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My coffee and I sit at our round table with our unconventional breakfast, looking through cookbooks to plan our week’s meals. My own handwritten notes are familiar even though they were written 20 years ago. Books being sacred objects, I was aghast the first time ex-Pat made notes in a cookbook. Over the years, he convinced me to do so, but only in pencil, and as minimally as possible, to convey the changes I’d made.

Those notes from 20 years ago….they transport me back to the Cozy House, to my slope-floored kitchen with its knotty pine cabinets. To the Mother-in-Law’s tongue that my co-worker Sandy gave me decades ago, thriving in a pot in the corner. The dogs’ and cats’ food and water dishes slightly underfoot on the lavender linoleum. The Asian blue patterned containers holding the cooking utensils on the counter next to the little one cup coffee maker. The bottom drawer where the casserole dishes lived, the one that always went cattywampus when I tried to close it. My beloved Norge stove.

We never ate dinner at the kitchen table, only breakfast on weekdays, just as it had been at my parents’ house growing up. I tried to get us to do so once and only once. It was disastrous and all three of us wound be miserable.

Doing dishes, by hand as we never had a dishwasher, standing at the sink looking out into the backyard from the white-framed casement the window. My view was beneath the arch of a tree that was slowly growing its way into the house, bending the gutter a little more each year. Ex-Pat and I talked about one day remodeling the kitchen, making it bigger, though it was a good size already. We would have built out the kitchen around the tree, leaving it free to grow as tall and as strong as it wanted.

That view from the window had grown over the decades from a dirt yard with giant wooden spools as tables in various places, to a bower of beauty, with the greenhouse that ex-Pat had built by hand as its centerpiece. Beautifully cold in winter but always warm with memory of summer. Sparkling with promise in spring. Glowing with trailing golden cottonwood leaves in fall. And raging and singing in its glory on the warmest days and nights of summer,

It all lives only in my memory now, as I sit at a different table in a different life, the wind swishing the pine boughs outside the door, the blue sky shy beneath sheer white clouds, the Stellar’s Jay keeping silent company, my coffee now grown cold.

Today’s gratitudes:

  • That I’m alive
  • Cats
  • Music
  • Driving
  • Sweatshirts

It feels like my whole life was kindling. An exaggeration, I know, but yesterday, I saw a picture of an old fence, like one that surrounded graves 120 years ago. And I remembered that I had had a piece of fencing like that, something ex-Pat and I found on a trip to Leadville, that had been waiting for years to become an integral piece of art. That became nothing more than kindling.

My giant, ancient, solid, five-inch thick wooden door, resting on iron rods, a much-desired, terribly weathered birthday present that I used as a potting table, now reduced to just those pieces of iron. Nothing more than kindling.

The K Tree, an ornamental pear that we planted when K was born, that was split by a heavy spring snow and yet still survived to bloom each spring, now a charred shadow of its former self. Nothing more than kindling.

When the Texas Baptist Men were sifting through the ashes, one said, “You must have had a lot of combustible stuff in here.” I suppose I did. Waist high stacks of pages of ashes marked where my bookshelves were, where K’s bookshelves were, all disintegrating at the slightest touch of my finger. Dust in the wind. Nothing more than kindling.

And another fire, in Boulder yesterday, burning trails my feet know well. Mercifully, the winds were not what they were on December 30, so other communities were spared the fate of mine. But it raised the specter of that day. K knew about this fire before I did – she had friends who were evacuated – but didn’t want to stress me out by telling me.

I’m maudlin today, despite the warm weather, as we’re having troubles with our well at the Retreat and I feel like I’ve moved into the house in that ‘80s movie, The Money Pit. I’m sullen and sulky and cannot even take a bath for comfort. I’m feeling like it’s all somewhat pointless. Because in the long run, after all, I’m really nothing more than kindling.

A spider braving the melting snow.
Compulsory cat photo.

Today’s gratitudes:

  • MKL, today and every day
  • Blankets
  • Lots of birdsong
  • The road to the Final Four

In the cozy house was a little wooden two drawer filing cabinet. In this little two drawer filing cabinet were words. So many words.

I had files of letters from my Mother and Father. They’ve been dead for 16 and 17 years, respectively. It was tough losing them within 21 months of each other. The loss from the fire is the only loss that’s been anywhere near similar to my heart. And I suppose the loss of my pets before Roscoe and Dusty.

