translated from tongue to action. A foreign communication while speaking the same damned language.
What do we need?
The Family is safe from fire.
We are somehow clothed and fed for the day.
Family is healthy (besides my acute onset emphyzema. Or what looked like it coughed up every morning).
The width of immediate ‘need’ had certainly narrowed. For what do I ask? What’s an appropriate response?
I was paralyzed initially from the fire. Then a new paralysis overcame the already paralyzed from the insane idea that I needed to somehow put our lives back together. Piece by piece. I couldn’t even respond to a text message or get to my son’s new school year orientation, so the idea of putting together some sort of system for rebuilding our space/routine/creature comforts made my eyes roll back into my head. So, I’d just stay like that. Responding as well as an overdose victim. But, actually just a person who’s circuits were blown- Morbidly and ironically like the overload in our home.
Complimenting the overdose paralysis, I also found myself so poorly fielding donations. I was so ineffectively keeping up with the overwhelming rate of the rain of love from all directions. Donations and gifts from every personal and professional source, from every individual or institution with only one thing in common- that I was SURE to forget or properly thank them. Text upon text coming in asking how they could help and my responses resembling what happens when you accidentally throw a ball too hard to a toddler. I’d sit there dumbfounded with lower lip quivering, onlookers knowing the explosion of tears from helplessness coming any moment. The faith that my family would be ok with basic resources became a reality….but, I knew that I was going to be the world’s shittiest recipient of help.
In comes Project Hero who’s equivelant of dusting off the dirty butt of a disaster victim was in the form of literally beating down our door. Or hotel room door. Turns out my complete incapacity for handling endless details and tasks after such events, was the norm (thank god for my ego’s sake as I’ve always prided myself in my ability to be remotely productive, same as many Moms will identify). Tis their expertise. They didn’t wait for me to report what I needed. They just brought it by the car-load. To the door. All the way to our Boulder City.
These people. These normal people with normal life obligations and hobbies and just all the same life shit as the next normal person. These people with a driven purpose outside their own purpose in a take-no-prisoners sort of, well, hero-ish, way. These people with whom I had no personal relationship and yet personal relationship didn’t need to be on the resume to receive their energy and HELP.
And my heroes not just in the sense of them helping with household items or clothing. But, who I wished I could BE LIKE. Like Mike. But, a highly endorsed basketball star that also looked outside their own circle of needs to the needs of others.
“Like Project Hero. If I could be like Project Hero”.
THE FINELY SANDED DETAILS ON A ‘HOME’ AND A BRAIN
New skin after a wound is sexy. Sexy in that it’s wiser. Seen a thing or two. Still has some reminder gravel in it. And is ultimately thicker from the force to regrow after any tears, cuts….burns.
Our family had a new, thicker foundation as well. We had matured. Our core deepened. Our focus widened. As though we gained a third eye. An eye that helped us see a TON of new lessons. Cliche calls the following dissection of growth from strife ‘the silver linings’. That doesn’t sit right with me (and it’s NOT just cuz of my usual fight to fight cliche in general). It’s the ‘lining’ part. A line. Something slim. Tough to distinguish at times.
There was no trouble distinguishing our growth and lessons. They were more like the headbutt that gives you stars and immediately makes you check the mirror for a broken nose. Our growth, not limited to these instances that might not even be in the proper order, came in as such:
1- The moment we walked into Dan’s house directly after the fire and didn’t know what to do. Then looked down to our baby Kai in a diaper doing what only resembled twerking to music from an unfamiliar toy, laughing uncontrollably. Forcing us to laugh. We were ok.
2- Whole family crammed into a single hotel room for 6 weeks and we just decided that we were on vacation. We were ok.
3- Watching my son, Luke, open new clothes and being SO pumped. Pumped enough to completely forget about all the old clothes he had lost. We were ok.
4- Witnessing our relationship, despite the insane amounts of stress from post fire tasks mixed with working and parenting, not just survive, but even improve. We were ok.
5- Learning about the asbestos in our last home. Discovering had we remained there and remodeled not realizing it released it into our air and lived with it continuously indefinitely and the long term damage it would’ve caused our whole family, that it DIDN’T happen thanks to the fire. We were ok.
6- Leaving a ‘dream’ home with so much space we had to think up items to procure to make use of it all. And tumbling into a ‘halfway house shelter’ that forced us to think outside our literal box so to make use of every crevice of our new space with only the necessities. And in the process, falling in love with the new home scaled perfectly to what TRULY MATTERS for our family. We are ok.
7- Reestablishing or creating deeper relationships with those already close to us upon receiving their aid. Then having our ‘eye’ opened to those once only known as ‘acquaintances’ graduating to ‘family’ upon receiving their aid. We are ok.
8- Waking to our normal ‘second wife’ (my sister and super auntie, KK) in our new home, here and ready to help with the kids no matter what geometric scheme our new shelter provides as far as personal privacy or equity is concerned. We are ok.
9- Learning that whether it’s a Sunday afternoon rolling on the floor with Kai and reading with Luke and Mom failing at multitasking and Dad messing with Mom’s bra while she cooks and sis cleaning up after us and Kai pooping new concoctions and Luke sharing new rap songs and Dad continuing military goals with gym still growing and Mom continuing vow to grow wellness culture and KK training our dogs and Luke making new friends and Mom still crushing races and
And I don’t know where that point was supposed to land. I only know that given the rambling proof of bustling Jones LIFE….we’ve landed on solid, new foundation.
And that we are ok.