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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 am back at the Retreat. It was good living with MKL for a month; it was a sneak preview of living together full-time, which should happen soon. I needed to see if I could return to what had become my daily life before the fire. So here I am.

I’m in my work spot, which is where, on December 30, I got the call from Kelsea that there was a fire near Superior and maybe it was something to worry about. In the time it took for me talk to her, call ex-Pat, gather some things, and call ex-Pat again, it was all gone — Roscoe, Dusty, and the house. It feels edgy to be sitting here, with that memory raising a pearl of panic in my chest.

I need to recover the Retreat from Christmas. The one day I was here in January, I pulled the Christmas tree out onto the front porch, but presents are still in small piles where the tree was and the menagerie is still in the living room. January and post-Christmas organizing did not turn out the way I’d expected.

It feels like some sort of betrayal to put some distance between myself and the homesite. A part of me, of my heart, is there and I feel the hole in my soul when I’m away from that space. I want to spend all my time there, digging for lost things, hoping that something will magically appear untouched. My wedding dress and photos. A book, any book. An old painting on milk glass. Those things that are gone forever. Holding out hope, at some point, feels like it does more harm than good. But I continue to remember things and try to replace them. Today, it was the San Antonio Junior League cookbook and a heart-shaped mirror framed in seashells that I made an executive decision to buy in South Padre Island decades ago.

I am listening to our town meetings about rebuilding and uncharacteristically constantly adding my two cents about keeping the character of Old Town Superior as unique as it has been for over 100 years. I’m having early talks with an architect-in-progress about rebuilding. I don’t know if that will happen but I want to leave my options open. It feels like a slogging, numb-footed step forward through paralyzing mud.

I came up to the Retreat intentionally to be here before the big snowfall, which was a wise move as the snow started falling last night and has yet to stop. I always prefer it to either REALLY SNOW or not even bother. I can feel myself burrowing beneath this blanket that the sky has offered, a nest full of sorrow and comfort. Today’s photos share the view from my world in the woods.

Can you spot the Corvette?

I’ll remember something lost and suddenly I’ll remember so much more, so much more that I have to make myself stop thinking about it all. The losses pile up in my head, one atop the other, and I have to turn my brain off.

We had a beautiful burlwood bar that a chef named Frenchie had given to me and ex-Pat as a wedding gift. One of my grandmother’s lamps cast a gentle glow in that corner, the corner where we always put the Christmas tree. The cabinet held my great grandmother’s china. I’ve actually found a few bowls intact. The drawers held pictures of me that ex-Pat had put away, and some childhood wooden alphabet and map puzzles of K’s.

The top of the bar was reserved for special things. Seashells, which I’ve found whole in the ashes, that crumble to dust at the slightest touch. Vintage things: a packet of hairpins from the Victorian era. A pearl-handled straight razor and rough shaving mug. A can of Prince Albert tobacco. Two civil war minie balls, one dug and one undug. My favorite picture of ex-Pat, taken before I met him, with baby Samoyed puppy Sam.

I start remembering more and more things and my heart starts to hurt more and more, so I have to make myself stop. My old heart is awfully tender these days. Stronger day by day, yes, but the ache is still there, even as I take steps to think about rebuilding, about moving forward.

It’s tempting just to throw up my hands and turn my back on it all. Let ex-Pat decide. But I don’t think his decisions are always in the best interest of the other stakeholders (me and K). Often, they’re just the easiest way out. And sometimes, they hurt me. I won’t stand for that anymore.

Yesterday was a tearful day. I slept badly. Had nightmares. Missed my Mother terribly. Sobbed my way back home to MKL and spent the night drinking wine and watching TV. I am better today, though still frustrated with men who say ‘do whatever you want’ in one breath and ‘but do it this way’ in the next.

I will walk my own path and carve my own trail through the ashes.

Once when we were at Ventanas, MKL became fixated on a coconut bobbing in the waves close to shore. He would sit on the deck watching it, giving me the occasional update. At one point, it washed ashore and he lost track of it so he went down to the beach to do a wellness check. Even though it was embedded in the sand that afternoon, it was back to rocking in the sea by morning, courtesy of the significant pull of the tides.

I feel much like that coconut these days, at the whimsical mercy of the tides of time and the universe, with the moon thrown in for good measure.

I’m trying to recognize what I can control. In reality, it’s not much. I can control my diet. I can control my exercise. I can control what I express as emotions, but not what I feel. I can control my sleep to a certain extent, but not my dreams.

I’m coming to recognize that I don’t know what I don’t know. While this is a true statement about almost all things, it’s currently being brought home to me about the homestead. A few days ago, I spent a good hour talking with a neighbor who’s been in real estate for ages. He and his fiancée lost their lovely historic home three doors down. He already has an arrangement with two other neighbors to have their lots cleared by entities other than the Town. It will happen faster and more efficiently. He’s got his house plans drawn up and his contractor lined up and framers coming in from Rochester and a storage unit for building supplies. He’s telling me about how much I can get for the scrap metal on my property and how the Town is just going to take that – along with some insurance money – as profit in scraping my land. Me? I’m digging through soggy ashes with a trowel whose handle comes off if I don’t hold it just so. I’m sure you see the difference.

