Friday, August 13, 2021

Ignis Invictus

Three weeks ago today, around 1:30 in the afternoon, I had just finished lunch and was sitting back down at my desk. I had been working from home for about a year and a half because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As I thought about the several things I had left to do that day my thoughts also went to my plans for the weekend. Then, the room got very dark. I assumed that a storm was rolling in, but it was so sudden that I got up to look through the blinds out the window. Thick black smoke was rolling by, right up against the side of my apartment building. Then I smelled smoke.

Opening the door to my bedroom to see where the fire was, my cat ran passed me and into my bathroom to hide. In the living room I looked out the sliding glass doors watching for just a moment and angry red-orange flames lapped over the balcony from the apartment below, consuming the plants I had invested so much time in growing. The sunflowers would have bloomed last week if they hadn't burned.

The only word I could say for a few moments was 'FIRE.' It forced its way up from somewhere inside me and came out as a bellow to awaken my 19-year-old son who was sleeping. He'd been working nights for a while and sleeping during the day. I ran to grab the pet carrier, yelled for my son to grab his documents and put on his shoes, and loaded the cat up. I grabbed my own documents in two folders and we ran out of the building. 

The fire department said our place was fully engulfed within 8 minutes of the fire starting.

As I write this we still don't have an official cause. Eyewitnesses say it started on the balcony of the apartment below ours. That's quite a mystery, given that the balconies were made of solid concrete and had metal railings. 

The fire burned our apartment and climbed the outside wall into the attack, where there were no sprinklers. As the afternoon wore on our local fire department was joined by others from neighboring towns. From what I could see the fourth floor was a total loss. During the fire the elevator apparently collapsed, blasting flames out the room and through the first floor. It's my understanding that a few pets died.

My prescription medications were destroyed in the fire and I hadn't taken them yet that day. The doctor's office insisted I had to have an appointment on Monday afternoon to renew them. I went into withdrawal on Saturday, coinciding with the initial shock wearing off, and spent around 4 hours in the emergency room Saturday night. I'll need to find myself a new doctor once things settle down.

For several days my mind seemed to be in a fog, but with the help of my daughter and other good people I managed to sort out next steps. A lot of people donated generously to a GoFundMe campaign that my daughter started, and a number of my co-workers kindly put their resources together and go me a hefty enough amount in Target gift cards to fund replacing my cooking and baking supplies along with some basic countertop appliances.

Only 8 days after the fire I was back to work, happy to have the familiar routine to distract me. 

My son and I have found another apartment that will be available on September 1. In the meantime he is staying with his mother and I have temporary lodgings. The weeks can't pass fast enough. I want my own place again.

The trauma is real. 

My entire library was destroyed. I had built it over the course of 5 years in order to attend seminary. Now it's gone, along with pretty much everything else. That alone was worth thousands of dollars. It's strange how a catastrophic event like this can change one's tastes and preferences. I hadn't expected that at all. Where before I had an intense academic interest in the Bible and planned to do New Testament scholarship, I now have no interest at all in the matter. Consciously I don't feel revolted, in the sense that the loss of the library has made me disinterested, but that must be what's happening subconsciously. To give you and idea, I love sweet iced tea, and so it would be very disorienting to wake up one morning and no longer have any desire to drink it, preferring other beverages. Think of something you love to eat, drink, or do and try to imagine suddenly not caring about it any more. That's where I am, and other interests are quickly taking the now-unoccupied space in my heart.   

The maize and bean lineages I had been working on for a few years now are gone as well. The new apartment will be north-facing and shaded, so my growing options will be limited. I'm thinking I'll switch to fava beans and sweet potatoes (grown in large bags made for the purpose). Someday down the road I may try my hand at raising a variety of gooseberries. My beloved citrus tree in a pot is also gone and I'm now planning on replacing it with evergreens. I'm attempting to clone a Blue Spruce from cuttings, and I expect to buy a Norfolk Island Pine to keep in the apartment after we move in. 

If this had happened earlier in life it would have been devastating enough to derail me for years. Now that I'm on anti-depressants, have a therapist, and don't believe in the supernatural I find that I have the strength to do this. To be clear, I would always have survived and recovered from this sort of trauma. It's a question of how long that would take and how bad things would get before the sun would rise again on my innermost being. 

The fire has not and will not defeat me. Ignis invictus.