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Snow is falling today, on the deck outside MKL’s house, on the ruins of my home in Superior, on the Retreat, creating a blanket of stillness tinged with blues. I watch it without much in the way of conscious thought, finding its simplicity soothing.

I met with one of the Southern Baptist team in charge of sifting through the ashes yesterday, along with his daughter. Larry and Sarah. I’m not one for organized religion but I always appreciate people who walk their faith and this man surely did. He sketched out where I wanted to focus in the sifting , what I was hoping to find, and made it clear that there were no guarantees (one thing I’ve learned all too well over the last few weeks). At some point over the next few days, I’ll get a call saying that a team is ready to hit the property and that I need to come. I’m hoping it’s not Friday, the one day I need to be down towards the Retreat.

As usual, once I got to the homestead yesterday, I started digging. I found K’s door latch and handle (at her request), certainly more vintage than it was before. It’s difficult to stop once I start digging, even though I know I’m not supposed to disturb the ashes due to the toxins supposedly mixed in with them. But we know me – I don’t usually do what I’m told. Just ask the young construction worker who had to take down a barrier to let me drive on an irrationally closed road yesterday. I would have found the sidewalk to be a completely viable alternative.

Before he left, Larry asked if he could pray with me and I agreed. It was such a comfort. I’m angry at God/Spirit/the Universe and haven’t felt much like speaking to them. Larry prayed for some peace for me and K, for love, for closure, for hope, and he sounded like he was talking to an old friend, to a father. Which I suppose he was. I wept.

I think “soothing” is the word of the day. It’s soothing being in the same room as MKL when we’re working, as long as he’s not cursing at his computer, which happens. The gentle snowfall is soothing since I don’t have to go out into it. Larry’s prayer yesterday was soothing. It’s soothing to know that A, who lost everything except her dogs, the clothes on her back, and a cannonball, has the comforting presence of her daughter for a few days. Daughters make almost everything better. Ex-Pat is in his apartment now and focused on making it homey. It’s soothing to think of him as starting to be settled.

Today, unless I’m derailed, I will hold these soothing things close and not think about the Machiavellian machinations of the town of Superior, more than broadly hinted at by the real estate developer neighbor who is rebuilding their Little House in Old Town. That’s something for another day’s me.

Today, let it be just me and the drifting snow.

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

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.

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:

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And this:

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And this:

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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

 

 

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.

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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.

 

It has been a very difficult few days here in Boulder County. As you’ve probably heard, unless you’ve been under a rock, we have had rain and flooding of biblical proportions. I have lived in and around Boulder for over 30 years now and have never seen anything like it. Have never felt anything like it. The closest I have experienced was in spring of 1995, when I cut a business trip to Philadelphia short to come home and hope that I still had a house. The flight attendant gave me a bottle of champagne, saying I could drink it to celebrate if I did, and to drown my sorrows if I didn’t.

I did. I still had my little white house surrounded by lilacs on the banks of Coal Creek. It’s still my house in name and mortgage payment, but now ex-Pat and Kelsea live there with the menagerie of two big dogs (Roscoe and Champ) and two yellow cats (Dusty and Mel). I left five years ago on Halloween, taking very little with me but a lot of hope and fear and pain.

The little white house has a very special place in my heart. Ex-Pat hasn’t taken good care of it and that makes me very sad. But it’s still my little house with its giant fireplace and knotty pine walls and huge lilac bushes. And the gentle sound of Coal Creek, sometimes trickling at the bottom of the 20-foot bank, but more often dry. Not something you would ever expect to see raging.

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That shot was from today. Kelsea took a video yesterday that I wish I could share, but I can’t figure out how to embed it.

When Coal Creek flooded yesterday, I was worried. I was calling them constantly, checking on the status. They had received notice to evacuate at 5:00 pm. Pat chose to ignore that. (That’s Pat.) But in one of my check-in calls, he told me that the water was coming in under the kitchen door, more and more of it. It was ankle-deep in the old part of the house (which is an old mining cabin from 1910, with no foundation but dirt.) The root cellar under the kitchen floor, which houses the furnace and the water heater, was full of water, up to the top of its stairs. They started gathering things to leave, even though the bridge by the house was completely submerged by floodwaters. Kelsea’s voice broke as she asked me if I had a digital copy of the picture of her and her Grandma that she keeps on her wall.

They loaded things into the truck. They put the dogs on leashes. They put the cats (fighting and hissing) into the carriers. And then waited a little more. The waters stopped getting deeper and just sat there. And then they started to recede, to vanish, to soak into the carpets and floors and anything sitting on them. They stayed on the couch and watched movies, since they still had power, water, and cable. And the waters were gone. The creek backed down. The huge backyard stopped looking like an ocean. They were all right.

It was so painful to not be there. I felt helpless. I felt powerless. It felt like when my Mother was dying, except I couldn’t be there. It showed me my need to be in control, to be fixing things, and you can’t be in control of or fix a flood. I was breaking, for my daughter, for my animals, for my little house, for the things I left behind – heirlooms from my great-grandmother, that I left so that Kelsea’s home would not feel so strange after her mother left. So much of some many hard things coming back to haunt me.

I watched the news until 2:00 am, waiting for a 30-foot wall of water that fortunately never came. I slept fitfully by MKL (who had the flu, my poor baby, but I was so incredibly glad that he was there) for a few hours, waking to find that my bus route was shut down and travel was inadvisable, so I worked from home. At the end of the day, I drove over to ex-Pat’s.

The downstairs was a wreck.

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Friends from down the street and Niece #1 came to help. We moved furniture, pulled up the rugs, dragged them outside. Sadly, I lost some books that I’d had for 30 years. We worked for a few hours, mopping over and over again to get rid of the mud and leaves and dirt. The house has flood insurance, a requirement of the mortgage, so ex-Pat is trying to get the claims person to come out. He is concerned about mold from all the damp, and the water was pretty toxic. But the house still stands. For now.

The rain stopped enough for clean up efforts to get underway, but it’s supposed to rain more tonight and on Sunday. The creek rose two feet in the last hour I was there. However, the house is on the high side of the bank, and the flooding last night was more caused by the city unwisely opening a spillway at the back side of the town. Hopefully, they heard enough harsh words for that decision today to keep them from repeating it.

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It could have been so much worse. So many in Boulder County have lost everything. Beautiful little towns like Lyons are cut off from the world, with residents having been evacuated by the National Guard. People have lost their lives. This experience again makes me examine my relationship with and attachment to “things”, something I have ruminated on for many, many years. I don’t think I’m ready to write about that yet. But I will in a while. Right now, I am still coming off the shock and fear and surreality of the last couple of days, feeling a wee bit of PTSD, and hoping that the sunshine will stick around for a while.

This was the 100 year flood that was way overdue. Meteorologists say that it was so bad, it probably won’t happen again for 1,000 years. I know that, either way, I am glad I won’t be around to see it again.

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