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I’ve written about losing my journals, my words, those memories. But as a photographer, I’ve lost thousands of images that were taken in a pre-digital era. And that really hurts. I’m not alone in this. The images that I’ve shared of the cozy house were sent to me by a professional photographer from town who also lost decades of her beautiful work.

Believe me, I continue to beat myself up with “Why didn’t I transfer all those images to a digital platform?” Because it took time and money and resources that I didn’t have. “Why didn’t I take those photo albums on the top shelf of the bookcase – there were at least 15 – with me?” Because I didn’t have space for them yet. “Why didn’t I at least take the notebooks of negatives?” Because, and so much of it comes down to this, I thought the cozy house was a safe place. I thought it was invincible. I was wrong.

Perhaps I should have known better.

In 2013, the cozy house was hit by the 100 (or 10 or 1,000 or 10,000) year flood. The root cellar filled with water and the kitchen and two rooms had about four inches of muddy water, but the cozy house stood firm. Some boxes of photos were close to the floor of the cat room at the time. Much later, Ex-Pat brought them to the Bungalow, damaged as they were and I tucked them away to sadly deal with later. I guess today is later.

I brought some up from the basement today. Decades of photos stuck together. So I’ve spent some time meticulously pulling them apart. The mud has acted like glue in some cases, so if I can get a fingernail inserted into a stack, I can flex them a little, then a little more, and then still a little more, until I can gently separate them. Sometimes I lose a little backing. Sometimes some of the photo tears off. But overall, I’m making some progress.

These are mostly images from my travels, and that’s nice but what I was hoping to find are images from K’s childhood. There are some – of her and her best friend at the Renaissance Festival, of her time at Calwood – but not what I’m looking for. And none as yet of the house. I’ve lost my pictures of Scotland from when I was pregnant, and that’s a tough one. That was a very happy time. And the picture of K and ex-Pat taken right after she was born. You’ve never seen any newborn look more like she was saying, “WTH. PUT ME BACK.” She wasn’t even crying, just glaring at the camera from under her tiny knitted hat that hospital staff put on her little head.

On one bright note, I have one box of albums from my Mother (another was lost to the flames). When K was born, my mother asked me to get duplicates of the pictures I took and send them to her. It gives my heart a flare of hope that I have some of those. Now I just have to find the box in our Indiana Jones movie warehouse of a cellar filled with boxes.

A rescued favorite. Tortola, 2004.

I don’t even know what to call the space anymore. I say “the house”, but there is no house. I say “the lot”, but that feels insensitive to the history and memories that the space and structures were infused with. I say “the property” and feel like a damned callous developer. So I suppose “the ruins” infers all the heartbreak and timeless sense of time’s passage that I’m trying to make sense of.

The girls and I spent the day scraping and sorting and sifting, searching for anything. There is nearly nothing intact. A few bowls – vintage Fiestaware can withstand seemingly anything. A lamp from K’s bedside, remarkably still white with its pink china roses unchipped—one of a pair from my grandmother’s house. A porcelain napkin ring. The dish in which I used to make my amazing artichoke dip, lid and all. Some stone art from the yard.

It was a house of books, as K and I have books in our blood. That is never more evident than now. We can tell where a bookcase was by knee-deep stacks of ashes, pure white. I can still see the pages but all the words are gone. Of course, I try to touch them, as it looks like someone was just rifling through them, and of course, they silently shatter, blowing away in the chill wind that precedes the snowfall predicted for tonight. There’s something I need to learn from these remnants, from this deceptive fragility, but I can’t tell what it is yet.

A and I sit together and gather Roscoe’s bones. So many fragments. She looks for teeth, but so far none have shown themselves. I mistake tatters of insulation for fur and am glad that I am wrong.

K and I are fixated on finding Dusty. He was so small and so good at hiding that I doubt we will ever find even a trace. Still, I call for him, because I have to believe in miracles, be it his live, lithe cat body bounding up from the creek, a little pile of bones, or just some sign from the universe. I used to walk through this house calling for my coffee when I’d misplace it in the morning, a silly thing, but then the coffee always did seem to show up.

When two men show up, taking pictures, I challenge them. Do you belong here in this place, on this space that right now is sacred to me? If you have no business here, get out. They are just looking for the gas meter. They might have asked me.

Walking into the ruins through what was the big picture window, through what was the first garden I planted here, I stop and turn in a slow circle. What was a neighborhood now looks like what I’d imagine a war zone to look like. Trees are sharp, angular, angry at their damage. Will anything bud when spring comes? Will a fragment of lilac still have the strength to push through the worn earth and present a sign of hope?

I just don’t know.

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