Monday, February 28, 2005

The Rest of the Month

We stayed at Gerry and Larry’s for a week. They were so incredibly nice to us and helpful in every way possible. Gerry brought us a huge bag of clothing that people from the gym had donated. We are actually still wearing some of those clothes. And it was very convenient to be staying right next door to our house.

Basically the rest of the month and on into March was a big jumble of meeting with this person and that person and just dealing with the mess. The house was condemned so they cut off the water and electricity. The windows were all boarded up so you had to run the generator to get light, even during the day. The restoration company loaned us the lights and the generator and cleaned up the house enough so that the insurance people could make their way through it safely. They got us a dumpster. We cleaned up the yard, but not much in the house because the personal property adjustor wanted to be able to verify our claim.

Meanwhile John was removing all of the many layers of ashes from his room, one Hefty bag at a time. He was there constantly when he wasn’t at work. At night he slept at his old house where he grew up. There had been tons of magazines and books in his room and most of it was in ashes now. But he found out that if the ashes get deep enough during a fire what is under them becomes somewhat protected and stays intact. He found a number of things that were very meaningful to him under the huge piles of ashes.

I guess we knew that eventually John might find Seymour up there. He did find him, about a week later. Seymour must have died either from smoke inhalation or from the heat. He looked like he had just gone to sleep. His fur wasn’t really burned very much. It was nice to be able to pet him one last time. We buried him in our back yard out by the holly tree. It was another sad day but at least we finally knew where he was.

We moved into a little rental house on the same property as Doug’s mouthpiece shop. It just happened to be vacant and available. It was very convenient for that reason and was only about 15 minutes from our real house. It was small, but since we had very few of our previous possessions it was okay.

My parents helped to get the place ready by doing some cleaning and painting for us. Ted was absolutely miserable there. He had finally gotten somewhat accustomed to our room at Gerry and Larry’s and now all of a sudden he had to move again. He stayed under the covers for two days straight. I think he really missed Seymour, even though he had acted like Seymour was a total nuisance when he was alive. It was very difficult to cheer him up now.

I lost all of my clothing except for what I was wearing, and Doug just had a suitcase worth of clothes from his tour. We both needed all of the basic stuff as well as clothes for all of the different kinds of gigs we played. We needed new sheets and towels and dishes and household items – just about everything you can imagine had to be replaced.

We spent a lot of time shopping. It might seem like fun to go out and buy all new stuff, but it is really a pain, and it took a pretty long time to get reimbursed so our credit cards were often totally maxed out. For this reason we had to be extra careful not to buy things that we didn’t desperately need.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

The Next Day

This link shows some of the damage that was done to our house.

The next day Doug got quickly got subs for the rest of his tour and caught a flight home in the morning. I hadn’t been expecting to see him so soon but it was an enormous relief to have him there. He was definitely looking for the silver lining in this situation because one of the first things he said was that he always knew we would have to move out of our house in order to finish the addition and maybe this meant that it was time for that to happen. My first thought after he said that was “huh?” I was already in a mental state that lasted way too long where I was totally obsessed with believing that it was all my fault and I would have given anything to be able to turn back time and to have not lit that candle. I was definitely not ready to suddenly not be living in my house anymore.

Speaking of touring, one of the things that I wish I hadn’t learned on the road was that the easiest way to make a smelly hotel room more tolerable is to open the windows, turn on the bathroom fan, blast the heat or AC, and then light a scented candle. After an hour or so you can no longer smell most of the offending odors. Most of the girls I tour with use candles or incense to make the hotel rooms smell more pleasant.

We went back to our house from next door and met with our insurance company and a fire restoration service that they had hired and I think the fire inspector came back again. Also a whole bunch of “independent adjustors” stopped to tell us we’d get more money if we used them. I certainly wasn’t thinking about any money I was going to be getting and I had no idea why all of these people wanted to help me with that. I really felt more like I should be paying a fine or going to jail or something for allowing my house to catch on fire and destroy everybody’s stuff. I really didn’t want to “get” any money as a result of this. I thought those guys were really rude and greedy. Then there were a bunch of random spectators dropping by, just wanting to chat with us about the fire and the damage. They were just being sociable, and were in most cases concerned and offering their help, but you could tell that some of them thought it was really exciting or pretty cool or whatever that we’d had this big fire.

