Monday, March 09, 2015

Fire Update

It’s been over a month since the house burned down and it’s still unbelievable to me.  We lost everything.  Everything that survived the fire fit into half of a 10x15ft storage unit, and the back of a friend’s Cherokee.  I’m doing better emotionally now than I was, but it still sneaks up on my and stabs me in the heart every now and then…and it hurts.  Some things that were lost…that cause me pain:


  • The last letter my mom wrote me
  • Old family letters dated back to the 1790s
  • Thousands of family photographs that I’d been cataloging
  • An old painting by a great uncle from 1899
  • A stack of email responses to one I sent out to my mom’s friends and former students announcing her death in 2004. So heartfelt.  I’d been keeping it in the garage for so long, and had only recently brought it into the house – If it’d stayed in the garage, it would have survived
  • A little squirt gun in the shape of an Easter bunny.  It was one of my mom’s gag things.  She’d say, “did you see this cute little Easter bunny?”  Then squirt you with it when you got close.
  • An afghan made by my mom
  • An old Stetson of my uncle's that I loved
  • A beautiful leather jacket my ex-wife got me
  • An afghan made by Shelley’s mom
  • All Shelley’s Swarovsky crystal
  • Shelley’s grandfather clock
  • A picture of my mom in a little brass frame that I loved
  • Mom’s old Phi Beta Kappa pin
  • A crocheted sunflower my mom did and had framed. I really loved that thing
  • All my digital photographs.  Thousands and thousands
  • About $4,000 worth of camera gear
  • My computer
  • My laptop
  • My guitars
  • About $700 worth of harmonicas
  • All our kitchen things – Knick knacks, family stuff, etc.
  • The Hindu Rope plant I grew from a small clipping from my mom.

Our two cats.  Kitty, who was 14 years old.  She was Shelley’s cat, but I came to love that cat. Baby, who was 6 years old.  We got Baby when she was a kitten and she attached herself to me.  I was in love with that cat.  I loved her so much, and she loved me.  It breaks my heart to think they died in the house, scared and without us there to save them.  There’s part of me that still hopes they got out before they were overcome by smoke, but with every day that goes by, that hope fades.  It still hurts like hell though.

Shortly after the fire, Shelley went to Hawaii.  She, her daughter, her granddaughter, and her sister had purchased tickets for a week-long vacation last summer. There was no sense in wasting the money spent, so she went.  I stayed at a friend’s house and took a little over a week off.  There was so much to do.  I dug through debris, sorted through things that survived, and separated & sorted photographs that survived, the latter of which was an extremely laborious task.  At one point I found yet another pile of photos and nearly broke down.  The emotional strain of going through the photos, and realizing I couldn’t possibly sort through this next pile of photos was unbelievable.  I found a company to do the last pile of them, thankfully, but the emotional strain was really hard. So hard I went to my doctor, who prescribed me some stuff to help with the anxiety.  It helped.

The whole experience has been unbelievably tragic and heart-wrenching.  You see fire victims on television and thing, “Wow.  That’s awful.”  But until you’ve gone through a fire and lost everything, you don’t and cannot possibly know how horrible the experience is.  Fortunately, and I know it sounds cliché (it did when people were saying it to me), we weren’t hurt. 

The only thing we can do is look forward.  That’s easier said than done.  I’m doing better, but I still get a kick in the chest every now and then.  The other day on the way to work is when I realized I’d lost mom’s sunflower and I broke down and bawled like a baby in the car.   I loved that thing.  I loved so much we lost.

The one thing good about this experience is that I’ve seen how good people can be.  People offered homes, food, cars, money, household goods, shoulders, etc. One couple washed ten loads of the clothes that survived the fire – three times each.  A coworker let us stay with him for almost a month.  Other coworkers collected and gave us things we might need.  It’s really been a wonderful epiphany


Today the debris that was once our home is to be leveled and removed today. The rain might put a damper on that, but you never know.

4 comments:

Ben Begley said...

I can barely imagine what you're going through, Carlos. I like to think I'm not too attached to the physical objects in my life, but I've never had them taken from me, so I don't know what that would feel like. And your pets! I am so sorry for your loss. I hope you'll feel better very soon.

Peace, friend.

Carlos said...

Thanks Ben.

Losing the replaceable stuff didn't bug me at first; it was only the irreplaceable family stuff and the cats that killed me. Now that some time has gone by, I'm starting to think about how much everyday stuff we lost. It's unbelievable when you start thinking about it.

TC said...

Oh my. I'm so sorry, Carlos. This is horrifying.

Since I cannot imagine what you're going through, I won't pretend like I do. I can tell you that reading this, imagining how I would feel to lose some truly precious things, made me cry. So I think you're due your tears, and then a few more on top.

Carlos said...

Hi TC. Long time. Yes, it's been absolutely unbelievable. But...We're getting through it. We've gotten very good at not looking back. Doing so just hurts too bad. So - We keep our faces pointed in the right direction and hope we never have to go through something like this again. Thank you for the kind words.