My Father in particular was a prolific writer. He sent me newspaper clippings about my hometown or other stories he thought I’d be interested in, along with a little one or two page note, usually on his Duke University notepaper. I kept them all. And now they’re gone.

K has a letter that her grandfather sent to her. I think that may be the only letter left. I don’t know how or why I took that one with me when I left, but I’m glad I did. I have some old files in my basement that may have copies of letters he’d written to others, but none to me. My heart tears just a little as I write that, one more tear that will need to heal over time.

My Mother did not write letters to me often, but those she did are gone. However, she, like me, kept journals. I took all of them that I could find with me. That’s a blessing. I have a lot of her words, her history, her thoughts, even documentation of some of our nightly phone calls. I haven’t been able to see what years are missing yet. I don’t want to know, because knowing won’t change anything and it will just magnify what’s lost instead of what’s left. I don’t need that right now.

I hadn’t thought about the letters and my parents’ handwriting until today, when, while leafing through a cookbook that I took with me when I left the cozy house, I found one of my Mother’s recipes. She always used little yellow lined notepads. Then I remembered. Another memory of what’s been lost.

As many of the people in my community are rebuilding their lives, we’ve also been watching what’s happening in Ukraine. For me, that’s raised some feelings I need to examine.

When I saw the ashes of the cozy house and Original Superior right after the fire, the most apt description I could find was that it looked like a war zone. Nothing left intact. Burned and twisted remains of homes. Blackened trees. Ruins. Here we are, nine weeks later, looking at images in Ukraine that look like our burned out town. Except they really are war zones.

I don’t want to watch. I don’t want to see that destruction, just as it hurts me to see the ruins of the cozy house. But I can’t turn away. Why not? That’s where, for me, things get complex and confusing. Perhaps I’ll list it out. My dearest people know that one of my most oft given pieces of advice in times of turmoil is “make a list”.

  • I feel compelled to follow what’s going on, as this is as close to a potential war as I’ve ever experienced in this lifetime. That’s scary, but in keeping with how disastrous 2022 has felt to me so far.
  • These images connect my empath soul to the people who have had to leave their homes with nothing but their kids, pets, and a few belongings, so like what fire victims did. Immersion (for me) opens a connection.
  • I should not be feeling sorrow about my own loss because Ukrainian refugees have it so much worse.

Those first two bullets are things I acknowledge about myself and can process pretty well. It’s the last one that’s the kicker. As compassionate humans, we compare our tragedies with those of others. In times of trauma, this can add guilt to our rich mixture of feelings…”They have it so much worse than I do — I shouldn’t be feeling like I do about my loss.” And that just makes us feel worse.

I have been doing this even before the Ukraine conflict, ever since the fire. Yes, I lost the cozy house and the precious, irreplaceable things in it, but I do have a place to live, and clothes, and cookware. So I don’t have a right to feel such a huge sense of loss. I have not participated in the incredible generosity that the community has extended, except to contribute what I can, because what I lost can’t be replaced. I don’t have the need that others do. I feel I don’t deserve my own grief.

Rationally, I know this isn’t so. We are all entitled to feel how we feel. But it’s a hard threshold to cross, feeling empathy and compassion for those who are suffering in our State and in countries thousands of miles away, and at the same time allowing ourselves the grace to feel our own pain and loss, without drawing comparisons. I guess, in short, we are all human, and all need to treat ourselves and our fellow humans with love.

Today is the 17th anniversary of my Father’s death. Perhaps that’s what started the tears flowing this morning, in the course of which I cried because:

  • a shirt I got for K was maybe too small
  • of Frank Sinatra
  • the middle school boy at our four way stop sign was handing out lemonade for free just to do a good deed for the second day in a row
  • the aspens don’t have leaves
  • of the people ice fishing and dogs playing on frozen San Isabel Lake
  • Whitney Houston is dead
  • it’s been decades since I’ve been to New York City
  • Warren Zevon is dead, and my friend Erik, who always laughed his unique laugh at the song “Werewolves of London”, is also dead
  • I’m not 18 any more and feeling like my whole life is ahead of me
  • I’ve lost my journals to the fire
  • of all of the lies my ex-fiancé told me
  • of how much I love MKL
  • I’ve lost the cozy house
  • of the burn scars near the turn for Florence
  • Clarence Clemons is dead

And all this before noon.