He’s offered to answer any questions I have and that’s very kind. I don’t even know what questions to ask. It’s too late to hop on his coattails and I’m not sure I’d want to even if it wasn’t. I’m realizing it’s hard to know who to trust – except myself. The Town does not have the best interests of Original Superior at heart. They’re in it for profit, for maximizing revenue from the properties destroyed by this tragedy, most of which were not in line with their Stepford vision of a community.

The only problem with trusting just myself in this scenario is that I know nothing. And I think that’s kind of a big problem

Doomsayers are claiming it will take homeowners two to three years to rebuild. There’s a shortage of contractors, labor, and materials. Maybe they’re right. I don’t know. But I know all of this is making me irritated. To figure out how to make a rebuild work, I’m going to have to go outside my comfort zone. I can do that. It’s not what I saw myself doing right now, but here we are. And here I am.

Just a sassy coconut dancing on the crests and troughs of angry waves.

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.

I started back to work last week, working remotely as I have for years. Most days are all right, though it’s hard to keep my head in the game sometimes and the Rona hasn’t helped. Thoughts about the house, about K, about recovery, about the future flit through my mind as I’m trying to focus on what pays my bills. If a thought finds a vacant mind branch on which to sit, it will do so, wrapping its tiny talons around the synapse and singing a song of distraction.

Work friends who are also social media friends know what’s happened, because obviously I haven’t been shy about expressing myself there. But only a very few direct coworkers know. I don’t want to talk about it to people who can’t relate or who don’t know me well. I have always been shy to speak, which surprises many and is a therapy session for another day. Letting colleagues know feels like it would lead to an endless repetition of emotions, and knowing me, I’d try to make THEM feel better about feeling bad for me. I just don’t need anyone feeling bad for me.

All that said, in these days of Zoom calls and Teams calls, where we have to be on camera and where our backgrounds have been curated to reflect our desired self-image, I keep looking at myself on camera and wondering why I look the same. The background isn’t an issue, as I never worked from the cozy house. I am the issue.

I am damaged from the inside out. Shouldn’t it show? Shouldn’t my face reflect the blush of ash that skimmed my cheeks as I sifted through the ruins? Shouldn’t my eyes be hollow with the cold of the hearth that will never see another home fire? Shouldn’t my lashes be stiff with the tears trapped there by asbestos dust? Shouldn’t my lips be blue with unspoken sorrow and unshouted curses?

Isn’t the toll this is taking on my soul obvious? It is to me. When I look in the mirror, I see sadness in my eyes, an absence of a light that I’m used to seeing within me, one that glows through to the world outside. Perhaps those folks on Zoom know they’re seeing that something is off but they can’t put their finger on what it is. And they’re too polite to put their fingers on me regardless.

I know this lightless landscape within me. I have walked here before, via other paths, and I know I will walk out of it. It’s what I do. The light and the laughter will return. Because it does.

Quarantine Cat Picture

As Hurricane Patricia pounds Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo, and little fishing villages such as my much-longed for Yelapa tonight, my thoughts and blessings and white lights and prayers are with the people who try to scratch out happy lives there. I have been dream shopping for trips back Puerto Morales, Isla Holbox, Yelapa, and Cozumel for February, and am always a fan of patronizing a place trying to recover from a disaster, just so I can help a place and its people recover. These areas, while know for tourism, are also homes to families who do not have steel-reinforced structures, and who can lost everything in 175 mph winds. I have seen the damage a strong hurricane can cause in North Carolina, a place where people have the resources to rebuild, and my heart goes out to those in poorer cultures who don’t have that kind of help.

I know that this worst-ever-hurricane pounded areas north of my previous stomping grounds, but I wanted to post an image of the white sand beauty of the area from when Niece #1 and I took our wonderful trip down there and I thought she’d been kidnapped looking for hielo. She’s an excellent traveling companion and the trip was a blessing I’ll always remember. So join me please, in prayers for Mexico and its lovely people and to many more beautiful, mystical trips there.

Riviera Maya
Tulum, Mexico.

Quote of the day: “Some things just couldn’t be protected from storms. Some things simply needed to be broken off…Once old thing were broken off, amazingly beautiful thing could grow in their place.” — Denise Hildreth Jones

Daily gratitudes:
Big skies today
A morning that looked like Scotland
A toast to the success ofAnastasia Fawni
Making it home just in time when your stomach is upset
MKL’s hugs

Today was my first semi-normal day since the flood. I was back in the office, and had a lot to do and wasn’t as freaked out as I was on Monday. So that’s all yay. I did take a Xanax last night before going to bed, so I slept better and my anxiety level was pretty low. Since I’ve never taken anything like that, it felt like going on a first date – you just don’t know how it’s going to go. Will it work out? Or will you be miserably uncomfortable? I’m glad it was a good experience, but I don’t wish to date Xanax regularly. I just want normal back – even if it’s a new normal.

