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It’s been more than three weeks. This was probably the right time to get COVID, as it has kept me in bed feeling awful for nine days. I still don’t feel good but I’ve broken quarantine a day early, as the Texas Baptist Men are coming to the house to talk about sifting, and perhaps to sift. I’m not sure which.

I think taking to my bed like some delicate Victorian has allowed me to sit with my grief. It’s fitting that my body has felt as bad as my soul. Perhaps now they’ll both start feeling some better together.

Driving in, I am aware again of the 991. Of being, once again, a member of a club I’d never want to join. And of how almost everyone I see is going about their daily lives as if the fire had never happened. Because it didn’t happen to them. I am reminded of the King Soopers shooting in Boulder that happened just over a mile from where I’m driving, and how for most of us, it was terrible, sad, and tragic. We mourned and we said “Boulder Strong” and were kind and went on with things. But for the families of the 10 who died, and likely for the many people who were present, life didn’t go on as usual. Everything changed in those few minutes. And that’s how it is for us now, the 991.

I am about ready to go back to the Retreat. Since the fire, I’ve been afraid to be alone, which is a never-before-experienced feeling for me, so I’ve stayed at MKL’s house, that he continues to fix up for sale. That feeling is ebbing now, and I want to pass through my valley into the woods and up the mountain to my fortress of solitude. To try to find my new normal. To get strong again.

Tiny painful losses continue to come to mind. My orange Bronco wristbands that were in the top drawer of the dresser and my white mesh John Elway jersey that was under the bed. My black Boston Ballet Company T-shirt. In remembering one thing, my mind starts grasping for others. What else was in that top drawer? What had I left in that jewelry box that ex-Pat gave me decades ago? Why didn’t I retrieve that muff from the antique store in Luray before this happened? Why didn’t I try harder to find that letter from Jeff that arrived after he had died, that voice from beyond the grave?

As expected, in my dreams I am continually trying to get home, trying to see my parents. Curiously, parking has been the biggest impediment. Dreams are funny things, especially mine.

I sit in the coffee shop, working, writing, checking in with A, checking in with K, trying not to cry but only half-succeeding when I speak of the house, of my feelings, of what today may hold. Still just taking it one day at a time. That’s better than one breath at a time, one minute at a time, which was how I was taking it three weeks ago. A little voice inside me says I am stronger than I think. I am starting to believe that again.

This painting at the coffee shop feels like the fire.

When times are hard, it feels like one little thing can push you over the edge. I don’t know what I’m on the edge of. I’d like to think it’s the edge of better. But it just seems like every day, one other thing happens that makes me want to just sit on the floor and cry.

Quarantine Cat Photo

Replacing things. What an impossible concept. Of course you can go to American Furniture Warehouse and get a new recliner, a new mattress, a new floor lamp. Maybe you even needed a new mattress before yours burned to the springs in the fire. Yes, these things are replaceable. You may miss your old recliner. It fit your body after your years together. It was comfortable. It held the memory of how Dusty would come and snuggle with you when it was cold, and a mere nudge told him you needed to get up for a moment, so he would shift slightly.

You can hold onto that memory of Dusty as you settle into your new recliner, the one that’s not covered in cat and dog hair, that doesn’t sit unevenly because you only use one side of it. The physical recliner can be, will be, replaced. The rest of it, all those memories and physical energies that it held? Those will live on only in your mind.

When lockdown started waaaay back in March 2020 and none of us were leaving our houses for weeks at a time, I went on a shopping spree. Clothes I didn’t need because I wasn’t going anywhere. Books (because books are always needed – they’re my comfort purchases). Kitchen gadgets because I actually did cook more. I realized after a while that I was buying things to try to fill a hole, to try to fill the loneliness I felt during lockdown, to try to do something that made me feel normal. There was something about having things that made me feel secure and safe.

And here we are today. I lost things but they are not things that can be replaced. Perhaps some of the hundreds of books, my childhood favorites, my P.G. Wodehouse collection. Perhaps a few mugs or dishes if I could find identical ones. But much of what I left in the cozy house was one-of-a-kind, irreplaceable things. A T-shirt from the restaurant I worked in at 16. The beautiful warm coat my Mother made for me. The lovely dancing skirt my grandmother sewed for me. Hand painted plates from Germany from my great grandfather. My childhood Winnie the Pooh, half my size when I got him at age 4, who was my constant comfort and companion. (When I had bad dreams, my Mother would help me visualize walking hand in hand with him on a beach, looking for shells, to help me go back to sleep.) Things that held a place in the infinite puzzle of my heart. I left them there because that was the place that felt the most safe, the most secure, the least risky. I was wrong.

