Tonight was forward looking and backwards. We went to a reception in honor of the fire victims. We were also given gifts of cash support for recovery. People had donated to help us. It was a surprise to receive money and it was tangible proof that people cared and responded to what happened to us.
At the reception we saw people that lived close to us, some that lived further up or lower down the mountain and we saw people that had been in the same hotel where we had all been evacuated. We saw people who reached out and helped us along the way.
The conversations ran generally along the lines of how each person’s insurance company had responded to our inventories and what we did or did not get credit for, what was depreciated to a level that made no sense and what was not depreciated that we were surprised and thankful for. We laughed over our wash cloths for which we got 13 cents. I thought that was fair. I never liked that towel set anyway. I always thought they were worth about two cents. Our insurance on them 6 times what they were worth.
Some items were depreciated in ways that felt hurtful. We had things that we loved but could not explain why they should not be depreciated. In other situations it was a shuffle to figure out what was insured by which policy. I had construction materials in my basement. Is it part of the dwelling or is it personal property? It is always hard to discern these things. I suppose there are not clear answers for us or even for those at the the insurance companies.
Another discussion centered on the costs of building materials. Collectively we discussed the increase costs in various building materials. I commented on the increase in price of potties (my favorite metaphor for construction materials). As I am beginning to purchase materials for the house I am learning. We liked a lot of what I had put in the house when I did our big remodel in 2010 so we want to replace some things with the exact same models. The prices have increased sometimes as much as double. I was not expecting that. I had heard that plumbing in particular had gone up but my budget is now strained to deal with the changes.
We have wondered if prices were affected by the number of houses that were being rebuilt across the West from the fires last summer. One person reminded us that prices always went up when we were ready for something. It was a funny moment to me because I understood how costs were associated with my expectations and needs as much or more than market prices. In reality there have not been dramatic increases on most things but some really are different.
Our lives are different like the costs of building materials. The price we paid has gone up in some situations but in others we just image that it has. Mostly I think that we probably cannot compare our own prices from before the fire with the prices of our lives now. The fire changed us so profoundly that remembering how to think the way we did before the fire is truly not possible. Remembering and understanding the price of the immediately post-fire days in the emotional and financial costs are thankfully forgotten too. Sometimes something will jog my memory and I will have a blast of cold that starts in the pit of my stomach and burns upwards into something between shame that I was so helpless and confused and pain because I was helpless and confused. It is like a fog that is not quite a memory but that I can tell a narrative of. Sometimes that narrative is emotionally related to my experience and sometimes it is just a story that I am telling because someone wants to know how I am doing and how we are recovering.
Many of us have realized that it is hard to understand what our new houses will be like even after using 3-D modeling like we have or when we stand on the plywood that is our floor with a flooring sample in our hands. It is not just what the new house will look like but what the old one will not look like. I wonder if the two are going to merge at some point. I imagine they will but I also imagine it will be a while before the two become one. Each day that they are not one is a day that has the potential to confuse us.
Confusion is not unknown. We don’t remember if we have replaced something so we may end up with none or three. The knowledge of the purchase of the previous two really, really is not there. I am not sure if it is because there is so much we have to get, and recognize, and remember in such a short time or if it is some sort of trauma-related exhaustion. It is interesting for me to speculate having worked in the traumatic stress field for over 30 years. I must say that all of my clinical and research experiences are not sufficient to articulate and understand what is happening to us.
We are not terrified, it is not like being in a war or being a victim of domestic violence or child abuse. Some of us have that as part of our experience to which we have added the fire. Others have serious illnesses or disabilities to which the fire has come and made a complicated life more complicated. The sheer amount of work to be done to complete inventories, work to rebuild houses, negotiate with banks, remember what you needed to find since you don’t have one any more is more than a full time job. Many of us have been treated kindly by our employers and given leaves of absence but after we run out of sick leave there is no income even if you cannot return to work for a time.
In the end we have had to redefine our selves. The first redefinition was someone who did not have what they thought they had. We did not have the ability to have a long day and go home shuck off our clothes and replace them with our sweats and simply put our feet up. I missed that most, I think. The second redefinition was one that others required us to take on. We had to redefine ourselves as victims. I resisted that as long as I could and even now don’t like to define myself that way. I think of us as the “fire families.” Some were families of one and others of many. The fire defines us now, we are fire families and we are victims but we are more. We have learned how much other people value our lives. We have learned that our washcloths are worth 13 cents and our 15 year old, now not replaceable treasure is depreciated beyond its useful life. Ours still worked because we took care of it but a schedule of depreciation said it is worthless. We have to balance our expectations and understanding with those that someone else places on us and that is hard.
We learned that people cared about us, not as a group of victims but as individual people. Each week the Idaho State Journal features a story on us. “Up From the Ashes” helps us know the story of each other. We redefine ourselves by the experiences of the others that we did not know. We judge whether our situation is better or worse. That changes us. The articles have been generous, kind, and insightful. We were touched by the story written about us. It made us see things that we had not. It redefined us. Being on the land standing at the edge of what was our foundation doing an interview in the cold and wind made it painfully clear to me that I could not say, “it is cold out here, why don’t we go inside and I will make us something hot to drink and we can continue our conversation.” I was hit in the stomach with the knowledge that I could not offer even the most basic hospitality. We are redefined by the fact that the hospitality that we offered is now offered to us. It is hard to accept but we are redefining for ourselves what it means to give and what it means to be given to.
The fire redefines us and we must go along with the process. The fire, hungry and driven but not discriminating between this house or that, still burns in our souls. You can see it in our eyes. We are not defined by the fire, what is burning inside of us is the experience of the fire as our own personal experience. When you look in our eyes you will see that we redefine that fire in our bellies as the fire of life and it warms us now as it will until we pass from this life.