When the phone call from my mom started with, “Everyone is OK. No one is hurt,” I knew the second part of her sentence was going to be bad.
My head raced. We are in Louisiana on vacation. Had our house been broken into? She was watching our dog, had something happened to Van Gogh?
“There was a fire at the storage unit.” Long, long pause.
“Everything is gone.”
It took a while to sink in. What is she talking about? What does this mean? What did we even have in there?
About 30 seconds later it sunk in – everything was in there.
When we moved from Anderson to Evansville we decided we wanted something small so we could save up money to buy a house. We knew it would be temporary. So all of our belongings that were once in a four bedroom house had to be wheedled down to the absolute essentials to fit into our tiny two bedroom duplex in Evansville.
So we got a storage unit at the same building my mom has used for years to store Christmas decorations and other miscellaneous items.
Lots of furniture went there – an entire bedroom set and mattress, a chaise lounge, a rocker, an easy chair, a couch, book shelves, my Papa’s desk that I admired my entire childhood and was able to take after he passed away, my great-grandmother’s vanity that I remember sitting at as a little girl to put on play make-up, several lamps and the most amazing blonde butcher block table that my parents had my entire childhood and had saved for me. There were even crayon drawings on the bottom of it courtesy of my sister and me.
And then there were boxes and boxes of books. Books from my childhood, coffee table books of photography and newspaper, novels Michael and I had collected over the years, special books given to me by my dad and mom with beautiful inscriptions.
And then the pictures, the keepsakes, the letters and cards, the mementos of life. I had saris from Bangladesh, tapestries from Thailand, dolls from Guatemala and sculptures from Haiti – all gone. All irreplaceable.
Michael, who admittedly is much less sentimental than I, even was crushed by some of the losses. Baseball gloves he’d used as a kid he was anxious to pass on to Miles; baseball cards he’d collected since childhood; a handful of childhood toys and clothes his mom had saved so we could pass down to our kids – all gone.
Our high school and college diplomas – gone.
We just bought a house and have spent the last month excitedly planning about how we would decorate and furnish it with all of our stuff we’d been missing for the past year tucked away in storage. Our current apartment in Evansville has empty walls, no decorations as we’d stored them all.
All of our plans about what would go where meant nothing.
As I was processing the enormity of it all while on the phone with my mom I couldn’t hold the tears back. She apologized profusely although she had no control or anything to do with it. But what do you say in a situation like this?
I’ve written dozens of stories about people who have lost everything in a fire. I’ve interviewed those families and was only able to offer a hopeful apology and sympathy, never empathy though. I had no idea what it feels like.
After hanging up the phone the tears turned to sobs. I cried so hard I nearly threw up. I was devastated. Yes, it is unbelievably frustrating that we are going to have to start all over furnishing this house with both furniture and decorations (minus the tiny bit of stuff we had in our apartment). But the part that makes my whole body ache, the part that still brings tears to my eyes days later, is that irreplaceable stuff.
There was so much of my life in there. The hardest things to think about being gone forever are the things from my dad. I had countless letters, cards, notes and poems that he wrote me saved. These are things I’ve saved for more than 20 years, things that meant so much to me. In a way, I felt the loss of my dad all over again. There was comfort in knowing I had those things that he’d written me, those connections to those times, in a physical form that I could physically hold on to.
Now they are gone.
I wipe away the tears though and keep telling myself, it’s just stuff. No one, not even the three men who have been arrested in connection to the arson that destroyed the storage unit, can take away the memories of my childhood, my travels and adventures or the amazing man and father my dad was.
It’s just stuff, right.