We kept hoping we’d see Seymour. Maybe, by some miracle he had become frightened by all of the firemen and had run out the front door when that random man busted it down. But in spite of being a semi-feral cat, he was still an indoor cat and I knew that he was probably hiding up in John’s room where he always did, next to the radiator and he probably stayed there the whole time. We looked for him up there but didn’t see him. Seymour had been a feral kitten when we adopted him, so he was somewhat socially retarded. He would only let us “capture” him in two places, in the bathroom and on our bed. The bathroom is where he spent his first weekend as a house cat. One of Doug’s students was supposedly going to adopt him, so I spent the weekend preparing him for life as a house pet. I taught him how to use the litter box. I put a TV in there so he could get used to hearing people talk. He smelled really bad so I wiped him down with a damp wash cloth and he immediately started grooming himself for the very first time. After that he always kept himself nice and clean and fluffy. The other place he hung out was on our bed. He would be extremely cautious but intensely affectionate at the same time. Then he would run and hide and hiss at us from under the bed. It was very hard now not knowing where he was now.

The restoration company boarded up all of the broken windows and strung a bunch of lights inside that were hooked up to a generator so that the insurance company could come in and do all of their damage assessments more easily. Inside, the ashes were a foot or more deep and there was water dripping all over the place. All of the plaster walls had fallen down and there were partially charred pieces of furniture and random boards lying around everywhere. It truly was a disaster. I think part of the firemen’s technique involves chopping all of the walss and furniture with an ax and breaking all of the windows. They also tossed a whole bunch of stuff out the window. I guess they need quick access in order to save the structure by soaking it with water. It was very difficult to walk around in there with such a jumble of stuff on the floor. It really looked like the inside was completely destroyed.

The things I remember being particularly upset about losing were: Seymour, obviously, and our wedding pictures, my photo album from college, an album my mother had made especially for me of childhood photos, my skydiving video, my scarf that I had just learned how to knit, a “smarf” that Christina from the tour had crocheted for me, my computer, all and-I-mean-all of my clothes, and my brand new camera. These were the things that I first lamented not having anymore. I also lost my wallet and my passport. But at least my bass and most of my music things were safe. I took that as a definite sign that I was meant to keep on playing.

Outside there was stuff that the firemen had tossed out of the windows lying around all over the yard. It was a huge mess. There were pieces of furniture and tons of LPs. Among the items that they had thrown outside was the headboard of our bed. I became very confused when I saw it because there was a big charred hole in the center where the lamp had been and on the side where the candle was it wasn’t burned at all. I wondered why it wasn’t burnt where the candle was and then I thought maybe the wax got too hot for the container that was designed to hold it and maybe the glass broke and the hot wax rolled sideways 18 inches along the top surface of the wooden headboard, melting the plastic casing on the electrical cord which then caused the lamp to catch on fire.

*Footnote from 2007: This theory seems incredibly far-fetched now, but at the time I really needed to have an explanation for what had happened, since I considered myself responsible for the whole thing. But doesn’t wax usually harden almost immediately after it gets away from the candle flame? If so, it would have never even made it to the lamp. DUH!?!!! I guess this is the kind of weird theory that an emotionally disturbed person is likely to come up with.

The addition was completely intact. The fire singed a tiny section in the top corner near where it attached to the house and some of the siding had melted slightly. There were also about six windows in the addition that had been broken by the firemen. Inside the addition there was no damage at all. So Doug’s new CNC lathe, his office, all of his trombones, and all of my music stuff was totally fine. We lost nearly all of our personal belongings but very little of our professional equipment. It was such a relief to walk into the addition and see everything basically as we had left it.

Just this past August I had pressure-washed the entire outside of the house and painted it to match the new gray siding on the addition. No more pink house! I had just finished painting all but one section of it about two months ago during the Thanksgiving break of our fall tour. All that nice new paint melted off so that some of the pink was showing again, and in places it was even down to the original barn red that it had been when we bought it. So now all of my recent hard work was down the drain. At least I hadn’t gotten to the trim yet. By the way, the pink was Doug’s idea, although I was the one who actually did the painting. At that time I really wanted to have a blue house. The gray was nice, and at least it was a somewhat normal color.

Friday, February 11, 2005

The Fire

Our house was completely gutted by a very destructive fire on Friday February 11th at about 10:30 pm. The front section of the main part of our house was built in the 1870s and the rest of it was built in the 1940s. The addition was a large partially finished area in the back where we had all of our music equipment. At the time of the fire we lived in the house and worked in the addition. The fire started in our bedroom and was most like caused by a faulty lamp, although there also happened to be a candle burning at the time. The candle was the kind that comes in its own glass container. There are several theories as to how the fire actually started, but the strongest physical evidence we have actually points to the lamp.

