Thursday, April 28, 2011

"Normal" and tornadoes

One of the most vivid memories for me after the fire is turning onto Sweetwater Drive the Thursday after the fire and seeing house after unscathed house with their trash cans out.  They were all continuing on in their lives while I lived in an efficiency hotel with little more in my possession than a couple pairs of pants, and something so mundane as a trash can jolted me into the understanding that my life now was so very, very different than everybody else.  They could be sympathetic to our loss, but they still continued on, down the path of normal.  And our path went every direction but.

I feel that strange disconnect again this morning... and have every morning after I hear about a major natural disaster.  I woke up in my bed, brushed my teeth with my Sonicare toothbrush, stopped in at Starbucks, and went to my hyperbaric treatment.  That's my normal now, and it continued on.  Meanwhile, 2000+ miles away, there is someone who is standing over the devastation left by a mile-wide tornado, taking stock of their loss.  They are calling insurance, contacting family, examining their lives in the context of all this stuff that they no longer have.  It's hard being on this side.

All of these natural disasters bring me right back to August 25, standing in the darkness, looking down into the pit that used to be my home.  It's really difficult for me emotionally, even though these disasters don't have anything to do with me, are usually thousands of miles away.  I turn off the radio, unable to listen to the news about more people losing their homes.  I feel so cold, uncaring even.  But it's my defense, my way of coping so that I don't have to relive that day in my mind.  I guess that's the beast of PTSD, and, unfortunately, that's now part of my new normal.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Update on the book... and other projects

I just finished another writing class.  I put my agent querying on hiatus while I was working on some structure issues.  And I needed a break from all the rejections... which hurt, by the way.  To be honest, I really wanted an agent so I had someone to run writing ideas by and help figure out the structure.  But I know I need to do that myself.  I've spent a lot of time thinking through my ideas for the book, and I keep coming back to the idea that our stuff is more than just a possession... and the myth that these "things" are easily replaceable.  I want people who read my blog... and who hopefully read my book eventually... to understand how important those "things" were to me and that honoring their importance is more than just being materialistic.  In this contemporary culture, we are so quick to judge others whose lives we believe are excessive, to want to trivialize objects that others might find valuable.  But these things matter.  Now it's just a matter of figuring out how to tell that story over 200 pages!


I'm also getting really excited about the Life After the Fire organization.  I hopefully will have a good portion of the paperwork filed in the next week and will be on my way to non-profit status.  The website is currently being worked on, and I am working on several articles to help other families.  If you've lost your home and would be willing to be interviewed, I would really love some first-hand stories.  I'm also always looking for stories like those I've featured on here.  The website will have a place for fire survivors to share their stories.  And it's going to have a forum, a place for those who've newly lost their home to connect with those of us who've been there... and a place for those of us who've been there to help work through the emotional trauma that so many others don't seem to understand.  No one will tell you it's just stuff or try to make you feel guilty for not feeling grateful for your new house.

If that wasn't enough, I'm also in the process of starting a web development company, helping companies integrate their current businesses into the digital world through web design, app development, online media strategies, and social media monitoring.

It's been a tough couple of years.  And by tough, I mean really really really bad.  But I see a world beyond the fire, a world past Lyme disease.  And that's really exciting.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter!







Saturday, April 16, 2011

Fire Story: Empty

This amazing story comes from Grace, who is only eighteen but who is a beautiful writer.  Her family will be moving home in a few days, so keep them in their thoughts as those who have been there know that it is both an exciting and scary and overwhelming day.

