I am going to try to tell the story of the last week; I am barely holding it together because I am so frantic about Clue, so maybe this will distract me. Doug is out at Target getting laundry baskets and a couple of other things we need, so I have the laptop for the moment.
This actually begins ten days ago, on Saturday when I was working and Doug had the kids. Zuzu fell, as she does about sixteen times a day, and hit her head on the office chair. No biggie. She didn’t really cry and nobody worried.
On Tuesday, I realized that on the site of the head bump, what I thought was just a goose egg was actually a hematoma, a collection of soft fluid under the skin. I did NOT like this, but she was acting totally normally and so I decided to watch it and see.
By Thursday I knew she had to be seen. I could feel that on one edge of the swollen area there was a little “step-down” in the bone. Not a good thing. So I made a worried call to her doctor and got an appointment for first thing in the morning.
Thursday afternoon we had a major ice storm. It had frozen the night before and then Thursday it rained. By the afternoon ice was building up on trees.
From five o’clock on, we could hear branches breaking and falling in the woods. By seven, they were breaking and falling every few minutes. At ten, the lights started flickering.
I was (as always) working at that point, so I saved my jobs and sent them to myself on gmail, figuring I’d finish them when the power was steadier.
At midnight, the power went out for good. And here is where our tale begins to hurtle toward the cliff edge of crapulosity.
Tabitha and Zuzu were frightened by the sudden dark; they had been asleep but they woke up with the commotion of their parents looking for the flashlight and candles.
Doug took the screaming kids into our bedroom and tucked them in bed while I got ready to go to the 24-hour CVS for batteries and bottled water.
I lit a candle and put it on the entertainment center in our bedroom. I thought I was being really smart because I put the candle in a cup with water in the bottom, figuring that even if something bad happened the candle would fall in the water. Doug was awake and the kids were still crying when I left for the store.
I was gone about 30-40 minutes. As far as we can piece together, both kids fell asleep and Doug fell into a doze against the headboard, succumbing to the warmth of little bodies tucked against him on either side.
At about 12:30, the candle fell over (?) and somehow hit our DVD player. I have no idea why fire likes electronic equipment, but evidently it does.
Doug woke quickly to find a small fire going on top of the entertainment center. He immediately realized that with no power, he had no water to put it out.
(Actually, he wishes to edit as follows: Doug blinked dully at the fire for a couple of seconds and had confused thoughts about why there was a fire in the bedroom, then started yelling incoherently, then grabbed a kid and booked it to the next room. On his way back he realized that there was no water. I believe the prior paragraph sounds more heroic, however, so I prefer it.)
The fire spread very fast. Doug brought the baby out of the bedroom and went back for Tabitha. Tabitha had wedged herself between the bed and the wall, so he dragged her out.
It was at this moment, about 12:40, that I got home. As I got out of the car and began to go toward the house, bags of batteries and water in my hands, I could hear both little kids crying from inside the house. I figured they’d been crying the whole time.
As I reached the front door, Doug was running out with a kid under each arm, dumping them on the porch. He was dressed only in boxers (thank all that is kind and holy, the ones that are like shorts and cover all the critical elements). I immediately said (of course, because I am a jerk), “What on earth stupid thing are YOU DOING?” He looked at me and said “THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE.” And THEN I saw the haze of smoke above his head.
I grabbed the baby and ran her to the car, and then came back for Tabitha. I ran her (both of them screaming, of course) to the car and came back, trying to dial 911. I dialed and then pressed “send” but nothing happened. Tried to dial again and all it would type was “CW” – the rain had gotten in the keypad and it would not call out.
When I got back to the car this time Doug had Meri at the door. Just a couple of minutes had gone by since I arrived, but the smoke was now terribly thick and very black. I grabbed Meri and told her to run to the car, and then yelled “Where are the dogs?”* to Doug as he said “I have to go get Honour!” I said, “Get low! Get low and get up the stairs!” I then ran back past the car, across the frozen lawn the 300 feet to the neighbor’s house.
*see, I told you I was a jerk. I could plead that I was confused and didn’t realize that Honour was still in danger, but the fact is that I knew he’d get her; I honestly wasn’t worried about her. It didn’t hit me until days later exactly how much the kids were at risk.
As I ran past the house I could see that there was a fire now across the entire top of the entertainment center, but it was still confined to that area.
I banged frantically on the neighbor’s door. No answer. Banged longer and harder, yelled her name. Still nothing. Kept banging on the door as I tried to calculate the time it would take to get to the next closest neighbor. Finally the door opened a crack and she stood there in a robe. I yelled “There’s a fire at our house. Do you have a cell phone? Call 911!” (Remember, no phone lines due to the storm.)
I sprinted back to the car. Honour was safe inside. Everyone was crying and panicking, so I said, “Be QUIET, everything is fine. I have to go get Daddy.”
Ran to the front door. He was still there; when I had run to the neighbor’s house he thought I had gone inside the house after the dogs and he was contemplating going in to find out. By this time I could see that the entire entertainment center was on fire and most of the house was filled with smoke.
