Nothing to Lose

Yesterday I had to make a choice. Go through all of my possessions one by one, figuring out what was so damaged by smoke, fire and possible asbestos and lead contamination that it absolutely needs to be thrown away, and what I want to pay a salvage company thousands of dollars to remove, clean, store and deliver to my new house, where I would warily eye each item for contamination for the rest of my life.

No time like the present to spill information that only my family and closest friends know, but I was born with two birth defects (a cleft palate and chiari malformation 1), very likely from chemical exposure in the womb. I paid thousands of dollars for an organic mattress, organic bedding, air purifier, organic cleaning supplies, etc. Do I really want potentially asbestos- and lead-contaminated items sitting around my new house for the rest of my life, items that I paid more to keep than to replace, that would remind me of the day my house caught fire while I was sick in bed? Would you?

The bed the insurance adjustors think I should sleep in one day.

I’m not completely sure yet, but I’m considering just walking away. I’ve thrown some of my most important smaller possessions in my trunk (which I will be getting cleaned 17 times and detailed before I put anything in ever again) and I’m ready to trash the rest. Everything. Books. Clothes. Artwork. Furniture. Photo albums.

The fire was horrible, but the fire didn’t mean to hurt me. Everyone is telling us something different. The asbestos inspector told us last Friday that we have 2% asbestos contamination in our drywall seams and everything will need to be removed by professionals in moon suits and respirators. Our landlords tried to tell us two days ago we only had less than 1% asbestos in the materials and we needed to have everything removed, and we need to do it quickly. I then asked them to confirm or deny whether there was 2% asbestos in the seams, and on the spot, they confirmed that there was. So, it’s not that they didn’t know. It’s that they didn’t realize we’d talked to the asbestos inspector and figured they’d omit a few facts. If we had listened to only them, we could have put our health at risk by removing everything ourselves. The fire wasn’t personal. This is.

And, because I am the eternal optimist, I am contractually obliged to find the silver lining. Here it is: I now know down to the marrow in my bones that I have nothing to lose in this world. Everything will eventually be taken away from me: my clothes, my furniture, my photos, my looks, my health, my memories, my life. All I’ve really ever had is my integrity and my intention, and I feel lucky these haven’t been taken away. I always knew this, but rarely on this planet is this combination tested. Most people who get everything taken away are understandably desperate, and forced to compromise their integrity and intention. I feel like my intention is even stronger now. Once I’m done with triage, I’m looking forward to rebuilding. And not with an asbestos-soaked mattress.

One thought on “Nothing to Lose

  1. David Ellis Dickerson says:

    This is why you’re such a gift to know. Speaking as someone who had to (non-catastrophically) whittle down his possessions to whatever fits in a suitcase, I’ve been there for a year and it turns out you’re absolutely right: Happiness has nothing to do with possessions, because you tend to get used to whatever you have and build from there. Writing is an especially powerful profession this way, and so thank goodness that a, you’re a writer, and b, you’re a sunny cheerful person. That part of you that is unsinkable is also indestructible, and it actually gives other people hope.


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