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I got a letter from Anna. (Hi, Anna – I love you.) She’s someone I think of as a real writer, as opposed to my aspirational self, because she’s taken the risk of submitting work for publication and actually getting it published. She’s faced the fear of rejection, which is paralyzing for me, and met it head on. And defeated it, though I suspect its spectral form creeps and lingers every time she hits a submit button.

Her letter was handwritten, several pages, on thick cream vellum, the sort I imagine Jane Austen using to write to her sisters when she was away. In it, she advised me to write about the now-gone house, to go through it room by room, recording the memories housed in each, the appearance, the items, the events, the plans. Recreating it through words. I love this idea. I want to hold onto all of it, every carpet fiber, every window smudge, every seashell. Anna is a wise woman.

Writing here has been a comfort, an outlet, a place to spill my feelings when I’m spilling tears onto the floor or into one of MKL’s bandanna kerchiefs. I’ve also been writing in a journal, purchased especially for the purpose of recording thoughts about the fire. It’s turquoise, the color of my spirit. I opted not to get the orange one because I’m calling it The Burn Book (yes, a tiny homage) and I thought orange would just be overkill. The color is also slightly triggering just now, and I’m not a person who really buys into triggers. But here we are.

So I will likely use The Burn Book to capture the essence of the cozy home that for so long held my heart and dreams, writing when I am in a quiet place of solace, though that’s hard to find beneath the pain these days. And I will treasure it, protecting it as one of my prized possessions, because my fear of losing journals and books to flames is more pronounced than ever.

I wake each day hoping that the ache will have eased just a hair’s breadth, hoping that the flow of words and the busyness of living will help all that’s happened and all that’s been lost find their places in the mix of cells and stardust that is me. I’m sure one of these days, that will be true.

I am a visual person, which means I need to see something in order to have it make sense, in order to integrate it into my being. When ex-Pat used to describe something he was planning to build, he’d get frustrated with me because I’d need him to draw it for me. This is causing me not inconsiderable anxiety as I struggle to understand the fire.

I’ve seen pictures of the smoke. I’ve seen pictures of the flaming shed on the Twelve Tribes property. I’ve seen videos of people driving through ash. I’ve seen images of the fires after dark. And I’ve seen what’s left. But I need to know what happened to MY house.

I’ve heard things. A 100 foot wall of flame. Sustained winds as strong as a Category 3 hurricane. So much speed and power that the fire developed its own weather system inside it.

But how did it approach? Did the smoke envelop the house before the fire? How quickly did it roar through my property? What did all those trees surrounding the house look like on fire? Giant candelabras? What burned first? Did the walls collapse? The roof? Did Roscoe and Dusty just have one smoke-filled breath and pass out? What made it stop so that the house across the street is untouched? What did it look like as it was happening?

Unless some heretofore unseen video pops up, I doubt I will ever have these answers. I wonder if it is actually a blessing that I didn’t see it, that I can’t know. It might be just too much to bear. The limit of what I can stand or bear or survive has been stretched mighty thin these days. Hugs and closeness and lots of blankets and what I’m calling my emotional support wine bottle have helped.

The only thing that I know is that had I been there, I most likely would not be here. I have a long, complex relationship with fire, something to be explored on another day. I am also stubborn to a fault, and would have fought to save my cat, my dog, and my house, regardless of logic and circumstance, until the bitter end. As I’ve been wont to say of late, I’ve had a good run. So even though I may not feel very enthusiastic about being here right now, I’m still here. For the folks who love me.

It’s that faraway stare. I don’t think “faraway” is usually one word, but it feels fitting. I had started to call it “vacuous” but that implies a detachment, and this is far from detached. This is a survivor’s stare, one I engage in when I’m sitting on the remains of a brick wall amidst the melted glass that used to be my greenhouse. When I’m seemingly looking at a patch of unmelted ice or something beyond the sky.

Behind my eyes, I’m seeing the golden knotty pine of the living room walls. I’m seeing us rolling a ball from one side of the light lavender kitchen floor to the other, to verify the slope of the room. I’m seeing myself painting the cat room a lovely peach color. I’m seeing K’s blue carpet and sunny walls and the abstract statue of a mother holding a child – a statue my mother gave me, to represent us – that was on the shelf above the desk in K’s room, the desk that has been my grandfather’s. I’m seeing the corner of the garden where the moonflowers bloomed.

I’m seeing what was and what might have been, while looking through what is as if it isn’t. I don’t know if that makes sense to anyone but me.

Amber the Bloodhound came out with her handlers, Duffy and Brittany, to look for Dusty. We’ve concluded that my sweet little snuggle bug did not make it out. But the fire was so fast and the smoke so dense that it was likely only a single breath, and then peace. A small comfort but right now, I’ll take any comfort, no matter how small. As soon as they left, I found what looked like the tiniest glass paw print in the ashes. Thank you, Dusty, for letting me know you’re all right.

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

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.

