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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

As I was trying to cook and not set the Retreat aflame, it occurred to me that I’d always thought I’d wind up a wizened and mysterious old woman, living in my little white house at the edge of town, growing flowers and tending old dogs and cats, and all the children would think I was a witch, which would make them a little hesitant and very curious and then they’d discover how wise I was. Now the the cozy house is gone, what am I to do?

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.

I’ve always loved the smell of wood smoke. The wildfire has taken that away from me. Arriving back at the Retreat just as the sun ducked behind Greenhorn Mountain, the aroma of a neighbor’s fireplace hit me when I got out of Truck. In the past, that would have struck me as homey and safe, warm and relaxing. Not now. Not anymore.

Now, that scent raises an anxiety and mild panic that I didn’t even know were in me. My response is instinctive, to look around for smoke, to think about getting things out of the house. These feelings are mercifully brief, as rational me steps up to quickly calm instinctive me. But that initial response makes me sad, sad that I’ve lost that comforting association that the smell of smoke used to have for me. At least temporarily.

MKL and I have a gas fireplace and a pellet stove in the Retreat. We’ve never used a pellet stove and I find it rather intimidating, so we’ve talked about replacing it with a traditional wood burning fireplace. Now, I’m not sure. Will cinders spark a wildfire? What if the chimney catches fire? Will I feel uneasy about the smoke and flames? Will it stir my living nightmares of the Marshall Fire? Or will it help? Will it help me reconnect with the comfort that a homey fire used to bring me? I can’t say. I guess my feelings are as unpredictable as Fire itself.

MKL and I went back to the cozy house today. We dug and sifted through ash, snow, and mud. We focused on the area by K’s bed, part of the kitchen, and a continued fruitless quest for the hardware from the antique family rifles. We found very little. The brass bull boot puller. Another mystery ring in terrible shape. A couple of things that might be K’s Ultimate medals. A whetstone. Not much.

Today, I am asking, when is it enough? When am I done digging, done searching, done trying? I called K and she said not to keep digging for her. In her wisdom, she said that there’s nothing I will find that will bring back the cozy house. What we want is for this never to have happened. That’s something we will never have. I will never have the cozy house back ever again. It is gone. Period.

Those who know me know that I don’t give up. Not on people, not on things, not on goals. I could have sifted every inch of ash on the property since the fire, given the opportunity. I could go back today and sift forever. But at some point, I have to stop. I think that point is now.

Searching hurts more than it helps. My attempts at discussing rebuilding with ex-Pat have been met with nonchalant hostility. For him, that part of his life is over. It sucks that he has zero sentimentality about our family. It really sucks. But there we are. I can’t afford to rebuild on my own. I can’t afford to buy him out. Maybe I’ll just come down from the Wet Mountains with a tent and camp on my land and plant flowers to recreate my amazing gardens. I don’t know. I’m sad. I’m at sea. But I’m moving forward, even though I don’t know what’s up ahead.

Dreams. Not always the friendliest place to find yourself. Particularly after something breaks your heart. While my dreams have always been exhausting and vivid and usually make me feel like I need a nap, they’ve been particularly poignant since the fire.

I don’t dream about the fire itself. Last night though, waking at 3:00 a.m. from a dream in which I was living in the Lamplighter Motel in Longmont, K hated me, and I couldn’t find my truck, my half-conscious brain went to a tough place.

What if I had still been living at the cozy house when the fire happened? I’d have been working from home. How would I have known to leave? It seems just sheer luck that some neighbors up the road happened to notice workers running to their personal vehicles and someone shouted at them to go. As stubborn as I am, would I have listened?

Would I have bundled Roscoe into the cab of the truck and tried to find Dusty, carrying him unrestrained to the truck as well? What then? Would I have noticed the smoke? Would I have seen the flames coming? I know I would have grabbed the wood box with the important papers and the rock doorstop. Would I have thought to get the photo albums? My wedding dress? The blowfish? Would I have tried to load the two trunks into the back of the truck? Would I have had the presence of mind to do anything? Would I have had the time? Or would I have pushed the clock too far to be able to get us out?

One time, years ago, it looked like Coal Creek, which runs by the cozy house, was going to flood. That actually happened twice, but only one time was I home. Ex-Pat and I calmly loaded the car with the most important things we could think of, letting a small K think we were having a fun adventure. The creek didn’t flood that time, but the house did flood in 2015 when the 100-year flood happened, ruining floors, carpets, the root cellar, and some books. I think I’d have felt more panic,more adrenaline, facing the fire than facing the flood.

My Mother always told me, “Never think about anything important after 2:00 a.m.” It’s some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten. In the wee small hours this morning, I could almost place myself in the house as the fire was coming, almost see the trees catching and burning like matchsticks, almost feel the heat as the walls disintegrated west to east. In a half-dream state, I could almost crossover, playing with time and reality. I understand why she gave me that advice.

Image from visitlongmont.org

I was born only a few miles from the house I grew up in, the house my parents lived in my whole adult life, the house in which my Father died. As I’ve said, it’s what I truly thought of as home. My Mother sold it about 10 months before she died, about 5 months after my Father died.

I wanted that sense of security for K. I could see the cozy house’s lights from the room in hospital where K was born. It was always her home, even after I moved to the Cottage and then to the Bungalow. Even after she went 1,000 miles away to college, and then 500 miles away to start her grown-up life.

I have often talked with her about the concept of home. Now my heart breaks that she has suffered this loss of home as a place, a concept, and a heart, just as I have now done twice. She’s too young for this loss.

