Even though I left, Chicago is still with me. Even though I left, New Orleans is still with me.
The one upside to this experience has been the response of our friends. Dean and I have been unspeakably moved by the unsolicited gift cards and even a few care packages that we have received to help get us through this rough spot. Even friends from growing up in Louisiana, who I haven’t seen in years, have been supportive. About twenty (give or take) amazing individuals have made this experience a little less rough.
I will take this opportunity to apologize to anyone who tried to call or text in the first day or two after the fire. I was completely in a fog and don’t even remember texts that I see that I sent on my phone. I was not in a place to talk on the phone, so I pretty much sent all calls to voice mail. I didn’t know how to respond to offers of help because I had no idea what I needed. The only thing I can compare it to is the moments right after you’ve been hit by a car when someone asks you what hurts. EVERYTHING hurts, and at the same time nothing hurts. Because you’re in shock.
Dean and I have been sleeping on a borrowed air mattress for over a week now. Or not sleeping. For me it feels more like not sleeping. Last weekend we went down to my parents’ house to sleep in a bed and just have places to sit and tables around us. We also got to see Jake, who is having a great time at grandma and grandpa’s house. I’m glad they have been able to take him so that he doesn’t have to deal with our stress and transience.
We did some shopping with our gift cards while we were there and began replacing a few things. It seems like every time I turn around there’s something else though. I have no way to make coffee. I have no coffee even if I did have a way to make coffee. I only have one hair tie. I only have one pair of leggings to wear to work. A friend of ours made a professional connection with Dean who has invited us both to dinner tonight. I’m trying to decide if I will wear the one purple long sleeved shirt I have (it’s going to be 75 degrees, but it’s the only casual shirt I have that doesn’t have something written on it) or the strappy yoga top from Athleta that might be able to pass for a cool tank top if I put the jacket I got at Target on top of it. I started looking at places to audition to teach and realized that not only do I not have my notebooks of classes from the past decade of teaching, but I don’t have any of my music. It’s been an interesting experience in forced creativity.
Some of this stuff will come back to us once it’s been treated. It’s kind of nerve wracking wondering what will and will not return though. Should we just order a bed? The bed is probably toast but what if it’s not….? Will any of our kitchen stuff make it?
I wrote an entry a few weeks ago with reminders of how to deal with an upheaval type move. I had no idea that I’d need that advice again so soon. I am trying to prioritize sleep, but I wake up in the middle of the night, usually about 1am and have trouble getting my mind to stop. I try to meditate. Sometimes I am more successful than others. I’m still getting workouts in, but I don’t feel like myself. I feel inflamed and puffy. We are eating pretty well actually. Mostly because veggies are cheap and easy to cook.
Once we’re out of this mess, are gainfully employed and on stable ground, I hope that I’ll be able to help support someone else in the way that Dean and I have been supported. As a reminder to myself, and maybe a guide for others in the future, here are few things I’ve learned about how to do that:
If you know what to do, don’t ask, just do. I had no idea what I needed and, especially in the first few days, felt very guilty about accepting offers of help. Those first few people who just sent gift cards to my email or Venmo’d money to Dean without asking us if we needed it gave us so much mental relief that it make it easier to recognize and accept that we needed help. Patti offered us a place to stay one night and when we got there she had planned and cooked a healthy meal and just handed us glasses of wine without asking if we wanted/needed any of it. (We really really did want and need all of it.)
If you call/text/email in the first three days after whatever tragic event and don’t get a response, or get one that seems fraught with some kind of emotion (even if it may not be the one you expect), check back again in a few days. I got so many calls and texts the first day or two when I was still trying to wrap my head around what had happened, and also figure out what next steps were, that sometimes all I had time/brain power to send was a ‘thank you’ and other times I may have completely unloaded my frustrations on someone who just wanted to say they were thinking about me, but caught me at a tipping point.
If you do want to help, be specific about what you want to do. I got a lot of ‘what do you need?’ or ‘is there something I can do from here?’ questions that I didn’t know how to answer. My mental overload was already so great that it was easier for me to just say ‘no, thank you’ than actually come up with things. I was also constantly afraid of asking too much of people. Easy, concrete questions like ‘what is your email?’ or ‘what address are you using right now?’ are great for anyone wanting to send something. Yes or no questions are great, like, “I have clothes, do you want me to send them to you? I will send them to you.” or “I would like to send you a gift card. Target?” People who asked these questions, thank you. It alleviated the guilt of accepting help and took away any need to do extra ‘thinking’ on our already overwhelmed brains.
Keep liking and commenting. Social media has it’s problems, no doubt, but I definitely felt really supported by everyone who was following what we were going through. It felt less like shouting into the void.
We really have appreciated everyone who has reached out in every way. Currently we’re having to keep flexible, not really knowing when we might expect our stuff back. It could be tomorrow and it could be Monday. (Or later.) And we’re still not sure what is coming back. We still need the fire report, so we’re constantly going by the office, and we need to get that to insurance once we have it. I’m also very interested to see what it says in terms of cause and liability. In the meantime, we’re still trying to do all the stuff you normally do when you move; ANOTHER change of address form, getting new drivers licenses, buying a car, new bank, trying to find jobs, trying to find ways to network, etc. Every time we get an email or message of support, it’s like a little shot of energy.
If we get mostly settled by Friday, we may try and head back to Alabama this weekend, have some normalcy, collect Jake. If it’s not going to be until next week, we may still head to Alabama for some normalcy and a regular bed, but leave Jake for a little while longer. Still deciding what would be best for everyone. (Update, just heard that we won’t be getting anything back until Monday, so skipping town this weekend. Real bed here we come!)
Thank you all for following along and rooting for us. Sending your energy, sending gifts, whatever you send our way, we really really don’t take any of it for granted. We use all of it. All of the energy, all of the love, we use it all and we thank you and we appreciate it fully.