Replacements for things with strong sentimental attachments don’t work. They are just the thing, without the sentiment. I could find some vintage hollow stemmed champagne glasses, but they would not be the ones that were one of my Mother’s first grown-up purchases, that were a splurge over her post-war single woman budget, that she proudly offered to her guests the first time she entertained. That held the imprint of those tiny historical events.

I find myself looking for those kinds of things. And I’ll find some of them. I have a gift for finding things that are nearly impossible to find – not lost keys in the house, but maybe a hat that you had 30 years ago that blew off on a ferry ride and that you always wished you’d replaced. But I doubt I’ll acquire the things I find. Because I’m finding that acquisition doesn’t fill the holes. It – or the things tied to it – doesn’t make the loneliness of loss vanish.

The holes created by loss cannot really be filled. Loneliness is loss’ odd partner, the two being tied together by an invisible cord for reasons and in ways that I don’t understand yet. I’m working on unraveling that knot. Those holes though, they are there now, permanent features of the landscape of my soul. These days I see my soul looking very much like the fire-ravaged ruins of my beautiful yard. The holes will fill with snow, with rain, with mud. Some will backfill with dirt over time, untended and natural. Some will be repurposed and replanted, because why not take advantage of an existing hole to create something beautiful?

I’ve written myself into the brambles now, rambled away from whatever the point I originally had was, so I’ll just stop and sit with it all.

Quarantine cat photo.

While I’ve seen reports that the Marshall Fire destroyed over 1,000 homes, the first number that I saw was 991. For whatever reason, that’s the number that has stuck with me. My little home was one of 991 that this cruel and capricious fire took.

There are around 140,000 houses in Boulder County. My house was just shy of its 100th birthday. It started life as an old mining cabin, as did many of the houses in the war zone that was our neighborhood. I know I’m rehashing points I’ve written to previously. But still foremost in my mind is ‘Why?’. Why did my house have to be one of the 991?

I know as much as I can know. Where it supposedly started (though not why it was so foolishly started). What the winds were like. I’ve heard excuses from our energy company. I’ve heard justification of choices made by town and county officials. I’ve seen too many people who didn’t lose their homes wanting to use this as an example of the dangers of climate change. But I still don’t care about any of that. It doesn’t change anything. It won’t bring back what’s lost.

I think I will get to a place where if there are things that we as a community can do to help others avoid this experience, I’ll be all for it. I am not there now. It’s been almost three weeks. Forever and no time at all. It’s still raw. I’m still raw. COVID has kept me from going back to the homestead, from talking about the future rebuild, from starting to fight City Hall. I’m sitting in a little limbo, waiting for the sifting teams to contact me, waiting for the debris removal teams, waiting for a little peace.

Impatiently waiting.

Roscoe, Dusty, and the cozy house are the truest of lost and irreplaceable things. Losses that can never be resolved, but will slip into the breaks in my soul, finding their nestled place to live until my soul once again shifts to stardust. Always a part of me. The kintsugi of my spirit.

But at night, memories of other things come, other things lost, things that only really matter to me.

The tiny harness brace that K wore for some weeks as an infant. In the womb, she positioned herself to jettison out of there early on, one leg straight and ready to push off, and one bent, knee to chest. That bent position gave her an underdeveloped hip socket. When she emerged, the doctor could pop her hip in and out of joint. And so she wore that little brace to make her hip socket perfect. Whenever I would see it, it would always amaze me that she was once that small.

There is so much more to say, but tonight I am at the Retreat alone and am struggling.

Not a lot of words today. Just a lot of frustration and emotions.

It’s been a week since the fire. It doesn’t feel like a week. I’ve lost track of days. I wasn’t even sure what day it was today. But a week? It feels like it’s only been two days. Or maybe two weeks? I don’t know.

It snowed and was freezing today. I didn’t go to the ruins. I feel oddly like I’m abandoning them by not going every day, searching for more of anything. I don’t want the house to feel cold and lonely and unloved. I know that doesn’t make any sense. I remember after our Mikhail chose to end his life nearly three years ago that I asked the funeral home people to keep a blanket on his body because I didn’t want him to be cold. Again, it made no sense, but it feels somehow similar.