Several sisters of my heart were raised differently from me, being from military families. They moved often and far. One has wondered why I left so many things I treasured in the cozy house. She was not attached to much and was ready to pick up and move when the family needed to, never leaving anything behind. Another has found herself more attached to things since she had to pick up stakes so often.

My Mother was the child of a somewhat nomadic father, and she loved moving. She loved the new towns, new schools, new people. Her lack of attachment to things, as I discussed yesterday, was also most obvious to me by the fact that she sold her wedding dress. She didn’t think about the daughter she might have someday who might want it. She did save a silk chiffon scarf that she wore on her wedding day, that I wore on mine, that is now ashes.

My Father moved, but most of it was for education. Kentucky, Connecticut, New York, Illinois, and finally, North Carolina, where my childhood house was the first and only house he bought. But despite all those moves, he had a family home to go back to in West Virginia, where his Mother was born and lived until she could no longer live alone, which was in her mid-80s. While we never discussed it, I think he had the same concept of home that I did.

Of course, all of this is completely contradictory to the me that I know that wants to travel until the end of my days and beyond. Or is it? Does my wandering soul just need to know that there is a home, a sanctuary to return to? I welcome your comments here. They help deepen my thoughts about this topic that has been a lifelong wonderment.

A house that was a half-time home two decades ago.

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.

Fire and I have had a lifelong complicated relationship. Actually, it extends into a past life relationship, but that’s a little too woo-woo for me to get into just now.

Growing up, the fireplace was a focal point in my parent’s house. A cord of wood was dumped in the garage (which was never used as a garage) every year and my dad would stack it and chop it as needed. When it turned cold, we’d stack wood in the basement to avoid having to go outside to get it. Kindling came from the pecan trees, supplemented by newspaper, of which there was no shortage, since my dad took at least six papers. While we had a furnace – a big old scary roaring cast iron thing in the basement – my parents, being depression era children, always kept the house cold, using the fireplace as a major heat source.

We had a fire almost every night from Fall through Spring. Little me learned how to tell if it was smoking into the living room and point that out to my dad. Bigger me learned how to fix it when it was smoking. On cold mornings, I would scrape the ashes looking for some extra warmth from the coals like Cinderella. Scraping through the ashes of the cozy house, even 10 days after the fire, I found warm spots that reminded me of my Cinderella mornings.

E-Bro melted the soles of numerous pairs of shoes reading on the floor in front of the fireplace. One summer morning, when I was very small, my parents tucked him just a tiny bit up the chimney in a Santa Claus costume and surprised me with Santa’s visit. I still remember how thrilled I felt.

The chimney caught fire once and the fire department came to put it out. I was always nervous when we cleaned out the chimney after that. One day, after a night where the fire didn’t draw well, my sixth grade English teacher took me aside and asked me kindly if my home had caught fire because my hair smelled so much like smoke.

In college in Boston, I made the decision to leave as I stood at my window and watched the building across the street from my brownstone dorm go up in violent flames, set alit by an arsonist terrorizing the area. As it burned, I thought, “I am too young for this.”

In college in Boulder, I lived on the top back room of a rooming house that was otherwise occupied by six guys of questionable character in their 30s. One morning, after being awake for 48 hours between work and disasterous midterms, I was finally sleeping when someone pounded on my door. I was charming and cursed at them and told them to go away. This person said, in exactly the tone you would expect, “Well, EXCUSE ME, but your house is on fire and I THOUGHT YOU’D LIKE TO KNOW.” Which it was. I struggled into my red and white striped robe, stumbled barefoot down the stairs past the quickly charring door of the room on fire, just missing the explosion of the front window. Someone gave me a pair of tennis shoes since I was barefoot on this November morning. Turns out one of my fellow tenants went to the Mental Health Center and told them he’d just set his room on fire and there were people sleeping in the house. The Fire Department got the fire under control, though that tenant’s room was completely destroyed. The firefighters had kicked in my unlocked door and checked to be sure the fire hadn’t breached the walls. I didn’t have much, but everything I owned smelled like smoke for weeks. I moved my bed into the empty attic and left my clothes outside in the cold to air them.

After college, still in Boulder, ex-Pat and I watched smoke and ash creep towards our North Boulder apartment over Mt. Sanitas. It was nerve wracking. I went through a small phase of insanity in which I’d chase wildfires when I knew they were burning in the hills. That stopped one day when my truck got stuck and I watched a ridge across from me burn, the fire’s fingers greedily creeping toward me. It was a miracle that I got myself unstuck. I was in the application process to become a wildfire fighter when I broke my foot, dashing that goal.

In the cozy house in Superior, the fireplace took up half of the living room wall. It was romantic at times, comforting at times, frustrating at times. I learned how to build a good fire. I chopped wood without losing any appendages. There was always a fire in the fireplace on Christmas morning, just like we had in my parents’ house. Ironic that the chimney is the only thing left standing. The fireplace felt like the heart of the house.

Living in the Cottage, I watched the Four Mile fire consume familiar hillsides. I watched the Colorado Springs fire on TV in the Bungalow and have never seen anything that more closely resembled what I’d imagine Hell to look like.

Until now. I still can’t visualize what the hell of this fire looked like but I can see the hell it has left behind. The loss and heartbreak that it has created are our own personal little hells.

I worry that the Retreat might be subject to fire. It’s in the woods, in the mountains, almost to be expected. MKL is wise to tell me not to think of it so I don’t draw it to us. But I feel like fire has licked at my heels my whole life. It just hasn’t gotten me yet. I really hope it’s done trying.

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?
August 2022
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