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            Empty. The house was empty. All the furniture was gone. All of the pictures, the knickknacks, everything was moved out. I climbed the stairs, just like I had done a thousand times. I walked down the hallway and into my room. Dust and soot settled on my empty walls and floor. This wasn’t the home I spent the last seventeen years in. It was just an empty shell. I pulled a permanent marker out of my back pocket and began to write on the walls, something I had never done because I was too afraid of my mom’s reaction. But at that moment, it didn’t matter. Song lyrics, love poems, even inside jokes between my best friends slowly filled my lifeless walls. All of my emotions about the past three weeks poured themselves onto my bedroom walls. When finished, I capped the marker and admired my work. All of my negative emotions, all of the pain and hurt, would be gone in twelve hours--just like the walls of my room. The thing about a house catching on fire is that it is usually reserved for TV dramas. The thing about someone setting your house on fire is usually reserved for R-rated mystery movies. But on September 13th, my small-town, average life, not unlike a TV drama or mystery movie, took an unexpected turn.
            Screams. Panic. My dad was screaming from the first floor.  “Grace! Get up!” Darkness covered my eyes. Rolling onto my side, I glanced at the alarm clock on my dresser. 3:39 AM.  Dad, I thought, is it really time for school? “Grace, now!” I looked up at my ceiling. Thick black clouds began to cover the white stucco. I flung my legs over the bed and grabbed the nearest blanket. Pushing over my desk chair and piles of clothes, I swung open my bedroom door.  I began running through the upstairs hallway, footsteps syncing up with my heartbeat. Halfway down the stairs, I heard it again. “Get your brother! Michael is still in bed!” I turned around, and began going back up the stairs. “Michael! Get up! Right now!” I yelled. Clouds of smoke brushed my head as I ran through his doorway. A groggy seven-year-old in dinosaur pajamas looked up at me through squinted eyes. “What?” he asked, but I had no time to answer. I grabbed him by the waist, and tossed him under my arm. Smoke burned my eyes and nose as I hobbled down the stairs with my fifty pound weight. When I reached the bottom, I saw smoke streaming out of the basement door and into the foyer, blocking the front door. Find a door, I thought. I put Michael down on the entrance mat to our kitchen door. I unlocked the deadbolt and finally the door. We stepped out onto the back deck, and the rush of chilly September night air surrounded us. “Call 911!” my dad yelled, and threw his cell phone at me. “176 Timbersprings Drive, Indiana PA,” I screamed into the phone. “Everyone is out,” I yelled, “but there is fire, it’s in the basement! Please hurry!” His Blackberry told me that it was 3:42 AM when I hung up on the dispatcher. My dad followed us out onto our back deck with the dog. “Did you call?” he asks, worried. But I can’t answer, I can only nod. Stillness.
            Sirens. I was sitting in the back of the ambulance, holding Michael. My dad sat across from us in his own white sheet. “What took them so long,” I ask my dad, “it has to have been twenty minutes!” “It’s been 8 minutes, hun,” the ambulance driver tells me. Impossible. I’ve been sitting in the back of this ambulance for at least twenty minutes. More sirens. Michael is shivering, so I pull him closer. More sirens. I turn to my dad. “Why are they sending so many firetrucks?” I ask, but I don’t get an answer. I can’t see my house--they moved the ambulance. It is still standing? Why are there so many fire trucks? What was happening? What even started the fire? My mind was racing with questions, desperately trying to put pieces of logic together. Basement. Mom’s office is in the basement. The circuit breaker is in Mom’s office. Electrical. Electrical fire. Accident.
            Morning. When I finally got out of the ambulance, it was light outside. Neighbors were gathering, staring, whispering. Stop staring, my mind screamed, but my mouth never moved--until I turned to look at my house. Broken glass carpeted the stairs leading to the front door. Firemen were moving in and out. Smoke billowed out of the broken windows of my room. Soon, people began coming up to me, each of their words running together in my mind, none of them making any sense. In my daze, I ran to find my dad. He was standing at the bottom of our driveway, talking to the fire marshal. As I approached my dad, one word finally found its way into my brain. “Arson,” said the fire marshal. Disbelief.
            Nervousness. I sat patiently on the mustard-yellow couch of the waiting room. I was surrounded by State Troopers. “Miss Castro?” called Mr. Frew, the fire marshal, from behind the bullet-proof glass that protected the office. Apprehensive, I looked at my mom who sat on the opposite side of the couch. “Just tell him the truth,” she said, “you’ll be fine.” Passing through metal detectors, I entered a small office and sat on a wooden chair in the corner.
            Enemies? How could I possibly have enemies, I thought. My parents mentioning the family business? Sure, I guess. Mentioning anyone wanting to kill them? Definitely not.  What kind of people do you think we are, Mr. Frew? Everyone in my family is a good person. “No,” I answered politely when Mr. Frew asked. “But I hope you catch him,” I added at the end of the interview, “I hope he never sees the light of day again.”
            Staring. I made the decision to come back to school on Tuesday, I thought it would help me get back to normal. Classmates, teachers, even lunch-ladies were looking at me, waiting for me to react or open up or burst into tears. What are you looking at, I thought defensively. Smoke, I thought. That’s it. They smell it on me.  They must have read the article that headline that screamed out “Attempted Homicide” on front page. Channel 11 News. Channel 6. Channel 8. They must have seen it on the news this morning at breakfast. Dark circles. They see them under my eyes because I hadn’t slept in forty eight hours.  Borrowed clothes. My usual uniform of jeans and brightly colored tie dye t-shirts was replaced with black sweatpants and dark, oversized hoodies that covered every inch of my body. I sat quietly through my classes that day, and even for the rest of the week.
            “Unsalvageable,” I heard the contractor say about my house.  My dad and I sat at the rented kitchen table in the rented kitchen of the rented house. The dinner I had just eaten began to churn in my stomach. Not my house, I thought. “We should go visit it one last time before they knock it down,” my dad turned and said to me. Knock it down? Tomorrow? Already? Fighting tears, I nodded.
            Standing in the driveway, I watched the crane take apart the walls that once held family pictures, and more recently, my musings. In the rubble that used to be my house, I saw for the first time a potential for a new house, a new home, that would contain new memories. Beginnings. 
            I never got the smoke smell out of my favorite hoodie. Flames. Burned my memories, past and present. 
            Yesterday, my mom asked me what color I’d like to paint the walls in my new room. “I don’t know yet,” I responded, “maybe I’ll just write on them.”

