Sunday, August 29, 2010

Why we remember

Today is the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

I feel a kinship with those in New Orleans, both because of our loss and because our traumas fall within days of one another. I know that there are very stark differences about the hurricane and our fire, but I think on an individual level, the loss of one's home and the struggle to reclaim it is very similar. The natural forces element binds me to that event as well.

I am sure that there are those who are tired of hearing about New Orleans (especially if they listen to NPR). I have to admit to having my limits as well. But I think remembering is important. I assume that we will hear less and less as each year passes with mentions at the major anniversaries.

I will be honest and tell you that the hardest part of last Wednesday wasn't the remembering. It was the being forgotten. Granted, I wasn't sorry to walk out of our house to see TV cameras towering over the power lines. But I still wanted to be remembered, especially by those closest to us.

It's only been two years. Seven hundred thirty days. I'm finally entering a phase of acceptance (probably because of the intensity with which I'm writing about it). But it doesn't mean I've forgotten. Or that I ever will. August 25 will always be a life-changing day for me. And I mean that in the least hyperbolic way. Dan and I might not be in Boise anymore had the fire not occurred. It is likely we wouldn't be living in the old house. It is possible that I wouldn't be sick. So many things changed in those few minutes it took the fire to consume our home. And I will always find time once a year to observe that.

Beyond my own very personal reasons to remember, there are bigger issues involved in remembering. We remember Katrina so that we learn the vast lessons that presented themselves that day. We remember the fire so that we can discuss fire wise policies like land maintenance, ranching rights, fire-safe home construction. We remember the fire so that when a smaller fire happens, there are resources available to help those in need (like the website that I will be developing this fall). We were, in a way, fortunate because of the magnitude of our fire. We had support and resources in a way that others with individual losses don't.

We also remember to heal. Telling our stories is part of that process. If you listen to any of the coverage about Katrina, it's not just a newscaster telling the story. It's those who were there sharing, exploring, discussing. Healing.

I know that for many, it feels like we should "move on." I will never move on and forget. August 25th is the defining day of my life, bigger than my wedding, bigger than Kellen's birth, bigger than my overcoming Lyme disease. And I will always remember.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Two years later

August 25.

It's been two years.

Today is also the first day of school, just as it was that day. Kids once again don their backpacks, their hair done up just so with their brand new clothes still free from dirt. Parents line the parking lot, say their good-byes, maybe even shed a tear or two. I wonder if I would still be teaching...

Two years ago today I sat in a quiet classroom, creating accommodation sheets for the gen ed teachers with students on my case load. I walked through the hallway with a smile, watching the moms and dads accompany their kindergartners, thinking about that day five or six years down the road when Dan and I would do the same for Kellen. I wondered if he would be at Riverside as well and whether I would still be teaching there.

I got a massage after school, my back in so much pain from the pressure Kellen exerted on it. And yet, all felt right in the world.

Until 6:00.

I will never forget seeing smoke while driving home and the insta-panic that set in. I will never forget the knowing I felt in that moment that my life was going to be forever changed, even though our house had yet to burn down. I will always remember telling Erin that I had "five minutes left of hope" before Dan called back to tell me that our house was gone after he asked a policeman to find out.

You don't forget the details.

I still know what exploding propane sounds like. I know how the air smells when all of your memories have been consumed by it. I know how invisible shards of fiberglass feel when they slip down into your lungs. I know what it feels like to step on a foot of ash, crushing the things you most want to find. I know the difference between salvageable and recognizable. I know the joy of finding a charred pearl in the ash, even though it will never be worn again.

Two years have gone by, and yet I still can transport my mind back to those minutes, those hours, those days. It can't possibly have been two years.

And yet, in two years, I have grown up, changed. Like my new house, I am stronger, reinforced, maybe even more beautiful inside. As the new house settles, I too feel more settled in my new life, adjusting each day to the changing rhythms of being. My house has a few cracks in the wall, as do we all, some more visible than others. But I've realized that loss often gives us an opportunity to rebuild, creating a stronger foundation along the way.

