Recovering, Reimagining, Rebuilding
Are we there yet?
“Are you in yet?” That’s the number one question we hear these days, at least from people we haven’t seen a while. Not yet. Soon after the fire I figured it would take two years, give or take a little, to rebuild our home. Given all the progress we’d made, I was still feeling pretty patient as the second anniversary of the fire came and went. But after New Year’s rolled around, and we knew we’d be spending a third winter in the trailer, our little abode began to shrink. Recalling childhood family road trips that seemed endless, Jill and I started asking each other almost daily, “Are we there yet?”
We’re living in a perpetual Plotski—that game with sliding squares that you move around a confined space to create words or pictures or patterns (or chaos). Except that we, and our pets and stuff, are the squares. No matter what you want to do, there’s always something in the way. And to get that square out of the way, you have to move it somewhere else that’s already occupied. Are we there yet?
My shoes are on top of the cat food bin. The toaster is next to the front door. The ukulele sleeps on the top bunk between baskets of clothes and next to the drums. Papers, folders and file boxes are jammed anywhere and everywhere. The kitchen garbage is in the bathroom. My sock and underwear drawers are right over Pepper’s water bowl. If I’m little clumsy getting dressed in the morning I end up with wet toes or worse. Are we there yet?
One of our first discoveries, when we moved into the trailer so many months ago, was that Blackwater is more than just a private contractor that does covert ops for the government (though I can see the connection). “How’s the blackwater doing?” is a question we ask about once a week. If you press the button and the light is red, then “Blackwater’s full” is the answer and it’s time to…I’ll spare you the details. Are we there yet?
For me, the best therapy for the are-we-there-yet blues is to do something on the property – spread the chipped up remains of our old oaks around the base of the one survivor; pick up rocks and make a pile to use for future landscaping; pull out rusted wire fencing to make room for its replacement. Or plant things where they won’t be disturbed during construction.
A few weeks ago, a friend invited me to collect buckeyes on his property. Following a trail through the woods, we found them scattered around like pool balls looking for a pocket. I chose ones with fat white tap roots starting to emerge. Still suspended in mid-air, their blind tips pointed toward the ground with a palpable yearning to root. Bringing some home, I planted them along what will be our back fence. Digging up the dirt a little, I stabbed a finger into it, and set the buckeyes down with their roots touching the soil. I like the way buckeyes mark the seasons, putting out leaves in early spring, big white flower stalks in May, and then drawing in and dropping their leaves as the dry months progress.
Early in the year, our contractor told our insurance company that he estimated we’d be in by April first, April Fool’s Day. We’re hoping that’s not a joke. For a long time, when someone asked when the house would be done, the answer was some number of months. And that number changed more slowly than the months were flying by. Like a donkey with a carrot suspended in front of it, we just kept walking. Are we there yet?
But recently, “months” shifted to “weeks.” It might be four or five, or even ten weeks, we don’t know. But we are getting closer. Last week there were six trucks parked in our driveway – the flooring guy, the plumber, the deck carpenter, the painter for the rental and their workers. The progress in our surrounding neighborhood on Warm Springs and O’Donnell Lane makes me happy and optimistic too. We’re all at different stages, but so much visible progress has been made in the past few months that there’s a strong feeling of the neighborhood coming back.
I am concerned about our lone surviving oak. At the advice of an arborist, I pulled away the scorched dead bark on the north side of the trunk. “Insects can get under there and cause damage,” he told me. So I pulled it away and now there’s a long strip of exposed bare wood, a scar that goes twenty feet up the trunk. I feel like that tree—scarred but hanging in there, the fire a marker that divided my life into a “before” and an “after.” We’re both living in a new chapter now.
Along the back fence, the first buckeye has begun to unfurl new leaves from a fresh, green shoot. Are we there yet? Almost.