Thursday, June 27, 2013

There I Am Again

I stood at our big, rustic pine armoire tonight unpacking scrapbooks and yearbooks. I packed them up this time last year after cleaning away what soot I could dislodge from them. I had wrapped them in archival tissue paper hoping it would absorb some of the smoke smell. I've been putting off this task for months.

I unwrapped a Winnie the Pooh baby album. It belongs to Fish. The cover is stained with soot and it won't come off. I gave it  a light swipe with a chemical sponge and set it on the shelf. I unwrapped my wedding album. Not in bad shape at all. Then I unwrapped some of our yearbooks and I could smell the smoke; the fire. And suddenly there I am again.

I see myself standing at that cabinet, a different cabinet, but similar, in a room dark with soot and no electricity. The house is not my home; I live in a hotel. The house is full of people, strangers packing and labeling my things. I am crying. Frantically unloading stacks of scrapbooks and photos; handing them to my kids to run next door to the neighbor's garage. I can't trust them to strangers. Strangers are packing my things to take to a big warehouse and I cannot let them take my wedding photos and the kids' baby books. I must save them. I have to hurry because I am coughing from the toxic smoke that lingers and because I feel as if I might crumble if I stay in this wretched place that is no longer my home.

There I am again. Back at the fire. And the tears come. And I feel weak. And angry. Because I want to be done with this; this recovery thing.

But there I am again.

I want to embrace the day that I have no more boxes to unpack. The day when there is no more smoke to smell. The day when the insurance company and the inventories and invoices are a memory. The day when the house is completely back together. I want to embrace the day when the memories don't trigger the raw tears.

In time, that will come. But tonight, there I am again.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Let's Do This Thing

Today, I woke up 39.

It didn't exactly slide up on me unnoticed. I mean, in case I didn't realize I was getting older, the year brought plenty of reminders.

To start the year off right, my gall bladder attacked me because I ate a cheeseburger and topped it off with frozen custard. It had to be removed in an emergency surgery so I began 38 missing an organ and unable to enjoy my own birthday cake. That'll remind you what age does to a body.

My little boy turned 18. And then he graduated. So there was that. That hurt. A lot.

Then my little freckle-faced girl turned 16- driving age. Ouch. We had our first driving lesson this week. As we rolled up over the curb and cruised along all lopsided, I was grateful to be approaching 39. The years have brought some patience and the ability to weather a potential catastrophe with at least a little grace.

Last week, my middle child turned 13. She officially became a teenager. May God have mercy on our souls.

Oh...and there is the long streak of gray hair that won't quite join any of my other curls. It greets me every morning when I look in the mirror. It sort of separates from my long curls and stands up on it's own as if to say "hey old woman! How yer doern?"

So, I knew it was coming, and it's okay. I have one more year to enjoy being in my thirties. I can live with that. 

C'mon 39. Let's do this thing.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Just to Start

"We're looking at $800 today, just to do x-rays, start an I.V. and do some blood tests to see where we're at. That's just to start."

That's what the vet said. It was two days after our house fire and I had spent most of the night awake calling emergency vets and praying our big dog would make it through the night. The emergency vets didn't want to see him because they didn't have an oxygen tent to fit him and they were sure he needed oxygen. His nasal passages were swollen and his throat was inflamed. He was seriously dehydrated. I looked at him, staggering in front of me, his eyes pleading for help.

I choked back tears as I asked the vet "is he going to live?" "I hope so" he said. Um...that's not a good answer for $800. I knew that was only the starting fee. I thought about it for a brief moment and said " what you need to... my kids have lost everything. We are NOT losing this dog."

We have no idea how long the dogs had been trapped in the burning house, but when the Big Guy tentatively opened the front door, the smoke had almost reached the floor. He tried to enter the house to reach the dogs but it was impossible. We know from the fire report that it was just over 12 minutes from the initial 9-1-1 call to the point the fire was reported as knocked down.  Sometime close to knocked down, the big dog was rescued. 

He was rescued a little later than our yellow lab. The firemen couldn't carry him out in his kennel the way they did the lab because is kennel is enormous. They were probably reluctant to open the kennel and really...who could blame them? They did open the door and he couldn't walk down the stairs. Two firemen carried out our disoriented 125 lb. Jai. According to the report, he received oxygen and I've heard that a family member put wet blankets on him to help cool him down. 

Both dogs received emergency care the night of the fire- steroid injections, oxygen, and a good mouth cleaning. There I was 2 days later with Jai, desperately in need of more care. The vet was right. What he needed that day was just a start. He required long-term antibiotics for pneumonia and medications for all sorts of tummy troubles. Then there were antibiotics for a skin infection. Then pneumonia. Then skin. And so on. 

His immune system is shot. His lungs are damaged. His fur falls out in patches from time to time. He periodically drains our bank account with surprise vet bills. 

But he is here, with us. And for that, we are thankful. He is lovingly known at the groomer and the vet as the fire rescue. 

We love him to pieces. Even if he did just set us back another $267. I wonder if we could sell that beautiful fur to recoup some cash? He doesn't seem to be hanging onto it. It's just yucking up the rug and plugging the vacuum cleaner. Great Pyrenees knitting yarn anyone? 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Pina Coladas and Q-Tips

WARNING: I'm about to overshare.

WARNING: It will be gross.

Still here?

I knew we could be friends.

