Saturday, March 19, 2016

Heartbreak, Joe Persch

The Day it was Destroyed
by Joe Persch

 Everything was going great. It was better than I could have ever hoped to plan it. Then I woke up one morning and it all came crashing down in the span of a few short hours. For you to understand what I’m talking about, I’ll have to take you back about 12 years to where the dream all started so you can understand why it was so horrible when it was destroyed.
 Twelve years ago, my son wasn’t even a year old yet. I was married to his mother and we were preparing to close on the purchase of our first home. It was a row home, it was small, and it was old, but it was going to be ours. We were going to take our time and slowly fix it up ourselves. We wanted to learn how to do these things and become more self-sufficient.
 Even then, we recognized it as a good mind-set to have. The more skills you have in life, the more valuable you are wherever you go. Not only that, but it can save you money in the long run. So we bought the place. When we first moved in, it was a mess. We had things all over the place. There was a small path through the first floor to get to the kitchen and the back door as well as the stairs leading to the second floor.
 Our son’s room was the first one done. He was still in a crib, so it wasn’t too hard to give him a comfortable living space. Our room had the mattress for our queen size bed, but we couldn’t fit the box spring upstairs. That was ok for the time being. Our cat loved the maze of things to explore and pretty much had run of the house.
 Over the next few weeks, we arranged things, put things in the places we wanted and generally unpacked the way we saw fit. It was a liberating feeling. Unfortunately, the place smelled somewhat of smoke (the previous occupants had smoked like chimneys) the carpet was old and dirty, and it was dark. Being one of the houses inside the row, we didn’t have many windows and the paneling on the walls was dark. Even with lights on it felt dark and oppressive inside the house.
 Fast forward about a year and we finally are able to begin work to make this house a real dream. As anyone knows, dreams take planning, money, and most importantly, patience. We had been patient and talked seriously about our plans to make the downstairs brighter to start. We had some friends assist us with the work. We started by pulling down the paneling, finding that it had been tacked to 2x4s which had been nailed to the original plaster walls. My first thought was to pull of the old plaster as well, but on the advice of our friends who had more experience, we decided to utilize the boards already in place and put up drywall over top of it.
 We purchased a home depot card and got to work. It actually took us a few months of hard work and really only sleeping in the house as it wasn’t livable downstairs. However, that time paid off. We had the drywall up, carpet installers were brought in to do the carpet, and a customer of mine (I was an exterminator) came in and handled the finishing touches of baseboards, crown molding, and a false beam. We handled the painting. In all honesty, it looked like a different house. Oh, and we kept the carpet out of the dining room (seriously, who puts carpet in a dining room???) because we found beautiful hardwood floor underneath.
 After this, we got a dog from the SPCA. He was an old guy with bad eyesight and small fatty tumors all over his body, but he was a sweetie and we fell in love with him instantly. It took the cat some time to get used to him, but we weren’t to worried.
 Things happened over the years. Some good, some bad. Some really good. Some really bad. It’s tough to differentiate them in my mind now. They just kind of blur together. That’s ok though. Without all those experiences, I wouldn’t be where I am today. That house has held more memories for me than most other places. Especially since it was where my son has spent the majority of his life growing up.
 Fast forward to a few years ago. My wife and I had long since divorced (that’s another story, but it turned out well for all parties involved), my son was in grade school and doing pretty well, and my job seemed to be turning into a career. No further projects had really been done as the money and time just wasn’t there. But that didn’t stop me from planning.
 Then I met someone. She is amazing and loves me with all my faults and my quirky sense of humor. She loves my son as if he was her own. I couldn’t have asked for anyone better. She met with her own tragedies, but I was there for her through it all and it only made our bond stronger. We spent time together in the house when she would stay over sometimes. We would meet there and head out to other places. So many memories constantly being built in that house.
 Eventually, I began really wanting to get the place fixed up nicely and start renting it out so I could live with her and make a nice income off the house. The first house I ever purchased. I’m a sentimental sap and this house was not immune to my sentimental tendencies.
