A year ago today at this time, I was wandering around in huge clouds of black smoke with my niece and her two little girls, carrying my dog, trying to stay in an open spot where the air was still breathable, and wondering if any of us would get out alive. Wondering if my brother-in-law, who had disappeared into the smoke as he tried to save his house, was still alive. Wondering if maybe, just maybe, the fire would miss the house, as it had appeared for a few minutes that it might. Wondering if there would be anything left.
Well, you know the answers. My niece and her girls are fine, my brother-in-law is okay and did save his house, thanks to the timely arrival of one volunteer firefighter and a little pumper truck, and the fire didn’t miss the house. We salvaged a few tools and a lone pulp, a 1936 issue of ARGOSY. Quite some time later, my daughters found a Norah Jones CD in the rubble, cleaned it up, and that sucker plays just fine. In a year’s time, we’ve gone from staying with my wife’s parents to living in a mobile home for nine months to living in our new house. The girls are fine and have good jobs, Livia and I are rolling along in our writing careers, and life is pretty much back to normal, thanks to the efforts of literally hundreds of people – friends, relatives, and total strangers – who have helped us.
Here’s a story I don’t think I’ve told before, but if I have, bear with me. The day after the fire, I was at the library using their computer to post the news of what had happened on this blog. I had told the librarians about it, and as I was leaving, a fellow who happened to be there in the library stopped me. He was probably in his seventies, wearing a cowboy hat, not very big but you could tell by looking at him that he was tough as whang leather, as the old saying goes. He told me that he’d heard me talking to the librarians and said, “I just want to shake your hand and tell you that ever’thing’s gonna be all right.” So I shook his hand and thanked him, and when he let go, there was a ten dollar bill folded up in a tiny square in my hand. I don’t know who he was and have never seen him again, but I’ll never forget that man. Or all the rest who have helped us get through this.
A couple of days after the fire I was talking to someone else who had lost his house the same way. He said, “You never really get over it. But you find ways to go on.” That’s true. I don’t think I’ve “gotten over it”. There are still the occasional dark nights of the soul when I feel like I should have done something to stop it. I still mourn the pets we lost and the things from the girls’ childhood and a million other things. Something comes up and I think, “Well, I’ve got so-and-so out in the studio”, and then realize that, nope, I don’t. The same thing happened when my folks passed away. It was a good three years before I stopped thinking from time to time that I was going to ask my dad about something or other. And just the other day some question came up about a relative of mine, and I thought about how my mother would know, and for a second, the impulse was there to call her up and ask her. Then there’s that abrupt stop, that instant when you realize, nope, can’t do it anymore. It’s the same way with the things that we lost a year ago today.
But the good thing is, there are a lot of days when that doesn’t happen. Most days, in fact. Most days are spent thinking about the chores we need to do, the doctor’s appointments coming up, the pages that need to get written (and boy, they really need to get written!), the books I want to read next. In other words, looking forward instead of looking back. So, in that spirit, this is probably the last blog post I’m going to write about the fire. Something might come up that would call for a mention on here, so I won’t rule it out, though.
A year’s time is an odd thing, a blink of an eye in one way, a lifetime in another. So again, thank you all for helping me make it through the past year.