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  • Scott Booth

One year ago this morning, there was a small fire in our building. Finnan woke up a little before 5 in the morning and Kara asked me to take the early shift and get him his bottle. I changed his diaper and we had just settled ourselves on the floor upstairs for his first bottle of the day when the fire alarm went off. The fire report says it was 5:41am.


I brought Finnan downstairs with me and placed him on our bed with Kara while I grabbed my coat to go outside and walk around the building. As soon as I opened the door the sound of our alarm was louder and echoing off the house next to ours. It was really cold out and my neighbor Katie was standing in between our cars and then I turned around and saw her back door was open and the door to the utility room was wide open. Then I smelled the smoke coming from her open doorway. The sun hadn't come up yet but you could see light from under the heating system and that's when I first saw the flames.


Katie seemed like she was in shock, she had called the fire department and said they were on the way. I went back inside and grabbed all of our jackets and told Kara we had to get up and get out. By the time we all got outside, more of our neighbors had started emptying into the parking lot. Then the first fire truck arrived and we were told to go out to the front of the building. Then more fire trucks started pulling up and the sun was starting to rise.


The rest of the morning was a blur. I talked with the Chief of the fire department where we learned it was a small fire that started in the utility room of our neighbor, then it started creeping up the walls. Her whole utility room was damaged beyond repair but they were able to catch the fire before it did too much damage.


The other condo owners and I all gathered in our neighbors living room to decide which companies to hire for all the fire related jobs.


As soon as it had begun, it seemed like we were packed up and moved into my parent's house in Marblehead by the afternoon. And in a couple of weeks, months at the longest, we would move back into our home. We had all of our clothes cleaned, set up our lives in the downstairs of my parents house and got back to our lives.


Coincidentally, my parents also lived downstairs in that house when they were our age and needed a place to stay.


Two weeks later the news about the pandemic was everywhere, all the major sports postponed the rest of their seasons, my adult hockey league team was emailing back and forth about whether or not to go out to play in our Sunday night games. Suddenly our little house fire seems like the least important thing in the world.


We moved back into our neighborhood a few weeks after moving into my parents. My neighbor has an Airbnb and we rented it out using our insurance policy for temporary housing.


Before we knew it, it was August and we moved in to my mother-in-law's house when we exhausted the insurance money. Construction still hadn't begun and we had settled with our insurance company twice. Construction began in December, we were told many times the repair work needed in our unit was quick and easy. 2 to 3 weeks max.


Now we're in March and we still don't have a wall. We expect to move back in 2 to 3 weeks...


Now, a year has passed and we're still not living in our home, during the strangest period of my life where there's also a pandemic outside, hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives, millions have been sick and the entire world has been affected on every level. I feel like a crazy person for getting wrapped up in my house drama at a time like this.


We're incredibly lucky to have a wonderful supportive family who dropped everything to help us out when we had the fire. We're ridiculously privileged too because they all have the space to accommodate the four of us (including Porter who takes up an entire couch seat). We've been staying with my mother-in-law for 6 months now, our longest stay in any one place this year, and I can't imagine what this year has been like for her.


There are so many good things that came out of this year. This whole experience validated all my suspicions that I need very little in my life. We've been living without so many of our possessions for a year now that I forget what I've packed away waiting for us to retrieve it from the storage facility. I always wanted to embrace a minimalist lifestyle but this was not the way I expected it to play out.


I stopped my photography business this year and radically changed my idea for how I want to build a new, more fulfilling career for myself. We stopped bringing our son to daycare for a variety of reasons and I'm a stay-at-home parent while I work on my illustration career. I've been unpacking all my bullshit using a combination of counseling and good old-fashioned introspection. I've gained a deeper understanding of myself in what I want to spend my life doing. Brene Brown calls it a mid-life unraveling, I agree with that description. This isn't the way I expected any of this, but I'm also happy to have gone through it.


But it all still sucks and I want to complain about it so I will. I feel so displaced. So many things feel like they're up in the air. I am filled with self-doubt and fear about how to move forward that I'm searching for anchors to bring me back down to earth. I keep telling myself that everything will be easier when we move back into our home but I don't know if that's just wishful thinking. I have this constant battle in my life of expecting some external experience change how I feel internally. Like if I have my own art desk that I set up myself, I'll feel more settled and ready to tackle the projects I want to work on. Or, if I change my career, I'll feel better about myself. Or, if I can make as much money as I did when I left my graphic design job with my photography career, I'll feel validated.


Understanding all of my patterns and faulty logic hasn't helped me avoid making the same mistakes. I still idealize a world where I am master of my craft, I create artwork without any struggle and I'm rewarded with money for my talent and I'm endlessly happy and feel worthy. None of my previous 37 years have indicated that any of these things are attainable for even a small amount of time, but I hold onto this idea that this is the way my life should be and it's a never ending struggle between what my life is and what I think it ought to be. It's exhausting.


So back to the fire. It has uprooted me in more ways than one. I'm ready to move back home, even if it's just to prove to myself that it's not a magical puzzle piece that's holding me back from becoming a great artist. I just want to sit on my own couch again.

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