I felt better after arriving in Florence. People there are lovely and real, and I never seem to have enough time there. I picked up a few treasures, but I feel it’s only fitting to share some of the more unusual things I saw.

I wonder who these belonged to. And what happened to the tradition of casting a child’s first pair of shoes in bronze? And who thought of that in the first place?
These are the same blocks I had growing up. They came to me when K was born, but were consumed by the fire. I got a little tearful.
This lamp of a girl eating porridge is not creepy.
Not creepy at all.
Neither was this woman holding a pig.
Or this apparently handless man. But I guess that’s why the woman is holding the pig and not him.
I really think making a candle out of this image is adding insult to injury.
These twin Marys and their respective Baby Jesuses. Note that the Mary on the left is much more disheveled than the Mary on the right.
And while this isn’t the finest picture of her, I got to spend a bit of time petting Ella, who was a complete chonk. Her tongue is always like that because she has no teeth to hold it in.

I’ll leave you with that. I felt better after my excursion. I took some lovely images, as we had a beautiful day. I’ll share those with you tomorrow, as I’m going to be snowed in now for several days.

Yesterday was another day with hard and soft spots. It was wonderful to have breakfast with dear A, who gave me some lovely art and the good kind of bath salts.

I went to the cozy house in the afternoon as the sun started its lowering behind the mountains, which I can now see clearly since all the trees in town are gone. They had sprayed the ruins with some kind of greenish material to keep the ashes from blowing around in the winds. I knew this was going to happen after the sifting. Maybe I thought they’d let me know when they were going to do so, but they didn’t. Somehow, it made it harder to be there. I reclaimed a few pieces of yard metal and then just sat on the few remaining bricks of the patio by the greenhouse and bawled. I really need to remember to bring a handkerchief. And I really hope the town tells me when they’re going to bulldoze and clear all the debris. I will need to be there for that. It will be a funeral of sorts.

Once again, sitting there, I could see the trees that shaded parts of the yard, see little K running barefoot across the little bridge ex-Pat had built, see my herb garden, my perennial bed, my center bed with the moonflowers that smelled so luscious at night. The circle bed where I tried unsuccessfully to grow honeysuckle but had great luck with Cosmos, California Poppies, Bells of Ireland, and the occasional sunflower and pumpkin before the squirrels had their way with them. The vegetable garden. The new garden with my wonderful hammock. All lost. It’s still so hard. One of those unexpected hairpin curves on the grief road. I’m thinking about just making the space a huge garden until I can figure out this whole rebuilding thing.

Since I got so very sad, I stopped to visit a dear friend for some puppy therapy and delayed returning to the Retreat until this morning. It’s always nice to take the drive at sunrise. It’s lovely and quiet here and the snow is melting. Spring is on its way. It can’t come too soon for me.

I keep trying to find the right analogy for this particular grieving experience, which is different from any other. Rollercoaster feels wrong because there are no highs. ‘At sea’ works for me often, in part because of my love of the sea and how well it knows me. It is always changing, sometimes still, sometimes raging, always beautiful and unpredictable. At sea, you don’t know quite where you’ll wind up. The shore is not always in sight. You can be under your own power, at the mercy of the wind, or simply adrift. It depends on the day. Or the hour. Or the minute.

Lately, I’ve felt that my grief is like a drive on an unfamiliar mountain road. I can be cruising along, feeling like I may be okay, like I may have a handle on my emotions, and all of a sudden, there’s a curve. A sharp curve. A curve where, if I don’t take it just right, I’ll crash into the side of the mountain or fly off the edge of the earth. Those signs that say “sharp curve ahead”? Well, I’ve never been one to pay much attention to those, until I’m in the curve and discover I’m going too fast.

Today was a day for hairpin turns. A neighbor a few doors down from the cozy house kindly and at my request shared some images from their Ring camera that gave me an inkling of what it must have been like. I needed that, needed it to try to visualize it. And I was okay with it. Until I was driving back to MKL’s house, along the magic road, and a cloud over the mountains looked like smoke and some piece of music came on the Bluetooth, and I started to cry. Again. How many tears can one body produce over two months? That sounds like one of those word problems from the unforgettably evil little green spiral math book from the 5th grade.