I still wish I could undo the fire, recreate my old house, sit on my green microfiber couch watching my twenty-seven inch television. But I recognize that we don't always get to choose our paths, and it's not about wishing or wanting or expecting things to be different. In the last two years I've learned that your only real choice is what you make of your experiences... good or bad.

Thank you for joining us on our journey.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Lyme update

As you know, Dan and I flew up to my doctor in Seattle a month ago and had the PICC line placed so that I could start receiving IV antibiotics.

I've been on some version of antibiotics since late last fall, first killing Bartonella and then working with a combo of drugs to attack the Lyme bacteria.

A year ago, I had no idea why I was sick. Each month brought with it an unknown set of new symptoms. I would cycle through the month with a flare up every 35-ish days. I often predicted when I would get sick again because the cycles were so regular. No one wants a diagnosis like this, but at that point, I just wanted to know what the hell was wrong with me!

I have had several people question whether I was legitimately sick and then a few more question the Lyme diagnosis since it is far from fool-proof. But a year later, I have to say, I feel SO much better and am so thankful for the doctors who risk their licenses to treat this disease. I may not be 100%, and I certainly still have some neurologic deficits, but compared to a year ago, I am so much healthier.

The shooting electric shock pain is gone.

Where I used to be tired from doing nothing, I now am only tired from doing. I may still get more easily fatigued than I used to, but at least I can be somewhat productive. (And this week has been a record for energy I think since before I got pregnant TWO AND A HALF YEARS AGO!)

My joints feel much better and are only stiff momentarily in the morning.

The all-over body pain is gone.

I still get dizzy, but it's becoming more and more related to over-stimulation and florescent lights, as opposed to just being dizzy because I'm awake.

I still forget how to spell words sometimes and can find myself lost in a conversation. My eyes still get tired. And the Bell's Palsy isn't fully resolved.

But I am better, and that's a reason to be optimistic that I will make a full recovery!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Writing and writing

I've been writing away, nearly everyday since we got home! I have forty cohesive pages, which is the most I've ever written of a straight narrative. I'm a bit proud of this, and I'm hoping if I keep up this pace that I will be ready to submit the proposal to an agent this fall. I've also entered a non-fiction writing competition, the finalists being announced on Tuesday. It's a day before the two-year anniversary, and it would sure help make me less sad on the 25th. I'm still not sure how we're going to mark that day.

Here's a little bit of teaser writing from the pages I've been working on:

While many had been evacuated, some were allowed to return to their home, sleep in their bed, be thankful they were spared a fire that could have leveled an entire neighborhood rather than a few houses in it. I wondered how different their lives would be if the wind had been blowing more southerly. I would be sitting in my house, curled up in my bed, feeling sorry for the neighbors down the street. I would be wondering how to help as I tossed my trash into the can and hauled it to the street.

But the winds hadn’t blown in their direction, and the fire had burned my house with my unborn son’s nursery. Whereas earlier in the week I had criticized the overgrown lawn and dandelions, I now envied them. I didn’t even have weeds to return to.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Chicken Soup publication

While on vacation, I got final notice that my story about our first Christmas in our new home without carpet or paint will be published in the upcoming Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas Magic.

I will be receiving a few free copies and will be hosting a few giveaways for signed copies leading up to Christmas.

In the meantime, check out the post of pictures of that magical day.

And head over to Amazon to pre-order a copy:

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Sea salt and gasoline

I stepped off the plane into the thick, humid air.

Home. Virginia Beach.

This place has a story; it knows mine. If we drive to the rec center, I can point out the spot in the woods where I kissed a boy, though I wouldn’t tell him it was my first. I can show where I was warned during driver’s ed when I forgot to yield when making a left turn. I can navigate the streets to my old home with precision, instinctively knowing when to push a little harder on the accelerator and when to back off and prepare the break.