This very day, I experienced perhaps the nastiest and most bizarre thing I've ever experienced in 18 years of motherhood. And I've experienced some good ones. Like the time I had to pinch one of Tuna's nostrils and hold my hand over her mouth while I blew in the other nostril and shot a slimy, bloody corn kernel out onto my cheek. I was pregnant. I almost vomited. Or the time I had to dig through poo for a week waiting on The Boy to pass a nickel. I don't know why I bothered because he knew when it passed and he dug it out himself. That was fabulous.

Where was I going with that?

Oh yes. Nasty thing. Bizarre. I remember now.

So tonight, I removed a fecal impaction from a guinea pig.

Yes, indeed I did. It was horrific. There was squealing and squirming and Q-Tips involved. (Hey, there's another use for Q-Tips.) Not from the piggie, mind you; from me. No, the pig was fine. He was laid back like he was stretched out in a lawn chair on the beach, toes in the sand, enjoying a pina colada.

I was traumatized. I feel violated. I've seen things I never needed to see. And smelled them. Touched them.

I think I might get sick.

What did this have to do with motherhood, you ask? Well, I wouldn't DO such things if I weren't a mother. Would. Not. But when a sweet child brings you the too-skinny piggie with a tummy ache, you make it better. Because that's what moms do. We sift poo. We remove corn from noses. We clean bums.

I did not get a copy of the job description when I applied for this gig.

I need a pina colada.    

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Prong

"Do you know what this goes to, Ma'am?"

The private fire investigator hired by the insurance company was asking me this question, and he was totally serious. 

The man had sifted through the kitchen cabinet you see above and fished out 4 little pieces of metal; prongs from the electrical cords for a crock pot and cell phone chargers. The cords themselves were melted, or as the insurance company would put it, burned out of sight.  
He explained that newer items have solid, cut prongs in the cords and older ones often have the metal folded over. Did I know which one of the prongs he was holding in his hand went to my crock pot? 

I shot him a look that said "are you out of your ever-lovin' mind?" It was a look that said "are you crazy?" and "for reals?" I shot my husband a look that said indeed the fool was crazy and I walked away. 

I needed this guy to do his job, but I was not emotionally prepared to deal with these kind of questions. The insurance company was not willing to start paying until the cause of the fire was determined. Fair enough. The fire chief had already narrowed the cause down to either the crock pot itself, or the outlet it was plugged into, but the insurance company wanted a lot more detail. 

This guy actually reconstructed the whole fire for us which was quite interesting. He explained that the cord had shorted out on the crock pot. He showed us the exact spot on the cord where the sparking would have occurred. The sparking melted the cord, burned for a bit as the fire traveled the overheating wiring into the wall and ceiling, and eventually ignited a bottle of olive oil sitting next to the stove. From there, the fire went up and out in a large triangle, catching the ceiling and consuming the kitchen. Heat and flame began to push out from the kitchen to the family room and dining room and the heat in the house grew intense, melting plastics in every room in the house. 

His work was intriguing, but still...the question seemed ridiculous. Who could actually identify their crock pot or cell phone charger by that little metal prong? I was wearing my $1 flip-flops, too-large donated jeans and my new black t-shirt for the third day in a row and I was operating on very little sleep. I was standing in the soot-covered ruins of my home, grieving the loss of years of memories. And this man wanted me to identify from memory a tiny metal prong. I had zero patience. 

He was not deterred at all. 

He started sifting through this wet pile of insulation and charred drywall on the front lawn and he pulled out a piece of blackened fabric. Only about 6 inches of this thing, whatever it was, remained and no pattern or color was visible. 

"Do you know what this is?" he asked. I will not repeat here what I said to him. 

He asked where our kitchen towel was when the fire started. Again, I shot this man a look that conveyed powerful emotions. I was contemplating taking a long walk, but those $1 flip-flops kept me from fleeing. 

I explained that we have five kids. Five. Cooking and chores are a group effort in our home. The dinner hour is chaos. I hadn't been home for a few hours prior to the fire, but if I had to imagine what our kitchen looked like in those hours, it would look something like this: One child was lazily doodling a dish brush on some dirty dishes. One child was cleaning the kitchen cabinets, sweeping crumbs right into the floor. One child was collecting recycling, taking a swing at a sister as they passed by. One child was probably hiding in the bathroom hoping not to be noticed until chore time had passed. One child was playing under the table petting a dog. The Big Guy was likely checking the chicken in the crock pot, yelling at two kids to stop touching each other, asking one to go find rice, and calling another by the wrong name. That would be a totally normal evening in our home. 

The towel might have been on the island. It might have been on the counter. It might have been laced through the cabinet or refrigerator handle. It might have been in the floor. It might have been a tutu for one of the dogs. Who knows? Who cares? It didn't start the fire. It didn't put the fire out. I could not comprehend how it was relevant.

I have never been so blatantly rude to a human being as I was to that man at that moment. To this day, I am embarrassed but unapologetic. It had only been a few days, but the fire had already changed me. I had a new found sense of what was important in life, and this stupid piece of metal was not it. 

And's been 21 months since the fire and I am still holding onto that little piece of metal. I keep it in a little box on my desk. I'm not entirely sure why. It seems to symbolize some very intense feelings that I can't quite resolve. It still triggers feelings of anger and emptiness. It seems to epitomize the disbelief that overwhelmed me in those early days and weeks. I can't seem to let it go. 

Maybe I should hang it from my keychain or something.