But it’s okay. I’m okay. I’m continuing along the road, curves and all. This morning at the Retreat, the sky was so blue that I noticed it and then did a double take to really appreciate it. And I was grateful for it. For me, that’s a good sign.

Night has been difficult since the fire, at least nights alone have been. My mood seems to darken along with the sky. I am cold, which makes me think of the cold ruins of the cozy house. I still have those sad magical thoughts that maybe there’s something I can do to fix it, to bring it back, to make it not have happened. I get teary thinking of it.

I am so grateful for the friends who’ve walked with me along this rocky road these last seven weeks. Know that I am better than when I started. Grief is just an uncharted path.

Photo credit: Megan Williams

Losing my journals from ages 18 to 40 something is one of the hardest losses. I was a prolific journal keeper, with descriptions of days, feelings, relationships, and encounters. Hundreds of poems. Practically every thought I had. I asked ex-Pat to bring them over on one of his visits, but he brought the wrong box, and I never got around to going to the cozy house myself to find them. That’s on me.

Of course, I can remember a lot, fortunately, but remembering is different than reading my own words and feelings. Going back to old journals, particularly during tough times, helped me gain perspective. I could see how I transitioned through challenges, how I mulled over decisions, and how I grew as a person. It gave me confidence that I’d been through the muck before and found my way out, so I could do it again.

What I have now is the internalized knowledge that I can face things with courage and wisdom. That’s good. But I’m never not going to miss the details. I always hoped that K would someday read them (preferably after I was gone so I wouldn’t have to answer any questions) and get to know her Mother even better than she does. That’s not a possibility now.

It’s funny (well, probably not) but lately, when I start to think of the specifics of the loss of something, and start to feel that too familiar pain in my heart, I turn it off; I mentally distance myself from that grief. Pulling a Scarlet O’Hara with an, “I’ll think about that tomorrow,” or using one of K’s favorites, which is “that’s a thing for another day’s Seasweetie.” Perhaps grief is no longer serving a purpose. I guess that’s what healing looks like.

Something odd is happening. In my reaction to the fire and the loss of things precious to me, I am doing two things: trying to find my lost treasures out there in the universe and wanting to get rid of everything I own.

I talked briefly with K about this and she understands and has had similar feelings. Thinking about lost things takes her down a rabbit hole of emotions. Writing about the memories I have about the house, to keep it alive, makes me cry. When K asked me if it was helpful for me, I said that at least she would have this journal with my memories of the house for her future. And then I said, “Unless it burns up,” and she said, “I just thought the same thing.”

I don’t trust the universe right now. I don’t trust that there’s not another giant Monty Python introduction foot just waiting poised to fall and crush me again. Dreams reflect this. Dreams where I can’t find my hotel or my hotel room. Yes, in my dreams, I’m back to living in hotels, a sign that I don’t know where I belong. Dreams about the beach house, which right now feels like the only home I have left, but in dreams, it has changed or moved or the beach has altered, the town has altered, the sea itself has altered, with huge, consuming waves.

I expect to lose all things now. It’s how this works. In my traumatized brain, I think that if I eliminate all extraneous things, which translates into almost everything, it won’t hurt so much when I lose “it all” again. There may be some validity in this instinctual Konmari impulse, but it’s very unlike me. When I feel empty from loss, I have a tendency to become acquisitive. Which is why I’m on the hunt of specific items that I lost in the fire.

I’ve always been attached to my “stuff”, been extremely sentimental, the opposite of my Mother. She was very cognizant of this and guarded against me myself, cleaning out my childhood home and not even offering me too much stuff. She knew I’d take anything and everything, the house included, if I’d been given the opportunity. I’m still a mix of miffed and grateful that she approached it that way.

So now I’m in a bit of a limbo. To acquire or to dispose? I think clarity will come when MKL finally joins me at the Retreat. I trust that then, we will get the things we have organized, decide what we really want to incorporate into what will be our home together, and move forward. Maybe then, I will calm down. Maybe then, I will be able to find peace in emptiness. Maybe then, I will move out of the hotels in my dreams.

August 2022
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