A hair dryer. A razor. Dental floss. Shoes. Socks.
Socks! Clean socks. Clean, dry, asbestos-free, soot-free socks.
Right this very minute, I want you to think of the last thing you were fretting or worrying about — whether your retirement stock had the right mixture of mutual funds, what you were going to make for dinner, how you were going to lose those last five pounds. And then look down at your feet. Do you have on clean socks and shoes?
Let it sink in just how much that probably matters to you, and just how little you need to think about it on an average day. Those other things? They are important, absolutely. I will gladly go back to worrying about them when I can. But I will probably spend quite a bit more time appreciating cleanliness and vanity every morning I wake up safe.
I still feel somewhat strange around civilian life. All three of us — Jen, Anne and I — just want to spend time with each other, maybe some of the other folks who were affected, and anyone in the fire damage business. I spent an hour at the San Francisco Fire Department’s Station 7 yesterday, but I could have spent a week.
These guys go into burning toxic buildings every single day of their lives. One of my favorite people in the world — hula dancer, surfer and firefighter Julie Mau — trains new recruits next to Station 7 now. She offered to print out a fire report for us, so I asked to meet her at the station. It turned out I met five of the firefighters who saved our house. And, yes, I did actually embrace each and every one of them. (Once I have an oven, they will have a fire house’s worth of chocolate chip cookies.)
As I started to profusely thank them, each one started apologizing profusely to me first: So sorry we had to break down the walls. Sorry we destroyed your bed. Sorry we had to pull down your curtains.
I find it hard to believe, but people actually complain to firefighters who are saving their homes, their lives and their neighbors lives. They complain about machete-ing into their walls, causing water damage, destroying their possessions in the rush.
So, on behalf of all of those people who have ever complained to a firefighter, I told them this:
I don’t fucking care.
I don’t fucking care, even if they’d destroyed every single thing I’ve ever owned. I don’t fucking care that they threw everything in a soggy mess on my bed. I don’t fucking care if my grandparents’ wedding silver has been waterlogged in asbestos. I don’t fucking care if the only clothes I’ll ever see again are the ones in the laundry hamper I somehow managed to grab and take with me.
In April 1906, San Francisco experienced one of the worst natural disasters in US history. But it wasn’t the earthquake that destroyed most of the city. It was the fires. Our fire started in our next-door neighbor’s garage — some electricity/circuitry thingie seven levels above my technical knowledge. But my bedroom — next door and two stories up — was mostly destroyed.
My roommate and our next-door neighbor on the other side called 911 within eight seconds of each other, the fire report states. The fire department arrived at 2.38pm, three minutes after those calls. The flames were out within probably 20 minutes, and the fire was deemed fully contained by 3.22pm. About 30 firefighters and 12 trucks went into hyper-efficient action. They put up two ladders in less than a minute, and 10 firefighters were on the roof in less than five.
I was standing below, watching as the men tore my curtains off the road, hacked through my closet and threw everything onto the bed. And all I could think was how much I wanted to hug them. Our houses are about one and a half inches apart where the fire started. The houses next door aren’t any more than two or three inches. And the houses next door to those, same.
I’m luckier than most people who live through a fire, not to mention the ones that don’t make it. Besides a little smoke inhalation, we weren’t hurt. We made it out safely, even with enough time to go back for a second arm-full of stuff. My roommate Jen and a firefighter rescued my very scared cat Romeo from the backyard, and he’s now living with his next-door best friend Scout and his very generous owners. I have insurance. I have a good job. I have friends and family, and an incredible support system.
I’ve had one of the most varied lives of just about anyone. I’ve had some of the most amazing experiences, and I’ve been through several different levels of hell in my life, easily a half-dozen experiences worse than this. Oh, don’t get me wrong, this fucking sucks. But it’s just stuff.
Besides, I got to hug and kiss five firefighters.
Next up, flat iron my hair.