This essay follows, “The Fire, Part 1 of 3.”
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After the Fire
“Sometimes I can’t even feel the ground under my feet anymore,” my wife Kristina cries. “I can’t feel ANYTHING!!!”
Days and weeks wheel by in a blur after our house burned down in the Fire. Frenzied action is broken by spells of dazed inaction. There is too much to do so soon. We move through it all anyway. Sometimes we even laugh. Sometimes the Fire seems years ago, or feels it never happened at all, or worse, just yesterday. Saturday 20 March 2010, however, was only 30 days ago as I first write this blogpost for the bassfamilysupport.ning.com website friends set up to organize help.
The temporary rental in Woodinville is lovely but too far away from almost everything else. Our commute is complicated as before the fire in Edmonds our three daughters still go to school in North Seattle and move back and forth in different custody arrangements with our ex-spouses. Yes, Kristina and I have crafted a Post-Modern post-double divorce blended family over the past 8 years, and while successful it is a lot of work. Our exes, however, have been wonderfully supportive in this crisis. It never made any sense to us to be at war with those we once loved in years long gone.
We miss Edmonds, though, but are looking for temporary housing closer to our children’s schools. Stability is important to us now. Kristina and I long for floors and walls and a roof and yard to push against and call our own. Being homeless feels strange. While we both love to travel and have extensive backgrounds in living out of backpacks, we always had a home to return to somewhere. After living outside Leavenworth near Plain and Lake Wenatchee, and then being in Edmonds, we felt a little bit like wanting to run home to Momma in relocating back to Seattle.
People’s generosity humbles us. The kindness of strangers is not proverbial to us. It is reality. Many we don’t even know have responded with amazing generosity. Gifts of cash, checks, gift cards, free healing and therapy sessions, free childcare, free dog care, clothes for all 5 of us, the loan of this very laptop I’m typing upon; it astounds us. We have given much our selves in the past, but to allow ourselves to receive so much has truly been an education.
For now the basics are covered. We’re going back to work: Kristina as a business coach and consultant moving into organizational development, William as a freelance writer/editor who also works in retail sales at the Seattle REI Flagship Store. Morgan is a sophomore at Roosevelt High, Kate is finishing 5th Grade at B.F. Day, and Talia is in 2nd Grade at Whittier.
All three daughters excel in school. Morgan recently made all A’s, Kate achieved stellar results in all areas from academics to sports, and Talia shines in the advanced Spectrum program. They each deal with the stress of the fire in their own way, although often it seems they deal with it better than Kristina and me. Kids are so resilient.
Sometimes dealing with the insurance companies seems worse than the fire itself. It is not a personal thing, but the tedious, labor-intensive tasks of creating and completing an exhaustingly detailed inventory of all items lost in the fire that we can remember, where we bought them, how much we paid for and when, addressing the details of the claims, and how much time it demands away from everything else including careers, parenting, and securing a home. My brain balks. And I force it forward into the hell of data, as the one saving grace is certain logic to the madness.
Sometimes I drive back to the burn site. The blackened ruins and ashy rubble with their peculiar burnt stench are in stark contrast to the profusion of flowers and greenery around the property. Any openings left are boarded up with shock-white plywood. The stunning views of the Salish Sea and the Olympic Mountains framed so perfectly by banked rows of trees still remains. Life goes on.
There is much to be grateful for even in the wake of such loss. We are already emerging stronger than before. This Fire is an Initiation, unplanned, unwanted, and, yes, nevertheless an initiation…although into what we’re not sure. Others we’ve met with who have survived catastrophic fires all claim that to go through such an experience transformed them and will transform us.
I don’t return there as much anymore. My attention is demanded elsewhere. I get back into my car and drive away, practicing being at peace with the trauma of unexpected loss. As I look around me, I am somehow reminded all my ancestors are but memories but they live within my cells. One day, too, Kristina and I and even our children will be but memories to our own future relations. Eventually the greatest legacy fades into oblivion while a wealth of resources remains from which to generate future prosperity. To paraphrase Wallace Stevens, a poet who was also an insurance agent, “everything changes yet remains the same.”
It is a beautiful Sunday morning. And it’ll rain tomorrow. And shine again.
We smile just the same.
And lay fast asleep eyes wide awake. I jerk up from the bed heart racing as I shake my head to determine where I really am and if I am still in a bad dream or what. Kristina now seems impervious while I feel dazed and anxious. All the clarity I once had has evaporated.
With a face set as if chiseled in stone my wife moves forward shrugging off the past as “lessons for living life all out” and “opportunities for growth,” as a relief from being unencumbered by mountains of possessions. Oh, she is so strong. Kristina expresses gratitude, profound gratitude for so many things, simple things, every day things, such as being gifted with a toothbrush and a piece of crunch, dark chocolate. But once alone her face crumbles into tears. She exclaims she keeps seeing the image of the floor where our beautiful furniture used to be, and there’s nothing there but dirty air.
“Sometimes I can’t even feel the ground under my feet anymore,” she cries again. “I can’t feel ANYTHING!!!”
Somehow we fight; bewildered, thinking tragedy is supposed to bring people closer together into the deeper intimacy of shared suffering. But my wife refuses to suffer while I continue to grieve. We fight some more. The stress is already corrosive. And we love each other deeply.
So we smile again, reveling in the present moment … once we’re present.
We smile just the same.
William Dudley Bass
19 April 2010
Revised and reposted 10 February 2012
2012 P.S. – On Saturday 13 November 2011, Morgan & I drove over to the site of what we’ve come to call the Edmonds “Burn House,” short for “Burned House.” It was the first time driving by the ruins in almost a year. For a while it was a regular pilgrimage as we’d go there to ponder, to show a curious friend, or to dig around in the rubble for something to retrieve. To our surprise, the rubbage had been cleared away. Finally. The place was cleaned up leaving only the concrete foundations, slabs, and the basement rock room. Orange web fencing was placed around with a number of “No Trespassing” signs, signs we respected. The Owners were probably going to either rebuild or sell. We felt sadness, as there was no longer any further way we could recover anything more from the rubble.
NOTE: This was first published as “After the Fire” on a temporary community help website, http://bassfamilysupport.ning.com/, on 18 April 2010. Then it was edited and reposted the next day to my autobiographical blog Cultivate and Harvest, on 19 April 2010, at http://cultivateandharvest.blogspot.com/2010/04/after-fire.html. Almost two yeas later it was revised and re-published to my new blog here this 10 February 2012. Thank you.
Copyright © 2010, 2011, 2012, 2016 by William Dudley Bass. All Rights Reserved until we Humans establish Wise Stewardship of and for our Earth and Solarian Commons. Thank you.