Four weeks ago my house burned down.
Putting this fact in writing is a surreal experience, indeed.
After a morning of callbacks and music rehearsal at the theatre, I was ready to head back to my tiny house to relax. The packing of my things was interrupted by a phone call from an unrecognized number:
“This is Tara.”
“Hi, Tara. This is Officer — with Eugene P.D. [This is where I assume my house has been broken into.ʼ] Do you happen to live at —-?”
“Yes, sir, I do.”
“I’m sorry to tell you that your house burned down today.”
“… Are you kidding?”
“No, ma’am, I’m not. Your landlord is on his way. Are you able to come down here?”
And so began the weirdest Sunday of my life thus far.
Tara’s House Fire FAQ
Any idea what started it? Nope. There was nothing on the deck that wasn’t meant to be outdoors, and nothing that hadn’t been there for weeks already. Patio furniture, plants, a couple bikes, an outdoor temperature gauge. The fire marshall said that it appeared the fire started in the middle of the patio, between the door and the furniture. Neither she nor the fire investigator for the insurance company have any clue how it happened.
Was anyone hurt? No, thank goodness. Both I and my neighbor in the duplex were away, and neither of us had any pets. The surrounding neighbors — there is property on all side of us, as the place was located in the middle of the block — were all unharmed, but startled. The only things to die were bugs and plants. (Plant loss is minor, but it does suck. Mine had been doing really well.)
What did you do? I called three people: M, my boss (who is an exceptional friend), and my mom. Beyond that, I sent a few texts — mostly to people I interact with regularly and some I had seen just that morning. M met me at the apartment, and we spoke with all the relevant officials as well as my landlord and neighbor. We were given permission to enter the space — it hadn’t burned entirely to the ground — and saved a few items. My thought was to grab anything important that immediately came to mind, assuming I may never enter the space again. And M took it from there: loading things in the car, exchanging contact information, driving us to his house in my car and getting a friend to help him retrieve his own.
Did you have renter’s insurance? Nope.
Did you lose everything? Just about. What wasn’t torched was, in most cases, smoke or heat damaged. Essentially, if it’s porous, it’s a sacrifice to the fire gods. Other things may be rescued, if you can clean them — dishes, for example. However, it generally has to be something you can actively wipe down; simply throwing things in a dishwasher won’t cut it. Smoke sticks better than spider webs. But I’m still sorting out what we pulled from the apartment in hopes of rescuing a few treasures.
What made it? I can finally answer this question a bit more fully, having gone through the remains a couple of weeks ago with some help from Mom. Most everything in the apartment is beyond help. My dishes are alright, and I’ve been washing them in batches. A series of serendipitous circumstances also resulted in a few major items not being in the apartment at the time, namely: my laptop, my Gretsch uke, my camera, and a couple loads of laundry. Also, my sense of humor appears to have not only made it through, but it has received a cleansing. Like a mud bath for my wit.
Do you have a place to stay? M has invited me to stay with him. While we’ve not been together an extensive period of time, we’ve decided that cohabitation is the best choice. If it won’t work now, when will it? Also, living together now is easier than it would be to try after I’d gotten a new apartment and filled it with stuff… what a pain. This arrangement seems more economical regarding all kids of resources. Also, he’s a tremendous team member, and I can’t imagine getting through this without him.
How can I help? Thank you for asking, really and truly. The generosity of my community knows no bounds, as witnessed by the countless messages with offers of assistance, gifts, clothes, food, and more. I have only just begun sorting through the literal and figurative ashes of this catastrophe, but I am helped by such support as can hardly be fathomed.
No, but seriously…? M has a house full of furniture and things, so I’m able to focus on rebuilding elements that make my life feel more whole. Minimalism has not been my style, exactly, but I do like to reduce the amount of stuff in favor of things I love or find useful. In that mindset, I aim to replace only the things I love and/or find useful, and replacement items must spark joy. Less stuff; more joy. I’ve got some Amazon shopping lists going with that in mind — mostly books and music items — and am happy to share those with you. A couple of dear friends also started a GoFundMe page, should you be looking to assist financially. Otherwise? Send love. Be patient with me. Ask me about running, or take me to yoga with you. Maybe help wash some of the dishes I’m able to keep, or alert me if there’s a big book sale I should be aware of. Send silly photos of pandas and videos of baby animals learning how to exist.
Now what? I’d like to think of this as a phoenix-from-the-ashes scenario: starting completely over, with myself as the one constant, to return bigger, brighter, and better than before. Despite my fears and hesitations, I cannot help but see all of this as an opportunity to approach life differently. Let go. Prioritize what really matters. Enjoy what (and who) I am so lucky as to experience. Live a life worthy of the kindness, generosity, and love I have been shown.
And, on hard days, I’ll go to the Wincester, have a nice, cold pint, and wait for all this to blow over.
Or something like that.
P.S. I do want to assure you, dear reader, that I escaped with my humor more than intact. It may be a dark subject, but what emotional wound may not be salved with laughter?