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WYFP?! (What’s Your F**king Problem?!) is our community’s Saturday evening gathering to talk about our problems, empathize with one another, and share advice, pootie pictures, favorite adult beverages, and anything else we think might help. Everyone, and all sorts of troubles, are welcome. May we find peace and healing here. And won’t you please help keep the playground open this evening by recommending?  Thanks.

Before anyone gets alarmed -- no pun intended -- this all happened just over a year ago, on July 24, 2010.  Everyone’s fine and I’m still here to tell the tale.

It was a sweltering Saturday evening.  My husband was out of town playing a gig with his band, and I was home catching up on chores.  I was upstairs folding laundry when I heard a sharp pop.  Then two more, rapid-fire.  At first I assumed my dog was downstairs being rowdy, so I called out for her.  Only when she yawned did I realize she was napping in the corner behind me.

More pops.  Then the shrill, urgent pulse of the smoke detector.  

The kitchen is just below my bedroom.  As input is processed and synapses connect, I physically feel the adrenaline fortify my senses.  My muscles twitch and tighten as I turn, taking the stairs two at a time.  As I reach the bottom, a nightmare unfolds before me.  My kitchen is on fire.  This can’t be happening.  

I try for a moment to put it out, then find my wits.  WTF am I doing?  I have to get out.  NOW.  Instinctively, I reach for my pocket.  Thankfully -- and uncharacteristically -- my cell phone is there.  Already the smoke is so thick, I can only see halfway up the stairs.

It’s a good thing 911 is such a short number.  When your hands are trembling uncontrollably, it is hard to find even that many digits on a tiny keypad.  It took me a few tries to get it.

“911, what’s your emergency?”


The minute those words come out of your mouth, your life will never be the same again.  Cowered in my yard, I waited for the sirens.  

Even a "small" fire can do lot of damage.  My kitchen had to be gutted.  The rest of the house sustained heavy smoke and water damage.  Windows were broken, my yard littered with charred debris.  Everything that was left was infused with smoke and grease and a lingering, fetid stench.

The very first thing I learned is that I didn’t give as much of a shit about my stuff as I thought I did.  Hours after the fire, when I stepped into a wonderful friend’s shower to scrub the soot from my legs, I found burns underneath.  I really did get out just in time.

  It took my breath away.

At that moment, and in the surreal days that followed, I never felt anything but lucky.  We had insurance.  We -- my husband, dog, and three cats -- were together, and safe.  Our vehicles weren’t damaged.  The disaster was limited to our home, so we had neighbors and friends and a functional infrastructure to support us.  I still had my job.  

My home had been my anchor.  As an introvert, I'm most content to tuck into a new recipe or art project at the end of a long day.   Wearing the same pair of earrings for an entire month didn't bother me at all.  What I mourned was my sanctuary, my creative space.  Privacy.  Control.  Little things.

For weeks, I was continually surprised at how my once-familiar world felt completely foreign.  Same city, same job, but the mere act of waking up somewhere other than home made everything feel unmoored.  

Meanwhile, we were getting a crash course in the business end of a Major Property Claim.  This story pretty well sums up the mercilessly long process between when you get an insurance check and when you can actually use it to, you know, buy stuff you need.  Every bank that touches it will put a 7-10 day "hold" on it.  They get to play with your money for free at the time you need it most desperately.  Fuckers.

A “partial loss” like ours can be even more complicated.  Besides assessing the structural damage, the insurance company will require you to compile an inventory of all contents.  You have to agree on what is, and is not, salvageable, and its value.  It’s physically and mentally exhausting.

Much of August 2010 found me clad in latex gloves and a respirator, wet towel draped over my head like a habit, systematically going through what was left of my shit with a clipboard and lots of blank spreadsheets.  It was traumatic and life-affirming all at once.  It was a time to assess and come to terms with what was lost and put a plan together for what came next.

At first the estimate was three or four months for the renovation.  That quickly melted into six, then eight.  We finally moved back in after ten months in temporary housing.  We’ve come a long, long way.  There is still a lot to do.

I’m not going to lecture you on checking your smoke detectors and making a family disaster plan.  But if you own a home and haven’t done this, make it your Fucking Problem to obtain your full homeowners policy (hard copy, natch).  Same for renter’s insurance (you do have it, right?  It’s inexpensive and 

well worth the peace of mind.)  Keep it somewhere safe, other than in your house or apartment.

More than anything, I still feel lucky.  Very lucky.  There were so many ways it could have been worse.  I still wouldn't wish it on anyone.  Fires suck.

So, home catastrophes?  Near-death experiences?  Insurance nightmares?  Pet peeves?  What's your FP tonight?

6:33 PM PT: Wow, rec list -- thanks all!  This is only my second diary in two years and I was a bit nervous.  I appreciate the good thoughts and conversation :)

Originally posted to SteelerGrrl on Sat Aug 13, 2011 at 05:05 PM PDT.

Also republished by WYFP?.

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