I went to what was once my house today. When the National Guardsman tried to stop me, I just said “No.” And he said “Okay.”

I will write more later. I am sifting through my feelings as I am sifting through the ashes. A hot spot here, a smoldering branch there. Lost love covered in clean snow. A charred ring box containing a Tibetan orb, the gentle chime it makes still as clear as it was on the long ago Christmas that my Mother gave it to me.

And most shattering, the bones of my best boy, Roscoe, in the spot in front of the fireplace where his bed always lay. I feel more like he was taken by the smoke, which is a whisper of comfort. I do not think I could survive had we found them by the front or back door. No trace of my Dusty, but he was so small that I don’t know if we will be able to find anything.

I am raw. Shocked. Enraged. Despairing. Lost.

My Roscoe, the best boy.

Silence.

It can mean quiet joy or unbearable trauma. For me, right now, it’s the latter.

My little 100+ year old house by the creek, beneath the cottonwoods, concealed by ancient fragrant lilacs in the best of spring, when purple iris clustered around the chimney, is gone. Reduced to ashes, along with my elderly dog and cat, by a capricious and cruel wildfire. A wildfire that was impossible to imagine in our little suburb that used to be a mining town, along with hundreds of other houses. All in the span of a few hours.

My ex-Pat lived there, in the first house we bought together, which we still amicably owned together. I remember when I committed to buy it. We’d been married about three months and I couldn’t reach him by phone. Then I asked several co-workers, “Would you be mad if your wife bought a house without asking you?” He wasn’t, of course. It was the first house we looked at. Across the road, unpaved those 30 years ago, from a cow pasture. We lugged our first Christmas tree there home in a snowstorm from a lot where they later built the town hall.

When I left my marriage, I tried to leave the house as intact with my things as possible, trying to create the least amount of disruption for our daughter. So much of my treasured past, along with her entire childhood, vanished in the flames. My great grandmother’s china. My grandmother’s barrister bookcases housing my all-time favorite books. My Mother’s champagne glasses. Decades of my journals. Most of my photographs. My wedding dress. My daughter’s childhood artwork. Her stuffed animals. Her red dragon that was a bubble blower. Her Legos and Yu-Gi-Oh cards. The little books my Mother used to read to her, that were mine when I was a child. My grandmother’s letters to a mysterious beau during World War I that I had been saving to read. A shirt from a beau of my own that he gave me to remember him by, a beau whose heart I sadly broke many years later.

All gone.

We keep thinking of the random things we’ve lost, as we try not to think about the two furry loves that we lost. I want to die myself, and struggle to believe that they didn’t suffer, that the smoke got to them, and not the flames. I am agonizingly desperate for that reassurance. And unspeakably guilty that I could not save them. The worst kind of ‘what if’ and magical thinking.

This is not the first time my heart has been shattered. It likely, poignantly, will not be the last. But the pain is paralyzing. I don’t want to be here anymore. I go into my niece’s powder room and look for something I can cut myself with, just to try to let out the pain, to ease it into something I can bandage. I don’t, of course, and almost hate myself for not doing it, but I don’t. For my daughter. For my husband. For my ex. For my niece and her husband and her almost three-year old son, who have opened their home to her uncle. I don’t want to make them hurt more through my own selfish act.

So I plod on. Days interrupted by wracking sobs and small episodes of abject despair. Dreamless nights with a few snatched hours of sleep. Waking moments when I realize it’s real and the evil pain rushes back in to consume my soul. Nausea that has kept me from eating for two days so far. Dimly reminding myself that it will get better and just not caring. The someday when it will feel better is too far away for me to see or give a damn about.

I know I have not lost everything. But I have lost enough.

https://www.gofundme.com/f/kilbride-family-rebuilding-after-boulder-fire?member=16367209&sharetype=teams&utm_campaign=p_na+share-sheet&utm_medium=sms&utm_source=customer

That chimney is all that is left of my house.

Three Yellow Balloons (For Boston)

Three yellow balloons drifted away.
This city that took much of my naiveté
Lost some of its own innocence today.

My old city shines and celebrates.
This day is a vacation day, a play day.
Everyone is your new friend,
The chill of a New England winter
finally shaken off our shoulders.

Music plays at the bandstand,
And the Charles sparkles with
Little jewels from the sun.

It is Race Day.

Runners start far away, but still
the streets are lined with people,
cheering on strangers.

We set up chairs on the roof of a brownstone,
Bask in the almost-forgotten sunshine.
Skip class. Skip work. Skip under the blue sky.

Runners start arriving
At the foot of Heartbreak Hill.
We yell and shout and clap and encourage
and find our favorites to root for.

The runners struggle on with an end in sight,
A goal
Worked for and earned with sweat and time and pain
and pride.

And then

Everything changes
In an instant
In a blast
In screams
In silence
In leftover puddles of blood.

I see
three yellow balloons
drift into the air
above it all.

Just floating.
Released by the hand of a person whose life will never be the same.

Goodbye, balloons.

Goodbye.

January 2022
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