So today was spent helping ex-Pat find an apartment. Really, it’s been K and A who have been most helpful. I’m so glad that A is here, as she’s a wonderful support for K, who is managing all these things for her Dad while trying to process her own sense of loss and other emotions. For all of us, whatever emotion we’re each feeling at any given moment is okay.

This experience has reminded me that grief is not a linear thing. Decades ago, Elizabeth Kubler- Ross’ five stages of grief spoke to me: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I can say I’ve felt each in the last week and not settled on any one in particular. I feel different emotions from minute to minute, depending on what I’m thinking of. Thinking of the loss of Roscoe and Dusty elicits one feeling, while thinking about the loss of the contents of the house elicits another.

Despite where I am in the supposed grief continuum, there is one overriding feeling: exhaustion. I remember this from when my Father died. I just wanted to lay my head down, to sleep, to rest. I was constantly drained and I couldn’t make sense of it. Much like how I feel all the time now.

So tomorrow. I have clean clothes (except for socks, which I forgot to buy.) We’re going to hang a Colorado and an American flag from the chimney at the ruins. We’re going to see if we can meet our congresspersons or the President. And then I will go back to MKL for a night or more to wait for next steps. Whatever those may be.

I dug today, alone for the most part. The snow expected last night held off. I told myself I’d only do it for an hour; suddenly, four hours had gone by. I think I’m focused on trying to find whatever might be left of my Dusty. The vertebrae that I found today was too big to be his; I’m assuming it belonged to one of the raccoons that were frequent residents of the attic.

I am surprised that none of the neighbors are combing through the rubble. I’m certainly not the only one with wreckage to search. Are they waiting for someone else to do it? Are there just too many other things to attend to? I suppose that’s it, because ex-Pat is tending to things like insurance and contacting the bank and finding a place to live, along with other practicalities. He is not the sentimental kind, so this division of labor makes sense. But he tears up when he experiences firsthand the kindness of strangers and the generosity of the folks who have given to the “Go Fund Me” to help him or offered other assistance as part of the beautiful community.

Digging through the space that was K’s room, I found some old coins, a metal wolf sculpture, the remnants of a sword, and puddles of molten metal that were once her many Hot Wheels. Even in this dark time, my mind tried to find some humorous retort the the universe about “hot” wheels.

I scraped through the ashes with a gardening hand tool with a handle that kept coming off. To my unending fascination, I kept hitting dirt or rocks at much shallower depths than I’d expected. It has made me think about the foundations on which we build our houses, our families, our entire lives. Are they all this tenuous, this deceptively shallow, and we just don’t know it until something explosive comes along to disrupt it, changing everything in a single hour? Another answer that I don’t have. There are so many of those just now.

I so wish I had some closure or sign about Dusty. It got very cold as I stopped for the day and it started snowing in earnest. We have reached out to someone we’re calling “the Bloodhound Lady” in the hope that she might be able to find a trace. Even though I have some skill as an animal shaman, I have not been able to settle my mind enough to see what I can find. In this circumstance, I cannot be the hollow bone, not yet.

My heart hurts a tiny bit less today. Hunting through the ruins is good for me, I think. It keeps me busy and connected to the energy that still exists in the battered outlines of my house. I get dirty and sore and occasionally nearly forget why I’m doing it, and just feel like I’m hunting for buried treasure. Which really, I suppose I am.

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.

It’s hard to even wrap my head around the struggle. What is breaking me most? The loss of my pets, my slightly neurotic big old dog and my seemingly immortal tiny, cuddly cat? The guilt that I wasn’t there to save them because I moved out over a decade ago?

The loss of my past? Of the things I had saved in that house for my daughter? For when I had a steady place to call home that I could take them to? Of the things that I treasured there, kept there because they seemed safe?

The loss of that cozy little house that felt like home for 18 years? Which means the loss of the concept of home, a concept which I have struggled to understand for most of my life?

The loss of the sheltering cottonwood trees and the 10 foot tall lilacs? Of the greenhouse that my ex built for me, from glass-fronted doors salvaged from a long gone saloon? Of the vague trickle of the creek and the scream of a fox on a summer night?

The loss of my daughter’s childhood? The wall above her bed where she tacked concert tickets? The journal by her bedside where, at ten years old, she recorded the exact time of her grandmother’s death? The little back deck where she would call for the bats at twilight and laugh when they would come to flit around her head?

So many losses that I don’t even know where to start to grieve. And yet, grieving I am, though neither day nor night will stand still enough to allow it. While, I fear if either did, it would swallow me whole.

January 2022
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