So we were homeless.
And now, all of a sudden, the wait was over and there was so much to do. I had to call my other children and let them know the house was gone. I called the insurance company and filed a claim. I had to get organized. I had to find housing. We needed clothes. I had to contact the phone and cable companies. Where would our mail end up? Would my clients be okay if I postponed their work? Did I have to cancel garbage pickup or would that be obvious? So many decisions. So many pieces of one’s life tied up in your home.
The following Monday we went to the Disaster Assistance Center. I resisted at first, not wanting to feel like a refugee. But my mom went with me and we moved from one station to another, tying up loose ends, talking to people who’d learned from the fire the year before. I collected paperwork, a stuffed animal, a blanket and lots of data dumped into the big black hole my mind had become. I asked the same questions over again, unaware they’d already been answered.
By Wednesday we’d found a place to live, thanks to my daughter and a friend whose dad had a rental available. There were 500 families looking for places to live, so we were so lucky to find something just miles from my folks. The insurance company sent us an advance to get clothes, beds and kitchen basics. I’ve never hated shopping so much. I purchased a plastic filing tub to store all the papers. I started a journal and created a “Breadcrumbs” book where I wrote down events as they happened.
The day we went back to the site was surreal. I braced myself for an emotional onslaught and family members insisted we drive out together so I wouldn’t have to face it alone. I remember looking at the burned out rubble and upright chimney as if it were someone else’s place. We took pictures and poked through the ashes to find a few remains. And I kept waiting to feel something. I didn’t know why I wasn’t having a reaction.
But when we drove to my brother’s house, it hit. The scene was so ugly. There was a rabbit caught in the fire and “frozen” in place standing up. Imagining that moment for the rabbit did me in. I wanted to get out of there. I felt sick. So I crawled back into the van and waited for the others, tears burning. My son was struggling too. There was a strange sense of comfort knowing it wasn’t just me, over-reacting. We were in this together, he and I. When we finally left and drove through the neighborhood, almost every house was burned to the ground. Taking pictures felt like such a desecration.
“Put one foot in front of the other,” my Mom and Dad kept saying. The steps to come would prove to be the hardest.