[about the author]
i actually like speaking in front of large crowds. freakish,
i work crossword puzzles in ink.
i am the american nigella lawson. or maybe the american eddie
izzard. can't decide, really.
i would be a really good mom, but i'm cool with being a really
i am sometimes more perceptive than i would like to be.
i am fiercely loyal. sometimes, stupidly so.
i never play dumb. never.
i am way too hard on myself.
i am a change agent.
i sometimes cross that fine line between assertive and aggressive.
i am not afraid to tell people that i love them.
i am militantly pro-choice.
i am pro-adoption.
i know a little bit about alot of things.
i typically enjoy the company of men more than women.
i am capable of being really mean and nasty, but i fight it.
i am a lifelong cubs fan. do not laugh.
i have been known to hold a grudge.
i have hips.
i am not my sister.
i am lousy at forgiving myself.
i am an indoor kind of gal.
i am a bargain shopper. to the point of obsession.
i am 32 flavors. and then some.
god help you if you are a phoenix...
[ed. note: i wanted to share this story because everyone sees the photo of the house on fire, but no one comes back the next day. the truth is, the fire isn't the worst part. it's the days after. and, so, to those people in california who are now facing their days after...this is dedicated to you.]
i don’t really know what’s going on in the world right now.
this is by design.
see, to know what’s going on in the world right now, i’d have to read the newspaper. or watch television. listen to the radio. at the very least, look at cnn.com.
but i’m having a hard time with that right now.
it seems that every time i look at a newspaper or the television, i see an image splayed out in front of me.
red and orange flames engulfing someone’s home.
or just the black and gray remains.
i remember the day it was my house. on the front page of the newspaper.
i couldn’t look at it then. i can’t look now.
that's not meant as an indictment of anyone who looks. i’m sure people who look say, “god, that’s horrible.” that’s what i used to say. or sometimes i’d say, “i can’t even imagine.”
and that’s probably the truest thing. you can’t. you can’t imagine. until you’ve been those people. until you’ve been standing there, dazed, looking at what used to be your home. you left there this morning, and everything was fine. you were going to make lasagna for dinner. you set the vcr to record. you stripped your bed so you could wash the sheets tonight.
everything was a perfectly normal day. and then...it was as far from perfectly normal as it could be. you can’t imagine.
i don’t have to imagine. i remember. i can't forget. i will never get over it.
i know what it’s like to leave for work and, by lunch, that suit you’re wearing is the only thing you own. and somewhere inside your head you’re thinking “thank god i wore my best suit today.” i know it sounds funny, but, the mind, when faced with something inconceivable, focuses on the oddest things.
like, “i don’t have a toothbrush. how am i going to brush my teeth?”
you think about things like that so you don’t have to think about other things. things like the fact that everything you had written in those twenty-something years is gone.
and so is that photo of your grandfather in his navy uniform. and his ring.
and the pearls your grandmother wore the day she got married.
you don’t think about the fact that your dog – although referring to her as your “dog” doesn’t come close to capturing the bond the two of you had – is dead. not because she wasn’t smart enough to get out – she was so smart it was frightening. but because she was so fucking well-behaved that she wouldn’t claw through the screen on the patio door and get out of the burning house.
you left the patio doors open – it was a beautiful spring day, and you lived in the kind of neighborhood where you could do that sort of thing. no glass to keep her in. just the screen. she weighed 90 pounds. it would have been like slicing through warm butter with a sharp knife. but, instead, she just sat there in front of the screen door. barking for someone to come and let her out.
if anyone had gone to the backyard, they would have seen that the patio door was open. they could have let her out so easily. but no one went into the backyard.
not even your neighbor.
the odd guy. the one with the really tight jeans and the very dark tan. he drove that firebird with the t-tops and lived with his mom.
he used to bring her bones sometimes. he’d come over and talk to you when you’d take her to the lake to play frisbee. he got a kick out of watching her chase ducks.
he could hear her barking that day.
he told the firemen, “you let this house burn down if you have to – she can get another house. but she can’t get another dog like that one. you just get that dog out!”
when they told him to stand back, he walked away. then came back with a sledgehammer from his garage and tried to break the front door down. he was trying to get her out.
they arrested him.
she was the neighborhood dog. a dog like no other, even though everyone says that. my doorbell would sometimes ring, and i would open the door to see a group of smiling kids on my porch.
