Here, two years and two months past our fire, i am again sifting through the ashes. This round of sifting does not leave me covered in dirty carbon-based ash like the sifting immediately after the fire. This sifting leaves me covered in the ash of affect.
It occurred to me that one of the differences between that dirty, black, burned, carbon ash and the current ash of affect is how one removes it. What danced across my mind was that we could get in the shower and wash off the carbon ash. Almost immediately I realized how wrong that thought was. The carbon ash from standing in the rubble of your burned ash was both dirty and full of affect. That affect was different. It was the ash of hope, that you would find something in the inches deep layer of black and gray. It was the ash of despair caused by the simple act that you needed to stand in the rubble at all.
I don’t know how to characterize this current ash of affect other than to say that there are positive and negative feelings. I find joy in my observations of hope like the post A Real House. I find laughter in the silliness of some of the stories like We’d Like to Make a Cookie Withdrawal Please and even after all this time I find anger in some like the post Fire Abatement. I also recognize the raw emotion of some of the posts as I and my family struggled to understand what had happened to us and how we should act in our strange new world. There are so many of those stories. The one that others have told me conveyed our understanding of loss most was A Needle Is Not a Needle; a Tool is Not a Tool and a Simple Task is not a Simple Task.
I like reading the stories, most of them. They are like memories of a trip that turn my mind’s eye to the time when it happened. From this vantage, I remember the pain but mostly I remember the story as part a continuous narrative that has ups and downs but always has hope. Always there is the glimmer of the bright spot in the darkness. They stories can be sad but they tell a tale that is important to me. I am glad that we have the stories else we would have lost the narrative of this period of our lives along with losing our things.
The occasion of my prowling through the 467 stories and other fire-related documents is to write a professional journal article in which I address both the personal and professional knowledge about surviving the fire. It is difficult to jam all the things that happened into 20 manuscript pages, each line of which must be double spaced. Without the narrative it would be impossible.
When I examine the stories, the entries into the blog, I build a high-level cognitive map of what happened. I can see it as driven by time. I can see the event happening, the immediate days following the even, the confused but forward moving weeks soon after the crisis stage which are followed by the middle period of working toward recovery while not being quite there yet. I can now see the “recovered” phase of being moved into our new replacement house with out replacement things.
I can also view the journey from the perspective of the tasks I was trying to accomplish. It began with getting out of the path of the fire, of gathering food, medicine, clothing, computers and our dog to leave our home. It continues through our over and over attempts to get a home built which is followed by the process of building and finally moving into this home.
The story can also be view as a roller coaster ride with the reader being the rider and the narrative being the track. The narrative twists and turns, loops over on itself, rises and falls and is filled with scary climbs and descents and those relatively level spots where you can take a breath. I think this is the narrative as I experience it. We were on this wild ride for two years. The past two months are like the kiddie train. There are ups and downs and occasional frights like when the bandits pretend to rob the train but mostly we have been drawn by the engine at a reasonable pace with scenery that is very familiar.
This replacement house of ours is nearly complete. We completed the outside on August 31, one year after we got permission from the local Home Owners Association to build it. That of course, was one year and two months after we lost our house to begin with. Inside there is work to do. The garage floor needs to have its finish put on it. The stairs from the garage to the main floor need to be sanded and stained and sealed. There is a small hall above them that needs the same. I need to finish reworking some of the switch locations on the electrical wiring. I have already finished making the changes we needed to some of the plumbing. I want to change out a toilet but don’t think we can afford it right now. The library, one of the most beautiful rooms in the house, looks like a technology graveyard with a paper recycling station and parts to build a table superimposed on it. Our closets don’t have hanging racks and some of the sinks need to be calked.
All of this and more needs to be done. All of this plays on our affect of emotion but that with sufficient skill, we can ignore. It is not Laissez faire ignoring which assumes ignored things will work out. It is full on repression ignoring. Freud defined repression is an unconscious mechanism to keep disturbing or threatening thoughts from becoming conscious, especially those that cause guilt or shame. Yep. That would be the garage. It would be the closet organizers that sit in boxes in the closet along with the cardboard clothes moving boxes that are hanging rods. We covered up with rugs the places where the floor is not finished with its medium deep stain. We hold our noses and ignore the not-so-perfect smell that is wafting from our septic tank. Most of these and more we can ignore. We will have to do something about the septic tank but I can drive into the garage on concrete with cracks that broke out because the surface was supposed to be epoxyed.
All of this is teaching me how easy it is to live life unaware. These days there is a lot in the self-help world about living intentionally or living consciously. I agree it is important to actually think about who you are in the world and how you participate in it. I am not sure that is completely right. I think sometimes a little denial is a good thing.
Tomorrow we plan to ignore the needs of the house and go hike for a couple of hours. We used to hike regularly as our exercise. We walked 25 to 50 miles per week on local mountain trails. Sometimes we even put down 75 miles a week. Since the fire we might have done 75 miles a year. I am not sure our health will allow to keep that sort of pace anymore but it is a goal.
Tomorrow we will wake up and look out the window of our new replacement house and admire the mountains as they dance in the morning light. After breakfast we will put the dishes in the sink, put our boots on and leave this hard won house. We will work to rebuild our health at the same time the house needs us. That is OK. The fire taught us that we have no time at all and we have all the time in the world. Since we cannot know when we have no time and when we have all the time we shall live as if we are facing the end of time and as if we are facing the beginning.