So I haven’t woken up, but I also haven’t slept…I suppose that leaves me in some vague half-real limbo. We’re stuck somewhere between a life that burned and a life we have to build again.
My most important tool and one of my most important possessions, my camera, is gone. Someone picked it up in the midst of all the mess and didn’t bother to give it back, even though it had the first documentation of the physical damage stored on its precious SD card. I would have been fine if just the camera had disappeared. I can replace it for forty dollars. But the SD card is gone.
Today we begin the salvage.
I had a pheonix tattooed on my back years ago. It has become, as one would expect, an even better representation of myself within the last week.
The story is that a pheonix rises from the ashes. Lovely, yes. No one ever mentions that one has to trudge through the ashes and breath and taste the ashes before any kind of rebirth can occur.
I have not been back to the site for several days. The emotions tied to the reminders are becoming more overwhelming. They become stronger as it all becomes more real.
I’ve extended an invitation to Austin area photographers to come to what is left of my home and document the salvage. Most people tend to be extremely private and guarded concerning their personal tragedies. I don’t feel that way. I’m willing to allow my grief to be documented, for the pain to be photographed and recorded and perhaps observed by those who see the art that comes from it.
I have little time or money to prepare for this journey into the scene of what was my worst nightmare. All I really need are my boots and my flashlights, a mask, gloves, and lots of trash bags.
I really don’t even know what to write. After returning to the condo several times since the fire, I have ended up with a lot of half burnt stuff to clean off and more sadness in my heart than I ever thought possible.
Every time I go back I am confronted by a terrifying scene, a stage of sorts on which I perhaps used to live. As words run out I can only use my camera.
Even my camera cannot accurately describe what is left there.
When I went back yesterday to try to dig through some of the charred remains I met one of the more horrifying sights since this whole nightmare began.
I thought that my beloved birds had escaped the fire. They had an aviary, never cages. Their room had a window. I thought they had made it out.
A body. A tiny, lifeless body. Sammie. A cockatiel that I had raised from his birth in my home.
I’ve had my home taken from me. That was enough.
My neighbors laughed. That was enough.
Someone did all of this on purpose. That was, also, enough.
My freedom of speech will NOT be taken from me.
Under advisement from my lawyers, I have edited some of the previous posts. This is only to protect my parents. This story needs to be told and I will continue to tell it.
Lawsuits are pending and all I can hope is that the results of the investigation will come soon. Even then, though, I cannot return to what was my home.
Even when it is rebuilt, I cannot return to what was my home.
I was raised to believe that property rights are sacred. I had no reason to think that anyone had lied to me about that.
Perhaps I was wrong. I went, within a week, from owning a piece of property to owning nothing.
How did this happen? I’ll explain the best that I can but I warn you: it makes no sense.
The Association that seems to rule the place that I used to live is currently retaining an attorney to do nothing but ensure that I never reside on MY piece of property again.
On what grounds? I would really love to know. I’ve heard the most interesting slue of lies and slanderous stories over the last forty eight hours, all while attempting to salvage what is left, move into a temporary living situation, comfort my parents, provide investigators with any and all information, keep some sort of sanity, support my husband…and I can’t even go on with the list because I have lost much of my ability to reasonably process information.
My points are these:
Property rights mean nothing.
The things my family taught me are not true.
People who have enough money can do whatever they want.
Keep this in mind, reader, as you look around you. Know that any of it could be taken away from you by evil, corrupt people at any time. Just make sure that when you are alone, in a quiet room, that you can be at peace with yourself. Make sure that you can sleep at night. Make sure that your ethics are really your ethics and that they are right in your heart and in your mind.
I know that mine are. This is the only handle on sanity that I have.
Ralph Bererra of the Austin American Statesman was the only journalist on the scene. He took the photographs that will forever remind me of what I survived that day.
Thank you, Ralph, for documenting our survival.
You can view his blog at this address:
Today I am living in a hotel. My home is destroyed. So many questions still linger.
I’ve been told by one of my neighbors that there is a faction at Barton Terrace that will “make it impossible” for me to ever live there again. Barton Terrace is my home. I’m disappointed in most of my neighbors.
After being treated at Brackenridge and then released, I returned to the property. It had not been a dream it seemed. Left of my condo was a shell. The rest of the structure was intact.
I never would have expected the response I got from the people with whom I have lived for eight years.
My upstairs neighbor, Jack, smiled and remarked “so it finally happened. ”
My next door neighbor, Barak, demanded that he be put in a hotel because his place smelled bad. Mine was demolished.
The girl that lives with Barak informed me that something like this would never happen to her. I sincerely hope that it never does.
**** walked directly up to me and proclaimed “you killed your birds! ”
Shock had set in much earlier. Their comments added a relatively small amount of pain to the disaster that had just consumed my entire life.
I was confused.
Had I not just survived a fire that had left only a foot and a half of clear air near the floor of my condo? Was anyone going to ask me if I was ok? Did anyone care?
I was just seeing the ruins of my home and these people chose to attack me. Shame on you Jack, shame on you Barak, shame on you Barak’s girl, shame on you ****. I don’t know how any of you live with yourselves.
How can such hateful people exist? How can someone’s heart be so dead?
But it gets worse…
As I was being bombarded by my destroyed home and my heartless scum neighbors, the house guest from the night before returned.
She confessed. She confessed to my husband and several others that she had set the fire, that she had let the cat out when she left, that she had left us there to die in our sleep while our home burned.
We had opened our home to this woman and she had burned it down? In an attempt to kill us?
Investigators later informed us that she had even disabled the smoke detector. No wonder I had never heard it. I had tested it two weeks prior.
Her intention had been that my husband and I burn. In our sleep.
We survived the fire, barely, and we’re still alive. For that I am so grateful. But life is unsure. I have a roof over my head as a write this, but I don’t know what roof will be over my head tomorrow night or the night after that.
I can’t go back to my home, not because it smells bad but because it is gutted.
I have learned to love small things even more than before. I’ve learned to greatly appreciate any object that is not on fire. I very much appreciate the neighbors who are glad that we lived: Wendy, David, Frank, Cullen. Wendy gave me clothes. David is taking care of our cat. Thank you, kind neighbors.