It seems to easy to point to a year ago as the point when my life became topsy-turvy. When I think about it, though, it was really two years ago that things started happening. That was when I hooked back up with L. after so long. She reawakened parts of myself I had kept buried since Antioch, and with the help of The Artist’s Way, I reclaimed myself. However, that came at the cost of realizing that I had gotten myself into a bad “situation” in the past few years, and part of the change I underwent was to remove myself from that situation, and start this site.
A little over a year ago, someone from the situation hurt me very bad, and very deliberately. I don’t want to go into the details, but I found the act unconscionable. I thought I had moved past the point of revenge and all that, but on this one instance, my own conscience faltered, my beliefs simply were shoved aside by my most basic of instincts. I hurt the person back, as bad as the person had hurt me. At the time it felt like a justified act, given what had happened to me, but in the months that passed I came to realize how wrong I was. The person and I eventually got to talking, and we both apologized for our actions, but in the process of hurting this person, I hurt a lot of other people as well. I have asked for forgiveness for what I did, but that forgiveness has been slow in coming, and understandably so.
It was in the shadow of my poor judgment that everything changed. My best friends had personal business to tend to that took them away from our former gregariousness. A window of opportunity opened itself up in terms of my Website design career, but I had to act fast, and the decision about whether or not I should return to college was making me falter. Then one night as I was drawing a picture of one of my absent friends, this strange smell permeated through the crack of my bedroom door.
I already recorded all the events of that night down in the journal earlier, so you can go read those if you need refreshing on the fire that destroyed the second floor of my house, as well as any naive sense of security I might have had. For nearly a year I was relocated to a hotel room, with the rest of my family. While I have the opportunity here, I’d like to thank the staff and management of the Residence Inn in Holland, Ohio for treating us so well. We Shannons aren’t exactly the tidiest of lots, and Residence Inn gave us more kindnesses than we ever deserved.
But there I was, cooped up in a hotel room, albeit a fairly nice hotel room, with a second-floor loft all to myself (although I shared the same loud noises and nasty smells from my father’s James Bond movies and my mother’s cigarettes since there was only a half-wall between the loft and the first floor). At first I was told we would be back in the house by August, so I packed accordingly; at the end of August we didn’t even have a contractor to rebuild the house. We finally got a contractor, but then delays kept pushing the reconstruction back and back and back. Christmas at the hotel was no Christmas at all. By my birthday I was just numb, wanting to do whatever it took to get past this period of pain.
2002.04.22, a Monday morning, ServiceMaster delivered all the things they had cleaned off after the fire, then put in storage, to the house. That evening I drove over to the house with a few boxes of things from the hotel that I wouldn’t need right away, and started getting things around in my room. Before I did so, though, I paused on the front porch for a bit. I looked around at all the houses by ours, the street I’d bicycled so often when I was younger. It was all so familiar, yet still distant. I’d visited the house several times after the fire, to photograph the reconstruction or just to feed Rowan while she was still living here, but for once I finally realized that I was reclaiming my neighbourhood. I was coming back to roost.
But what was this strange place? Throughout the reconstruction, my sister kept saying the same thing over and over again: “It’s a great house; I’m just trying to figure out who’s going to live here.” Indeed. My father, ever the architect, redesigned the house, and nothing really feels the same. Where my bedroom, the only bedroom I had known my whole life prior to the fire, used to be, is now closet space and a bathroom for my parents. I find it no small irony that where my television and stereo used to stand, is now a commode. The door to my bedroom has been blocked off, and an alternate entrance put in to my old living quarters through my parents’ bedroom.
All throughout the construction, I kept coming up here to this little corner of the second floor, the place that everyone had said was going to be my new bedroom. Once ServiceMaster had brought my stuff back up here, though, then things finally sunk in for me. My father touted how much more space I have up here compared to my old bedroom, but the thing is that I don’t really need much floor space, I need wall space for bookshelves to hold all the junk I carry. I think I actually have less wall space than I used to, because I’ve got a much bigger window, and an absolutely huge closet that I have no real use for (again, closet space isn’t a priority for me). Nevertheless, it was time to make this space my own.
After moving a couple of bookshelves around, and getting my computer desk and bed where I wanted them, I set to unpacking what ServiceMaster had brought. And believe me, it was a lot, and ServiceMaster didn’t even bother delivering half of it upstairs; I had to make many trips up and down the stairs, hauling huge cardboard boxes full of heavy books and magazines, and when you carry a school backpack as big as mine, your back just doesn’t care much for that extra exertion. Anyway, the first thing I unpacked was the killer stereo system I’d bought just months before the fire, to prove to myself what I suspected all along; as cool as Delerium sounded on the boom box at the hotel, they sound all the cooler on a stereo with more bass than any human being could ever need, want, or deserve.
