How to Recreate Your Life

It’s the same every time.
“Where are you from?”
“Bonny Doon.”
“Oh, no! Were you affected by the fires?”
“Yes. We lost everything.”

…..crickets….

I always feel like a bit of a fraud saying we lost “everything.” We had packed up some stuff the night before – a few changes of clothes, our meds, our important documents, our computers, and the dogs’ food, crates, medications, and blankets.

So, we didn’t lose everything.

In the first few days, we had an unending caravan of Amazon trucks dropping off the very most basic things we’d left behind. Underpants, socks, pens. We were living in my mother’s spare room, so there was a limit to how much we needed to replace. When we moved into a rental house and found ourselves in the position of having to create a household from nothing, there was another round of Amazon deliveries and trips to big box stores.

I’ve come to see that there are four different kinds of buying I’ve been doing, and I really have to evaluate every purchase to see which kind it is before I hit “buy.”

  1. Absolute necessity
    There were things we needed that we had zero of — things like baking pans, cloth napkins (we’re hippies – paper is a no-no), cleaning products, basic spices, a bed, etc. These are easy. If I can’t carry on a quotidian task without it, it’s a necessity.
  2. Re-creating the old house
    Although we’d already identified quite a few things from the old house that we’re not replacing (good-bye, harp), I keep stumbling over “we had it at home, so we should have it here.” I really have to talk myself down from buying things like huge rugs, cute little tables, my famous steamer trunk office. I mean, there’s a very good chance that I will put some of those things back, but I have no idea what the space is even going to look like right now, so I can’t start buying large, furniture-type things for a house that doesn’t exist yet.
  3. Filling up the rental house
    This place is nearly as big as our hold house, which means that there are miles of bare walls, open floors, and empty counters. At our old house, we had to create space for things because every nook and cranny was full. It’s hard to resist the urge to look at the space we’re in and think “this corner could use a little table,” or “I should get a lot more plants.” I have to keep reminding myself that we’re not staying here forever, and when we leave here, we’ll be moving into a space less than half this size.
  4. Filling up the new house
    I’ve already decided on the themes for each of the rooms, which will dictate what kind of stuff I’ll want to get. I’ve been buying smallish things that will go into the rooms -— hourglasses for the Pratchett room, a pair of raven lamps for the Clarke library — but apart from the furniture we need for daily functioning, I’m afraid to buy any large furniture until I know what the new house will look like and so what spaces we’re trying to fill.

Everyone wants to give us things to replace what we’ve had, but that’s not quite right. Then they want to give us things in themes we like, but we’re not quite ready for that. The one thing I have received from my friends that I will always accept, that I will take a zillion of no matter where I’m staying, are books. My friends have really been coming through there, and I know that once we get into our new house, I’ll already have my friends there with me.

I Want My Cigarettes

There’s a scene in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest where the men are sitting in their group circle talking, and Cheswick tells Nurse Rached he wants his cigarettes. Murphy tries to get one of the other men to give him a cigarette, and Cheswick gets angry, shouting that he doesn’t want anyone else’s cigarettes, he wants his cigarettes.

I’ve had a hard time going shopping. There are tons of things I need. New bras. New socks. New toothbrush. But every time I go into a store and see all the things I used to have, my mind just stops, and I stand looking at things like I’m hypnotized, which, in a way, I guess I am.

In addition, everyone has been beyond kind in offering things to us, especially our mothers, with whom we’re staying. It’s hard not to seem rude by refusing these very kind offers. I have two perfectly valid excuses: we don’t have the space to store anything, and there are plenty of things we won’t need until we have our own place anyway.

My husband and I went and visited the house, partly out of curiosity to see what might be left, and partly out of the need for pictures to prove to our insurance company the house is not salvageable. What we saw was like every apocalypse movie you’ve ever seen. Random bits of metal sticking out of drifts of ash, with occasional nonsensical, whole, undamaged things amid the carnage.

a pot, a pie server, a mug

Our 6-gallon stockpot, a 3-tiered pie stand, and an antique shaving mug belonging to the Pirate’s great-grandfather.

The stockpot was seldom used for food, and we got the pie stand out perhaps once a year. The shaving mug wasn’t technically whole, but it had been in the Pirate’s family forever and had an interesting history. I had no emotional attachment to these things, and am, at best, indifferent to their survival.

two and a half foot celtic cross made of metal

The Celtic cross from the front gate of our garden – the thing I saw as I came down the driveway, and as I went inside the house from the garage.

This Celtic cross was a newer addition to our house, but one that gave me a lot of joy. We’d gotten it at the Highland Games four or five years ago, and affixed it to our front gate, where the wisteria slowly surrounded and framed it. Every time I looked at it, its beauty struck me. This is the one and only thing whose survival touches me.

I went today to replace my Doc Martens. I wanted the exact pair of sandals I’d had, because I loved them and thought they looked great, but the store didn’t have them in my size. And then I realized that I didn’t want a replacement for the things I had.

I didn’t expect shopping to be this hard. I tried to go by myself once, and ended up having to call the Pirate for emotional support from the middle of Costco. I can be upbeat and optimistic about constructing a new house, but now I know that replacing the things in it will be a very different story.

Because I don’t want your things, or their things, or new things. I want my things.