Rebuilding After a Fire. Are Things Really Just Things?

It was a day like any other — the day my home was engulfed by fire. No one on earth or above asked me if I was ready for the shoulder shake. The morning started with a buzzy, two-minute car ride to my daughter’s school. It ended with us — me, my husband, our then 4-year old and 1-year-old — sharing a queen-size bed at my in-law’s house. I spent the night gasping for air while on my husband’s phone with my friends and family. My phone had been lost to the blaze.

We know the fire began in our sunroom and quickly spread while my son, grandmother, husband and I were inside. My virtual yoga instructor watched it all via FaceTime, frozen in horror as she watched the fire’s light and thick black smoke fill my living room. She saw us leave out of a door, but wasn’t sure where we’d gone. A fire departmentinvestigation deemed the cause inconclusive. So we’ll never know what exactly caused the biggest change of our lives.

In United States, a home fire was reported every 88 seconds in 2022, according to the National Fire Protection Association. The financial outcome of the fire is contingent on if you were a homeowner or a renter (we were the latter). Your insurance payment also depends on the amount of coverage you had, the cost of the personal items lost, and the deductible. Unfortunately, the process isn’t always so straightforward or timely, insurance companies are slow to pay or a mortgage lender buries homeowners in red tape. Since we were uninsured renters, a former co-worker started a GoFundMe for us, a common go-to for people and families who have recently experienced disasters.

The only items I retained from the fire were a crew-neck shirt, sweatpants and the underwear I was wearing. I never liked the shirt much. It’s teal and I’d bought it during my second pregnancy. I’m not a maternity wear person (too matronly! See: ugly), but I would buy clothes a bit bigger than my size. Now it feels like a spoil of war, or a wedding dress from a first marriage gone sour.

They’re just things. Of course they are. Then I really began missing all of those just things.They were more than that. A year later, we will live an hour away from the empty lot that once cradled our house.It took a few months for the new house to become ours. I squirmed until my mind adjusted to my new bedrooms, backyard and bathrooms. But through the slow acquisition of new things, this house feels like a warm embrace.

Credit…Steffi Walthall
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