It’s been five days since the fire. Today I meet with the insurance appraiser and the general contractor to go through my house. I arrange to work from home, naively thinking that the meeting will be just an hour and I’ll be able to get some work done. I’m emotionally and physically exhausted. I’m not sleeping well and last night I got about 4 hours. My neighbor-hosts also slept poorly. We share this news groggily in the morning, speculating that the full moon is to blame. I’m starting to think that staying next to my house is not such a good idea; it’s giving me bad dreams.
The insurance and contractor are both nice and sympathetic to my situation. We begin going through the house. They are not fazed by the destruction, but then, damaged homes are a part of their jobs. I, on the other hand, walk through the house in a daze. The water downstairs has all dried up, evaporated by the triple degrees heat or absorbed into the flooring, probably creating a Texas-sized mold problem as we speak. The smell is just as strong as it was the first night. It’s mid-morning now, so I can see the damage more clearly. Every single surface is covered with soot. My rugs curled up and streaked with charcoal gray. The windows cracked. Custom-made window shades warped. All my plants drooped over, dead. The fabric on the sofa and chairs strangely wrinkled. Soot-covered mirrors reflecting soot-covered objects. I begin to walk upstairs and see light fixtures dangle from the ceilings, broken sections of glass beneath them on the carpeted stairs, the carpet I had just installed upstairs two weeks ago and not even paid off yet. Ceiling fan blades bend downward and a clock’s plastic face is folded in a Salvador Dali imitation of time. My daughter’s ceiling has gaping holes, made by the firefighters checking the vents for sparks of fire.
There are small blessings. Most of the upstairs rooms was packed away in the garage to allow the carpet to be installed, so my hundreds of books and various knickknacks are safe in the garage. I suddenly think of my photographs and run downstairs to the living room cabinets. With relief, I see the boxes and albums of photos are safe and sound. I am grateful, but it’s hard to stay upbeat while the contractor informs the appraiser and me about entire categories of my material life that are now gone: All flooring and carpeting gone, all windows gone, all fixtures gone, all doors gone, all mattresses gone, all upholstered furniture gone, all electronics gone, and of course, the entire kitchen and nearly all its contents are gone. I follow the two men throughout the house, then outside to the back. Even the gutters are streaked gray. My outdoor plants are starting to die and I have no water to revive them. We walk to the side of the house and see the boarded-up windows of the kitchen and then a large pile next to the house. “Wow, the firemen really did a tidy job of stacking this,” comments one of the men. They both gaze at it with admiration for the firemen’s sense of orderliness, but all I see is my former kitchen in ruins.