April 23, 2013

high hopes and other things still standing

[I'm sorry for the slowness of this update, as I know people are concerned.  I've been writing this post since yesterday...I fell asleep in bed while writing the first part last night.]

Last night when we left the chill of the street in our pyjamas to go to the neighbours', there were massive amounts of smoke billowing out of all of our windows, and huge flames visible on both sides of the building on the second floor, including the apartment directly below ours.   It seemed unreasonable to hope for much, though as I lay awake trying to sleep, I did let some hope creep in around the sides.  Maybe the papers inside the filing cabinets would be okay.  Maybe the enameled cast iron pots would make it through.  

The third-floor windows are ours.

Here's the story on CTV, the Montreal Gazette, and the CBC (where I grabbed the video).

In the morning, I discovered my stepdaughter had been thinking the same way.  Maybe, she said, Blue Bunny (her beloved stuffed rabbit, companion since birth) would have made it through, somehow.  Maybe, I said.  But I don't think we should be too optimistic.   No, she agreed, he's probably burnt to a crisp.  

Well, he wasn't burnt to a crisp, through he was in a half-collapsed kitchen, smoky and waterlogged, and one trip through the washing machine still hasn't gotten the smell out.  But Blue Bunny lives!

Rescued friends.

In fact, though it looks like a tornado has ripped through the middle of our place, many of our belongings have been spared (although they all have severe smoke damage, and it remains to be seen whether it will be a) possible or b) economically feasible to have the smoke removed).  

Based on my blog post the night of the fire, Steph at Bella's Bookshelves started the most generous campaign to help me rebuild my library, but I am happy to say that somehow the books have survived, apart from smoke damage.  I am also touched beyond belief by all the supportive messages and offers of help I have received.  If I haven't had a chance to write back to you personally yet, please know your thoughts have made a difference in this stressful time.  

(Re: stress. It is possible I might have said something along the lines of 'This week couldn't get any more stressful"...between the two talks I have to prepare and give, plus three readings/appearances, a 24-hour trip to Ottawa, and a charity photo shoot...  well, anyway...I was wrong!  Thanks, Fate, for taking me up on that.) 

We were able to get into the building yesterday and today, and we grabbed a few things.  The acrid smell is terrible, though, and it is hard to breathe.  After a little while, my head hurt and I started to find it difficult to think clearly or make decisions.  At least half of the photos I took today were unusable and blurry.

The floor.  There's a carpet under there somewhere.

More of the living room floor.

The living room.

The kitchen.
More of the ex-kitchen.

I'm not sure how it worked out this way, given all the books we have (in my previous blog post I estimated 16 bookcases, but it is actually more like 20, though some of them are small ones), but none of them were touched by fire or water.  They seem to mostly have been out of range of the disaster, except for the smoke.  Anyone who has read Steph's blog post (I know the original post was re-shared several times without the update) and wants to help, I would ask you not to send me any books.  Your kind thoughts mean so much already, and right now, we are just coping with what we need to do to save the ones we have.  (Literary agent Denise Bukowski left a kind comment saying that it would probably be more helpful to me to buy a copy of one my books, and I certainly can't argue with that.)

More kitchen disaster, but with a bookcase still standing.

We had nine bookcases in the hallway. Only a few books fully trashed. Points for picking out the CanLit titles.

The fire started just after 10:30 p.m.  We were watching television when we heard a very loud banging on the door.  When we went to see what it was, we saw thick smoke billowing in under our front door very quickly.  We woke up my stepdaughter, unlocked the back door and headed down the fire escape together.  The neighbours who had banged on our door were already out there. In a way, I'm proud that I did not stop to grab a single thing.  We all got downstairs in less than two minutes, and by that time, the smoke was coming out the back door.

Of course, in the long night when I was sure everything was gone, I had a pang about not saving anything.
Besides the obvious practicalities (wallet, phone, computer), here are the things of mine I thought about and wished I had been able to save: 
  • a painted book of illustrations from my wedding, made by my friend Kathleen, which I've been meaning to scan for months and months, in case anything should happen to it
  • some love notes from my husband 
Given that I have always been a pack-rat, someone who is extremely sentimental about parting with belongings, it interested me to note that these were the only things it really made me cry to consider losing, out of a whole overstuffed apartment full of stuff.  I'm going to try to remember this fact, going forward.

Some other things I really, really regretted the possibility of losing:

  • a necklace my husband gave me for our first anniversary
  •  a small David Milne watercolour that had been gifted to us
  • my childhood books
  • some stories I wrote when I was a kid 
But all of these things are fine.  We have lost nothing that matters, and all in all, we are unbelievably lucky.  Of the four units in the building, ours is the only one that is not completely destroyed --the two bedrooms are basically fine, except for severe smoke damage. Given the 90 firefighters it took to put out the four-alarm fire, it seems nothing short of miraculous.  They did an amazing job preserving what they could.  I am so grateful to be alive, so grateful to have somewhere to go (we're staying with my in-laws), and so touched by the outpouring of support from friends, family, acquaintances, and even strangers.  We're part of an amazing community.


Steph said...

Thank you so much for this post. I'm updating my blog now.

I'm so very grateful you're okay but also that so much that matters survived.

Vanessa said...

Oh Sal-

I'm so glad to hear that you have all gotten through this relatively unscathed. If it is any consolation, I'm writing this from a couch that was lovingly restored after a devastating fire hit my grandparents' retirement home. It really is amazing what can be saved, recovered, and refurbished these days. Lots of love! xo

Jules said...

I am so so so glad you guys are safe. When you said "it's not as bad as we thought it would be", honestly, this is not what I expected to see. These photos are so devastating. But as you say, most of the loss is just stuff, and the things that really matter seem to have made it through. Sending hugs and positive vibes.

Samantha said...

I can't imagine how awful an experience this must have been for all of you. However, I'm so happy you are all safe, and that so many of your treasured possessions are fine.

saleema said...

Thanks so much, everyone. Your supportive thoughts have been helping me through this smoky time! (For real.)