I asked him if he had any idea where the dogs were. He said that he knew that Bastoche was in a crate just inside the front door; no idea on the others. I said “Go in and unlock the crate!” and he held his breath and went in. The crate was only a few feet inside the door. He unlocked it and Bastoche came trotting out like a pro, growled casually at me as he went past, and went right to the car like the little turd that he is.
Of the other dogs there was no sign. We didn’t dare to go in; it was completely unbreatheable in there. I went from exterior window to window, trying to see in. No use.
And so we just stood there, gasping as our bedroom windows cracked and fell from the heat. By now most of the room was on fire.
Finally, about a half hour after the fire started (we found out later that our neighbor could not find her cell phone – the FD responded immediately, but they didn’t know about it for a long time) the trucks began to pull up.
They pushed us back, told us to get away from the house. We got in the car and drove it away from the house, across the same frozen lawn I’d run over, to the next driveway. I gave my jacket to Doug, who was still mostly naked. He realized that his glasses had been on the entertainment center (he has VERY bad vision, so he could barely see a thing at this point). He asked me if I had seen his wallet. “Entertainment center, I think.” I said.
We mostly just stared. After a while our neighbor came out and urged us to bring the kids in her house; this turned out to be a very good idea.
One by one – sweet joy – the dogs were brought out. It turned out that they were all upstairs hiding; they were horribly smokey and covered with soot but fine.
In an hour, it was all over. We got a richly deserved lecture from the fire marshal and then the trucks were gone – I later found out that they had been called to a new fire. We were the first of many; they told me the next day that both crews in the fire house were out straight for 24+ hours.
We were allowed inside, and my first thought was that it didn’t look too bad. The bedroom was gone, of course, but the rest just looked wet. But I stayed only a minute before locking the house and heading to my parents’ house.
Got there and found that they had lost power too. They were wonderful…for us. The dogs were not exactly welcomed. I love my parents, but dog people they are NOT. The kids were tucked in beds; the dogs went into the furnace room in the basement, a room with a dirt floor and standing water over the entire floor except for a couple of corners. I had a quiet freak-out but it was no use.
When we woke we were still thinking this was all in the category of major inconvenience but not a disaster. The first priority was Zuzu’s appointment. (Yeah, remember that, like twenty paragraphs ago?) At the appointment the doctor said “Yes, I feel that step-down in the bone, but I’m not too worried; let’s just see what it does.”
Back to the parental house, walk the dogs, apologize to the dogs, put the dogs back in the Bad Room. Then over to the House of Fire to meet the insurance company’s adjuster.
He said “Yeah, OK, don’t worry too much; maybe a month of work and you’ll be set.” This seemed like an eternity to us, a disaster.
Later that day we set up an appointment with a public adjuster, member of a unique band of insurance ambulance chasers (pretty much literally; they get tipped off to fires and come talk to you). We had no idea if this would be productive in any way, but we were told to talk to one.
Saturday we met with him. He said “A month? Hold on while I stand up again. No, you don’t even understand. See this? Wet drywall. See this? That’s not simple soot; that’s melted plastic. This ceiling has to come down and everything has to be repainted. Your clothes? NO, you do NOT launder them yourself. The insurance company has it picked up and laundered.” And about a thousand other things. Three months. Minimum.
Saturday we moved heaven and earth to get the dogs out of the Bad Room and into a wonderful kennel an hour from the House of Fire. Giant sigh of relief.
Monday morning. More disaster. Fridge and freezer are rotting and will need to be thrown out. 90% of the clothes in the house are a loss. Every piece of plastic in the house will need to be thrown out. Couches and chairs, gone. Hard furniture will be cleanable, but everything else will be inventoried and thrown out.
Also, back to the doctor we go. Zuzu’s head is not better. The verdict this time: skull fracture, a depressed area about the size of a 50-cent piece. This makes me feel like throwing up, but the doctor is very clear that this is OK, it will heal, her head is still growing and the bone is molding and it’s all going to be fine. I still feel like throwing up. There will be a follow-up x-ray in eight weeks to make sure it’s healed and to verify that there’s no underlying weakness in the bone. Yup, still want to throw up.
And you know what happened this morning. Clue. Can’t think about it or I will fall apart.
The absolutely wonderful thing is that people have been astounding. My kids are wearing clothes because our church immediately organized and got us boxes and bags of everything from underwear to snowpants. Doug and I have gotten rides and money and help from every corner of the earth. We have an offer from a friend to move into her house on Monday. We have a contractor ready to go as soon as we give the word. We are on the razor edge but at no point have we been forsaken.
We’re going to assess and figure out what is next. The dogs are the biggest concern right now but they are not an emergency. Except, of course, for Clue. But we’re not sure we can sustain the boarding for all of them. All will be well; for the moment they’ll stay where they are.
I wish I had a snappy ending for this; I’m pretty tapped out of snap and fun. But I can say I am overwhelmed with how great everyone has been, and I am confident that we will come out the other end of this better and stronger.
SO: head, house, Clue. Let’s hope it stops here.