 So I started getting things out of the house and into storage. At the end of the school year, I officially moved my son in with my fiance in order to get him settled in the new school district. I was still living in the house about half the week while spending the other half at her house.
 Slowly, things were moving forward. But there were roadblocks. My workplace was changing hands as far as ownership and the services of my contract company were no longer needed. So those of us working there needed to find new sites, but there was no way we’d all be able to stay together. Especially those of us in supervisory positions. I had an opportunity to go work in the city, so I spent about a month in interviews for the new position and eventually got the job.
 However, this being the city, my work days went from about a 10 hour day (including travel) to a 12 hour day with travel included. It was so tiring that I just didn’t have the energy to do anything with the house most days. Every so often, I could do something, but it wasn’t frequent enough and my work on preparing the house slowed to what can best be described as a crawl. At worst it was like watching glass flow.
 Come fall, I began working with a contractor company to get work done on the bathroom in the house. The bathroom as it was looked like a walk in closet with a toilet and a square tub. The plan was to knock out the wall to the back bedroom and expand the bathroom into it. After a few months of planning and giving the go ahead to the company, work finally started. The demo work was done and prepped for plumbing to be re-routed, the furniture pieces were in the house and ready to go.
 Then it happened. The fire. Well, the first one at least. The second day of demo work couldn’t even get started right away because a fire broke out in the house next door. That fire didn’t do too much damage, though. Sure there were some holes in my ceiling looking outside because of the holes in the roof (shared attics, you see), but it wasn’t horrible. There was, however, water damage now and it would need to be taken care of. So my house was condemned until work could be completed to make it livable again. Still, not horrible. I called my insurance agent and he told me what I would need to do. I agreed and said I would take care of it. That day, I also grabbed a box of pictures because I didn’t want them damaged by any more water that might get into the house. I’m glad I did too. You’ll see why in a moment.
 I wanted to mull it over though and try to get a good look and what had happened before I did though, so I could explain as much as possible over the phone.  It was workable, but plans now needed to be changed.
 Then I was woken by my phone ringing the next morning. The voice on the other end was one of my neighbors and she was hysterical. My house was engulfed in flames. I jumped out of bed, dressed, and rushed over to see that the entire left side of the row was burning. Mostly, it came from the second floor and the roof was nearly gone. I stood there watching it in disbelief. I’m not sure how long I stood staring at it. When I finally shook myself out of it, I made sure everyone had made it out ok. They had, but barely.
 Then I went back to surveying the fire now destroying my house. The first house I ever owned. The house where my son spent most of his formative years. The house where I had found love and heartbreak in equal measure was now breaking my heart yet again.
 We always say that at least no one was hurt. Things can be replaced, but lives can not. This is essentially true. But we as human beings assign feelings to things we see as symbols. This house, no, this home, was a symbol for me. It was a symbol of stepping fully out of the shadow of my parents and beginning my own journey. A journey where I could not see the end and had no idea what was even around the corner.
 This house was my beginning. The memories are still there within me, but it’s a strange feeling. Even though we still have the memories, it feels like some of those memories are lost when the object we associate them with is lost. And in a way, they can be. Sometimes we don’t remember some of our favorite times until we see an object they were associated with.
 Even though I’m working through the process to have the house rebuilt (it will likely be close to a year - if not more - before it is all said and done), what was there is gone. The shell is there but the heart and soul of that symbol are gone. It’s a pain inside that is one of the most difficult to deal with because blame can’t even be assigned.
 At least when you have your heart broken by a person, you have a direction to focus your blame. A point, if you will. With an unfortunate incident like this, there is no direction of blame. Maybe you have a general direction when you find out what caused the fire, but it’s never so cut and dry. It makes the pain harder to deal with and more difficult.


 In the end, I ask all of you reading this to cherish the memories you have. You’re going to assign memories to symbols, whether they be your child’s favorite book, your pet’s favorite place to hide, or even your first house. Cherish them. Because everyone thinks this can’t happen to them until it does.

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