I was in the addition when the fire started. Doug had left that morning to do a band tour, and our roommate John was at a concert. I went into the house to use the bathroom and heard the fire alarm in the hall. I had been out in the addition for about 45 minutes. When Doug goes on tour I usually immediately clean the house and put fresh sheets on the bed so that I can have at least a few nights without cat hair in the bed. To make it extra nice I lit an aromatherapy candle and shut the door to keep the cats out so I would be inhaling a pleasant fragrance instead of cat hair. Although I love my cats very much, I didn’t love how hairy our bed would get with both of them in it all the time.

So after hearing the alarm, my first thought was of the candle, and not the old lamp on our headboard which had recently been acting a little strange. I totally forgot about that. I saw the flames coming out of the crack at the top of the closed door and called 911 immediately. While I was on the phone, our cat Ted came up and started meowing to tell me that he was concerned so I picked him up and took him out to the car. Then I thought I would go back in and try to find Seymour. Maybe he would realize that he needed to come out from wherever it was that he was hiding.

When I got to the car I saw that the grass was on fire outside our bedroom and it made me realize that it was really spreading pretty quickly. I was already kind of in a state of panic I guess because when I saw the grass on fire outside of our bedroom I ran back into the addition to get my bass, which was in the addition, instead of Seymour in the house. Actually I was freaking out. But I could see that it was probably too dangerous to go all the way back inside at this point. I was still on the phone with 911 during all of this. They were being kind of annoying and not acting at all like it was a big emergency. It was almost like they thought I was faking it or something.

Finally they got all of the information from me and just as I was heading back out of the addition with my bass a man suddenly ran into the addition from the house and asked if there was anyone else left in the house. He said he saw the fire and was worried that there might be people inside so he busted down the front door. I told him that I was leaving immediately and that I had already called the fire department and I thanked him for being concerned and then he ran out the back door and into the night. I have no idea who he was, or where he came from, but he definitely wasn’t from the fire department.

The fire trucks began to arrive as I was backing out of the driveway with Ted and my bass. They came about a minute after I finished calling them so somebody from the street must have called before I did. I drove into the neighborhood around the corner and parked. Several times I got out and went back to my front yard to look or to be available in case somebody wanted to ask me something but I just couldn’t bear to watch it for more than a few seconds. I’d go back to the car and try to go back out again, just to be there, but I couldn’t do it. I was really freaking out. There were flames coming out of all of the windows. It was too difficult to watch, so I finally gave up and went back and sat in the car around the corner. Ted was all worried so I stayed with him in the car.

Some of this I remember quite vividly, but a lot of it is a blur. I think I was probably in shock. Our neighbor Gerry came out to the car and asked me if I wanted to wait inside her house, and at first I didn’t want to bother her, but then I realized I was probably completely irrational at this point and that I should just do whatever anyone suggested. I am so grateful that she invited me in. We didn’t really know Gerry and Larry other than to say hello over the fence, but they turned out to be the best neighbors ever.

It was somehow a little easier to watch the firemen’s progress from inside their kitchen than it had been from outside on the sidewalk. It was also easier to watch once the fire was actually beginning to be put out. In the newspaper it said that 85 firemen had been there and it took 40 minutes to get the fire under control and that it did far more damage than I even knew our house was worth.

I called Doug in North Carolina and later John stopped in. It must have been awful for John to drive up our street and see all of the fire trucks and all of the flames. But he was very calm and comforting. The Red Cross came by and asked me a bunch of questions and told me all of the things they could do to help if I needed it, and then they gave me a gift credit card worth $200. I told them I would be okay without it but they said it was pretty much their policy to do this because I would need to buy clothes and food and this would cover me for a few days. I hadn’t even thought about all of that, or the fact that I had neglected to grab my wallet on the way out. The fire inspector came by and asked a bunch of questions as well. I realize that none of this sounds all that strange but the whole thing was unbelievably weird. It was worse than any nightmare I’d ever had in my entire life.

That night Ted and I stayed in Gerry and Larry’s guest bedroom. Gerry set up a litterbox and food for Ted. They were both so nice to me. I cannot begin to describe how grateful I am for all of their help. I also felt incredibly pathetic, needing so much help from anybody. The room was lovely, but I don’t think I got any sleep that first night. Ted and I were both pretty much crying the entire night. And we were both very worried about Seymour.