“can molly come play at the lake?”
those same children came to find me again in the days after the fire. they brought me flowers they had picked from the edge of the lake. the first signs of spring, tied together with a piece of ribbon. they told me they were sad that molly had died. that they would miss playing with her at the lake. and they gave me money…a jar filled with pennies and dimes and a few bills. all their savings.
“to get a new molly,” one little girl said.
but we all knew there wouldn’t be another molly. ever.
i remember what it’s like to try and think of what it is you need to do first. you need to call the insurance company. so, you look up their number in the phone book. they close at 2:00 – only 20 minutes from now – so the woman who answers isn’t terribly excited that you’ve called.
“i, um, i need some help.”
“what kind of help?”
“well, i’m a policyholder, and…um…it’s my house. there’s been a fire. i need to speak with my agent, please.”
“i need your policy number.”
“well, i’m afraid i don’t have that in front of me. can’t i just give you my name?”
“i need the policy number.”
“well, i don’t have it. it’s at the house. which is still on fire.”
you can hear her covering the phone and talking to someone.
“he says that if there’s anything still left of the house you need to go to lowe’s and get some plywood and board everything up.”
“who says that?”
“can i speak with him please?”
“he’s getting read to leave. hold on…”
“he wants to know what kind of fire it was.”
“a house fire.”
“but what kind?”
“the kind that burns your fucking house down, kills your dog and destroys everything you own. now put him on the goddamned phone.”
that’s when my dad took the phone away from me.
in the end, the insurance company was no help at all. no one came to the scene with blankets to wrap around my shoulders like they do in the commercials. no one did anything at all, really. my agent told me to call claims. the guy at claims said, “i really usually only work auto claims. um…can you just stay at a hotel or something?”
i had to sue them to get them to pay me.
before it was over, i was questioned by their investigators.
“we’ve been informed that you’re a dancer.”
“what, like a ballerina?”
“an exotic dancer.”
“what?! who told you that i’m…wait a minute. what the hell difference does it make? do strippers have some tendency to burn down their houses and try and defraud insurance companies that i haven’t heard about?”
“well, we need to know these things.”
“no, you don’t.”
i moved into my parents’ house. i had no money. i had no clothes. i developed a psychosomatic cough.
for months, i would look at a skirt and think, “that would be perfect with my black leather boots.”
then i’d remember: i don’t have those boots. they burned up.
or i’d spend an hour looking for a book. or a pair of earrings.
i’d forget sometimes.
we were able to salvage a few things from the fire. although at first i clung to them, they eventually became unbearable reminders of what had happened.
to the casual observer, they seemed perfectly normal. but when the air got damp, they told their story.
it was the smell.
you can never get rid of it. you can never forget it.
when the air gets damp, they release the smell of your life in flames. the smell of what it means to be without. what it means to be scared. to feel entirely alone and disoriented and lost. even when you’re surrounded by people who love you.
the smell reminds you that everything is fragile.
nothing is guaranteed.
it can all be gone.
and this is its curse.
and this is its blessing.
in the years that followed, i have developed an unusual relationship to things. i’m a packrat. i keep things. all things. small things. large things. things that others would throw away. it’s not materialism in the most traditional of ways, though. it’s holding on to the stories of the things. the representation of a life that things are. because i remember what it’s like to have nothing. to lose all the pieces of your life that represent your memories and your experiences.
all the valentines.
all the ticket stubs.
all the things that aren’t really things at all, but something bigger.
but, as much as i have come to be fascinated by these things, i have become freed of them as well.
for, if they were all gone tomorrow, i now know how to say, “they’re just things. i’ve been without them before, and i can be without them now if i have to.”
i learned so many things from my experience. practical things. but bigger things, too. things that changed who i am and how i live my life.
but, even so, i wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
| [tell me about it] | [link to this entry]