The FEMA inspector/adjuster comes tomorrow morning, so we’ll see what happens next. The flood insurance adjuster has yet to send the paperwork we need to complete, though he did send a sample of what the completed form should look like (uh, dude?) Family comes in tomorrow to help ex-Pat with house stuff, which is good. I’m sure it will be nice for him to have his brother with him.

The ick part of today was the rainclouds. Where I am in my office, I am not next to a window, but if I stand up in my little cube, I can see the wall of windows to the outside world. However, I don’t have to stand up to see when it’s getting gray out. I can just tell by the slight variation in the light in the room. And as soon I saw the clouds today, I got cold sweats. In case I haven’t mentioned it, that’s one of the attractive ways that my el weirdo anxiety is manifesting. Any element over which I have no control that triggers thoughts of the flood also triggers clammy, cold sweats. Uber attractive.

And a sky that looks like this:

20130918_171759

And this:

20130918_172003

And this:

20130918_173620

really does a number on me right now. 

There have been a lot of poignant stories coming out of Boulder, of rescues and passings, of good and the kindness of strangers. I have always been impressed with the true character of Coloradoans, but never moreso than now.  Even though I, like so many others here, am a transplant, I’ve been here long enough to take root, and I’m so proud of my State.  As we unbury our treasures, and dry our tears and our carpets, as those lost souls who were unaccounted for continue to be found, keep us in your prayers.

Quote of the day: “It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space.” — Edward Abbey

Daily gratitudes:
Seeing MKL today
Work
Mr. Man
My cozy, dry house
The chirping of crickets
That Kelsea had a successful, super-long drive yesterday

 

 

It is a lovely day here. No rain, not even a drop. There is still debris in a lot of places – trees, boards, roots, and parts of people’s lives. But those lives are moving on, forward, ahead, and towards the next thing.

In the case of my half-house, the next thing is how quickly ex-Pat can get a new water heater, because apparently, when he has to scape the mud off the top of the water heater, the insurance adjuster considers it a total loss. And that’s one of those important things for doing dishes and showering. They cleaned out the last room yesterday, and I have lost a lot of photos and slides, which makes me very sad, but I’m hoping there is some way of salvaging them.

My anxiety levels are still super-high, but a little bit better this morning. The eye doctor, much as I love her, didn’t help by telling me that I have some pre-cataract thing in my left eye (seriously, body, how old do you think you are??????), so that added to the anxiety-cold-sweat-o-meter today. MKL says he will still love me if I go blind, and he has fabulous descriptive powers, and cataracts are surgically fixable. So. Yea.

I think I will try one of my newly prescribed Xanax before bed.  As I say, a beautiful life goes on.

IMG_1135

Lafayette, Colorado.

Quote of the day: “Loss carves out a deep, hollow pocket. There’s no magical way to fill it, no medicine or Band-Aid or surgery to cure it. I suppose that over time you get used to it, but the feeling never totally goes away. And the more time you spend on earth, the more pockets you’ll collect. But it’s part of living. It’s life.” — Suzanne Selfors

Daily gratitudes:
Improvements
The little girl with the “Where the Wild Things Are Umbrella” as big as she was
My fluffy Mr. Man
MKL’s support
Peace
The sound of the ocean waves

 

 

I’m sorry if I’m writing a lot about the Flood. It’s been really traumatic – combine the empath-me with the flood-damaged-homeowner-me, and you have the unbearable-anxiety-riddled-me – who is trying to work and be a mom and stay in some kind of balance. It’s not working very well. I’m not used to feeling like this. Depression, I understand – anxiety, not so much.

The water is receding, though we still have hundreds of people unaccounted for. Hopefully, that number will go down as people who have no power get access to communications again. Kudos to Xcel Energy for working so very hard to keep the lights on. Even though my half-house has a lot of damage, it never lost power.  The flood insurance adjuster came today, took about 100 pictures, and will hopefully file a good claim on our behalf, or however that works. Turns out we’re insured by Lloyd’s of London, which makes me feel a little hoity-toity. We’ll see how they measure up in terms of fairness. I don’t have a lot of faith in insurance companies, but I’m trying to stay positive, beneath my strung-so-tight nerves and flesh and bone under this fragile layer of skin that covers them.

I hope that soon, I don’t get that frisson of fear when I see a rain cloud over the mountains. That soon, I will stop trying to take roads that are closed. Soon, I will be able to walk the mountains without fear of the earth collapsing beneath my feet. Soon.

And now, here’s a chicken.

IMG_6162

Denver, Colorado.

Quote of the day: “You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” — Max Ehrmann

Daily gratitudes:
Not hitting a bird with my truck this morning
My new green chile-ground beef dish
Sunbeams at sunset tonight
MKL’s supportivenss (and hugs)
Wearing my softest T-shirt tonight

And a special shout-out to the lady in the grocery store who told me that “That color looks great on you!” You have no idea how much I needed to hear that at just that moment.

 

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