Over the next few days I kept moving boxes from the hotel to the house, or else just stopped at the house to unpack more ServiceMaster boxes; I made it a point to hit the house at least once each day. As I was here, though, I kept going downstairs, walking around the new living room, the new kitchen, the new everything. Even if a room wasn’t moved from its prior location, it still looked so much different. And I kept thinking to myself, “Am I really home?” Looking out of windows seemed so familiar, but inside things were utterly perplexing. And I was still trying to figure out how I was supposed to live in this space.
That Saturday, I gathered all the boxes I had at the hotel, crammed all of my stuff into them, and left there for good. My parents had moved back here a couple of nights earlier, so we were tripping over each other for a good while as I struggled to get all my stuff up here, including having to haul computer equipment through a growing rainstorm, a rainstorm that reminded me of the storm that hung overhead while I watched the second floor of this house ablaze. Now not only was I coming back into the house, but I was moving right back up where an inferno once stood.
One of the things that struck me, as I settled in here, was that I kept wanting to go out of my room to check on things out there. Something about the familiar sight of my own TV, my own stereo, my own bookshelves, my own computer desk, compelled me to see if there was something else going on inside the house while I was relaxing. There wasn’t, of course, but it took me a few days to get past that.
I’m not really going to get past it in full, though. That isn’t to say that I’m paranoid about the house catching on fire, because I’m not. But I’m being wholly realistic when I say that the house can catch on fire again. Surely we’re all going to be more careful about fire hazards in the future; I’m not going to burn incense in my room anymore, my sister’s given up her candle habit (which I think was costing her nearly as much as her cigarette habit), and we made damn sure to get plenty of smoke detectors in this new place, and hard-wired them all in so we don’t have to worry about changing batteries. Of course, that means nothing if the power goes out in a storm, and considering it was likely a lightning strike that started the fire in the first place, I’m not sure if I’m too comfortable about that.
My sister moved out of the Residence Inn a few days after I did, and right now the hotel’s probably busy undoing all that we did to the room. Our fire insurance paid for the hotel stay, but we’ll probably have to pay for all the woodwork in the room that needs to be replaced thanks to Spyder’s claw-sharpening. I took photos of the hotel room before I started packing (for my own usage, not for posting here), but I have one other souvenir from the hotel that’s still in my purse pocket: my key card.
That key card is the same one I talked about a few months ago, with the crying bald eagle and the image of the World Trade Centre towers ablaze. Another reminder of all that happened in my life while I was in that hotel room. The events of 2001.09.11 didn’t hit me as close to home as others I knew, but we were all affected by them. I guess I had enough things going on in my own little world to be too shaken by them, though. That must sound horribly selfish, I know, and it’s not like my opinions on that day are in the majority. That key card is going to make an awfully interesting keepsake, though.
So much else changed in that year, too. I decided to put my career on hold, and get that college degree that I’d never bothered getting before. In the years I was away from academia, I was worried that my brain was dying, that the mental exercises that used to come so easily for me were becoming difficult. According to the grades I have received so far, my brain’s still as sharp as it ever was, although the only reward I have to show for that so far is a form letter. And hey, it looks like I exited the Internet job market at the right time, right when the industry hit bottom; by the time I graduate in a couple of years, the job market should pick up, and I should be able to land a nice position somewhere.
One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is how much I miss my friends. One of the things I realized near the end of the situation is how liberally I had applied the term “friend.” I had buddies from the situation, but none of them were really friends to me. The fact that I had made these new friends after doing The Artist’s Way, and how strong a friendship I felt with them, helped me to see that. At school I’ve made new buddies, and a couple of them might even be friends, but not friends of the same kind as the ones I still miss. I suppose the phrase “true friend” is a bit clich�, but it certainly applies.
I’ve always felt misunderstood, and given how I was treated in school as I was “growing up”, it’s not hard to see why. So when I’ve made a true friend, I do all I can to keep him or her. I’ve lost true friends before, though, and sometimes the blame for that fell solely into my hands. I hope that’s not the case right now, but all I have to do is look back to last year, when I let all the worst parts of myself get the better of me, to know that it’s certainly in my capacity to have screwed things up, intentionally or not.
It’s been nearly a year since the fire now. I have somewhat of a social life back, thanks to the buddies I’ve met at college. I don’t have much of a job anymore, but now I’m doing what it’ll take to get an even better job, once I get out of college. I finally have my house back, insomuch as this feels like “my” house. All I want now are my old friends, my true friends, my best friends, back in my life. Maybe that’s asking too much. Maybe I don’t have the right to ask for it at all.
If I’ve learned one thing from this past year, it is to cherish what we have in the present, because we never know when it may be taken away from us. I’ll never know the simple security of sleeping in my childhood bedroom ever again. I’ll never know if that job opportunity I could have taken would have turned into something as good as I’ll get after I get my degrees. And maybe I’ll never know the joy of being around my best friends again. I don’t want to think that, though. All I can do is keep hoping, keep doing everything I can to finally reclaim that last part, that most important, of what I lost last year.
Houses can be rebuilt. New jobs come and go like the tides. But true friendships are forever, irreplaceable. Please, may my true friends come back into my life. Please.
Everyone take care and be well. I’ll see you all around.