Even though I’ve been gone ten years, I immediately recognize the cadence here.

I know the way the grass rises out of the bay. I recognize the sea salt that hangs in the air and settles in my pores. Salt water and gasoline is the smell of my childhood. Those on boats seem unaware that you could even live in a place where water isn’t part of your daily life, where bridges don’t dictate traffic decisions.

We ate at the local oyster bar last night. A twenty minute wait that would have annoyed me in Boise doesn’t faze me. Anything to be surrounded by the noise of a Friday night on the bay sitting on a picnic table eating fresh oysters that seem a little plumper, taste a little richer.

I watched the pink sunset behind the cumulous clouds and forget the thunderstorms that seemed imminent only hours before. Watching the sun set sitting on the bay has been a ritual since I was in high school. Whenever I get anxious, this sunset is what I return to in my mind as I ask peace to settle back into my soul.

I do not live here anymore. I may never live here again. But it will always be my home. This is where I grew up and returning here is like returning to a forgotten dream.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Am I always going to be afraid?

I got a comment last night on a post I wrote shortly after the fire. The comment asked if they were always going to be afraid. It's a good question and one I think about often. It's up there with "Am I always going to assume the worst?"

It's almost been two years since the fire. Two years. Tonight I was sitting in our beautiful backyard watching Kellen play in his new pool and I tried to imagine us watching him play in our old yard. I imagined sitting on the wooden deck Dan and I hand-built with Kellen in the small yard off the kitchen window that we sodded ourselves. I could imagine him there, on that patch of grass instead of the one we are on now. I wonder if I will always be able to imagine our duel lives in that way.

We have a gas stove. I don't know how anyone convinced me that this was a smart idea. Apparently it cooks better. It also has the ability to make me jump into a full on panic instantaneously. Sometimes the fire doesn't catch immediately, and once it does, it's excited. But that first poof is frightening.

I still watch fire trucks out my second story window and track their movement down Amity to determine whether I need to go outside to look for smoke. This behavior isn't normal. Not for a normal person anyway. But I'm not normal anymore. This behavior is normal for a fire survivor I think. Or at least someone who struggles to overcome PTSD from a fire.

I rarely dream about fire anymore. It is the one area I've made progress in, and I think it's telling of the state of my unconscious mind. I don't know if it's time that's allowed me to progress or if it's the fact that I'm now scared of Lyme disease. Trade one trauma for another I guess. Or maybe it's just that we all sleep through the night now, so I treasure every millisecond of sleep and don't much remember my dreams anymore. I would remember them if they were fire related.

Our journeys are all full of crises, some less intense than others certainly. But growth is an inevitable part of our human experience. So I guess the answer to the question "Am I always going to be afraid?" is "maybe. But you'll change from it too." The fear will change you. And as the fear changes you, you will learn to manage it as it curls up into your life. I think I will always be afraid. But I've learned to cope so that it doesn't overrun me. I think that's key.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Countdown to 10 year reunion


My ten-year high school reunion is this weekend. In honor, here are ten ways I've changed in the last ten years.

1. I'm blonde.

2. I don't think socks belong with sandals anymore.

3. I've been published in more than just my school newspaper.

4. I've had a baby.

5. I've lived in five places! (Lynchburg, D.C., Denver, NYC, Boise)

6. I don't worry as much about what people think about me.

7. I don't pass notes anymore. Thank goodness for texting!

8. I've worked in several industries, including a major NY law firm, publishing, political analysis, and teaching. I'm finally settling into writing.

9. I've realized that family is important, neuroses and all.

10. I am stronger than I ever thought I could be. In 10 years I've survived my Dad and his successful battle against stage IV non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, including a stint where we shared a studio apartment in D.C. I've survived miscarriages. I've survived my house burning down. And I'm surviving Lyme. I hope that usually I'm surviving gracefully.