Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The sound museum

I laid back on the sterile sheet, head in place. They enclose my head, and I feel like I should be fighting some intergalactic war with this contraption. Instead, I am pushed back into the mouth of a sound monster, trying not to think about the lack of space between my shoulders and the walls. When they called to set up the appointment they asked if I was over 300 pounds. As I'm trying not to think about the smallness of this space I am wondering how exactly 300 pounds (hell, even 250 pounds) would fit.

The beeps distract me from my thoughts.

Ka-blop. Ka-blop. Ka-blop.

I'm transported to the Amazon, sitting in a tree with incredible sound magnification. Each rain drop makes its own distinct Ka-blop.

A voice comes over a speaker, reminding me that I am in a metal shaft.

"One short one and then one long."

Immediately I am taken away from this place, taken away from the botched IV for contrast.

I am in a prop plane, right over the engine, looking down onto mountains, oceans. The whirring sound drowns out the beauty below.

And then silence.

A bouncy ball starts, as though it's been dropped from the 50th floor of a New York skyscraper headed down Broadway Ave. It continues, heading from Times Square, all the way to the Statue of Liberty, dozens of blocks, bouncing. As it nears the water, it slows, quietly petering out.

"That's it," the voice says.

Thirty-five minutes in the sound museum.

Several hours later, a phone call. "Normal."

One test down.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

And then...

As our lives become less and less about the fire (though when you are writing a book about it, it still is a lot about the fire), I have less to say here. But I want to keep this blog going and different from my mom blog.

So this is your chance to help guide me. What would you like to hear more about? Are there things about the fire or our lives since that you wonder about? Are there fire safety/prevention issues that you are unsure of? What do you want me to write about unrelated to the fire? (I can write on a lot of things, so just get me rolling!)

On an unrelated note, I have an MRI and spinal tap tomorrow. If you are so inclined, I would love some good thoughts sent my way that the tests are painless and that they give us a conclusive direction in which to proceed.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Pieces of writing

I've been working so much on writing about the fire (when I feel ok) that I often neglect to write here. So I thought I would share some of what I'm working on. This takes place the night of the fire, after we had seen our house completely gone.

The clock on the ceiling read 3:32. Dan and I had just gotten back to Erin and Mike’s, and they had left their bedroom for us.

I closed my eyes. The image of our flattened home burned the back of my eyelids. The cat hadn’t come to me when I called.

“Where do you think she went?” I asked Dan. We had heard on the news that the Humane Society had been picking up stray animals to get them out of the fire’s path, but the police officer at the elementary school had thought residents were taking in stray animals instead.

“I don’t know,” Dan said. “Time will tell.”

The clock on the wall stared down at us, and the minutes passed by much slower now that we were lying in the darkness, our bodies away from the danger of the fire, but our minds still consumed by it.

At 5:30 we decided to get up, neither of us having slept more than a few minutes. I needed to get to the cat.

We put on clothes that were foreign to us and left.

We stopped at Starbucks on our way up to the house. I needed caffeine and wasn’t much concerned about the baby at that moment. I imagined that the lack of eating and the sleeplessness, not to mention incredible maternal stress, were much worse for him than a shot of Espresso.

“Grande vanilla soy latte,” I said. “And a venti caramel macchiato.”

“How’s your day?” the cashier asked. It was a benign question.

“My house burned down last night,” I said. “Oh. I need one of these,” I said, leaning over the side of the counter to grab a newspaper. We had been interviewed the night before, and I knew that our fifteen minutes was just beginning. “Victim celebrities,” Dan said.

“Whose house is that?” I wondered aloud, looking at the barista as though she could help me.

I stared at the tree in the picture, imagining the neighborhood in my head, trying to place its location.

“Oh my god.”

The baristas were all looking at me unsure how to react.

“That’s my house. That’s MY house.”

I was shocked. It wasn’t just that my house burning down was the front page picture on the newspaper; it was the fact that I couldn’t recognize it. A total loss I kept thinking.

“Here,” the barista said. “On us.”

“Thanks,” I said, unsure how else to end the awkward conversation that would surely be the talk of their morning.

Monday, April 5, 2010

What to do when someone's house burns down?

I get emails sometimes (I like emails a lot. I am limited in what I can do right now, so often my day's activities are limited to pushing refresh on Facebook and Yahoo.). The most frequent email I get related to the fire is, "Help. My friend's house burned down. I don't know what to do for them."

Here's what I usually say:

1. First and foremost, watch what you say. But please say something. "I am SO sorry. What can I do to help?" is always a very safe bet. Avoid phrases like, "At least you're ok" (because they probably aren't) or "It's just stuff" (because it probably wasn't).

2. Ask them what they need. The easiest way to find out what they need is to ask. For us, having help sifting through our stuff was important because we wanted to do it instead of a disaster clean-up company. Others might have those details taken care of. For others it might be helping out with a pet because of the living situation (likely at a hotel) or needing help finding a counselor or locating a pet-friendly hotel or finding something fun for their kids so that everyone can smile for a couple hours.

3. Gift cards. While I will be forever grateful for the stuff that was donated, there is great comfort in owning something of your own when you own nothing. The task of sorting through others' donations was daunting as well, and we were incredibly exhausted as it was. (If they are getting a lot of donations, offering to help them sort through them is INCREDIBLY helpful.) Gift cards are also great because they can save them for later once they are a little more settled as opposed to having to figure out what to do with stuff when they are likely essentially living out of their car.

4. Restaurant Gift Cards. We had no plates, no forks, no cups. Food was not of much help in the immediate aftermath. And insurance will pick up part of the meal tab, but not all of it, so gift cards are really helpful. Money is coming and going quickly, and every little bit helps.

And that brings me to a bigger point. One comment has continued to haunt me since the week after the fire. Someone in our lives asked, "What do you need?" I told them that gift cards would be great. They responded, "Won't insurance cover that?" The simple answer is "yes" but the longer answer is "no." There are a lot of insurance variations, and the fact is that many people don't have enough insurance for their contents. And when you go to buy a TV to replace your 27" tube TV, it isn't as though you can do that exactly. Technology changes. Stuff changes. And it's more expensive now. Granted, replacement coverage insurance takes care of some of that. But not all of it. Determining how to replace and how to ration insurance money is an art. I guess what I'm saying is that if you ask someone what they need and the response is related to contents, don't be surprised. And if you aren't comfortable assisting in that way, ask them more pointed questions like "Can we make you dinner?"

And finally, point them to sites like this or to others who have experienced house fires. Hopefully I will feel well enough to get to work on the website. Until then, I can always be reached via email. And I'm always more than happy to talk to families who are undergoing these kind of tragedies.

Fire Survivor Blogs
What I Wish I Could Say...
Why We Remember
Disaster Planning

Sunday, April 4, 2010