Monday, April 11, 2011

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy

I've had a really busy couple of weeks, and I'm always amazed at how easily time can get away from me when I'm not sitting in bed watching reruns.  It's a good thing; I'm not complaining!  But my blog can sometimes get neglected.

I've been down in Southern California getting treatment for residual Lyme symptoms.  I feel like I'm in a weird space where I'm so so much healthier than I was a year ago.  I feel so much better and am able to engage in my life finally.  And yet, I'm still not back to where I was before I got pregnant.  I know that there are so many in the Lyme community who would trade everything to be at 85-90% of normal.  And I know how fortunate I am to be there.  But (and maybe I'm selfish), I want more.

I scheduled the hyperbaric oxygen therapy a few months ago, before I started doing heavy metal chelation.  I was still dizzy then.  Amazingly, the chelation has been the answer for my dizziness.  I got sick after getting a flu shot, and apparently the mercury was just enough to tip my body over the edge.  My doctor said that normally he wouldn't even treat a patient with the slightly elevated levels like mine.  But we both know how sensitive I am to meds, and we thought it was possible that I might just be more sensitive to low levels of heavy metals than an average person.  Given how well the chelation has worked, I'd say it's a good theory.

My hyperbaric schedule has been two one-hour sessions per day, four hours apart in what Kellen calls my "spaceship."  It's demanding.  I've watched over half a season of House.  But I do feel better.


I'm home for two weeks because I had a few scheduled things I needed to be back for, and then we are back down for another three weeks of therapy.  I'm hoping to get long-lasting results, to finally find myself back to 100% health.  It's been a long road and a long-time coming.

In other news, I'm currently in the middle of development of the Life After the Fire organization website.  Lots of resources, articles, and a community for fire survivors.  I'm hoping to have it done mid-May.  And I'm starting an internet marketing consulting company that focuses on brand and company positioning on the internet in addition to web design and online marketing strategies.  I'm actually working from my office right now.  I think these are all signs of my improving health.  It's been almost a three-year detour, but I do see my life starting to come back to something resembling my previous life.