Another Fire

“Please, Lord, not another fire—not this again.” That was all I could say Monday morning as I saw the fire trucks lining our block and smelled that the blaze was near. Looking up towards the sky I could see glowing … Continue reading

Fear & Worry

Sometimes I feel as though fear and worry have entered my head like a pair of spiders and spun a web of anxiety that catches hold of my other emotions––my hopes and dreams as well––keeping them all stuck until they’re sucked lifeless. Fear is not always the primary emotion. Quite often it is mixed with other hues and colors––the grayed blue of sadness or a fiery shade of anger.

My fear is inversely proportional to my faith. If I believed more (in God, others, myself) I’m sure I’d worry less. Too often I am so focused on some frightful, imagined future, that I am blind to the benefits and blessings of the present. I worry about today’s decisions because I am trying to protect myself (or someone else) from some future consequence that isn’t guaranteed to occur. I’ve replaced the imaginary friends of my youth with many imaginary outcomes (and they’re almost always ominous).

I let fear and worry get in my way a lot. They hold me back from making decisions and changes or taking risks. What I fear is often hypothetical (and unlikely), but even knowing that, I still see it as an obstacle. And if I don’t overcome it, trepidation keeps me immobilized when I need to start making progress.

What do I fear? I fear loosing more of my loved ones. I’m afraid that I’m too insecure and too over-confident. I fear that my right leg will always be smaller than my left. I fear that I will fail in achieving my dreams—and that my failure will not be the result of rejection or a lack of ability, but of defeating myself with weapons of self destruction—that I’ll talk myself out of trying. I fear that I don’t know the way. And while I suspect God is calling me to focus on and follow the sound of his voice, I fear I’m not really listening. I’m afraid that I’m afraid of too many things, and that my fears get in the way of my living.

Sometimes I’m afraid of failure; sometimes I’m afraid of success. I’m as fearful of being utterly miserable as I am of being blissfully content. When things are going well for me, I worry that the good will end abruptly or that it will elicit jealousy from others. When things are bleak, frustrating, or disappointing, I fear that it will always be like this.

I’m afraid of the dark—the type of dark that’s so complete is leaves no room for shadows. I’m afraid that I, myself, am the biggest obstacle standing in my way. I’m afraid that I don’t really know what I want—or that what I want is bad or wrong for me. I fear that fear will rob me of my other feelings.

I’m afraid of rats, roaches, skydiving, being in a serious car accident, going to outer space, submerging in a submarine, putting my head in an MRI machine, and loosing my car keys. (I don’t have a spare set.) I’m also afraid of being robbed, witnessing a shooting, and being convicted of a crime I didn’t commit. I used to be afraid of falling into a pit of quicksand, but I’ve come to realize the unlikelihood of that.

My two cats (Carrie and Mr. Big) have taught me a few things about fear and overcoming it. When I first brought them home, I had to mediate a peaceful encounter between them and Joey, my sister’s dog. My initial instinct was to hold the kittens and let Joey approach them. I tried with Mr. Big first.

My method failed, and I soon figured out why. I knew the kittens would be safe in my arms and that Joey wasn’t a threat to them, but they didn’t. I then realized it made more sense to hold Joey back because he already knew and trusted me. So for attempt number two, I wrapped my arms around Joey to keep him stationary, and let the kittens comes as close as they dared to. Within minutes, Carrie and Joey were fast friends. Mr. Big, somewhat scarred (emotionally) from my failed experiment, eventually came around as well.

This is what I learned from that: Always give the more fearful thing the freedom of flight. When introducing two non-equals (e.g., a dog and a kitten), hold the “beast” back. Sometimes I wonder if God does this for us. I suspect that when we find ourselves up against a brutish reality and we feel vulnerable and exposed—as though God’s hands aren’t under or around us, it is because He is holding back our enemy and giving us the freedom to move. We can flee, we see that God has bound our adversary, or we can approach and realize the monster we once feared is benign or just a big, friendly puppy.

I have to regularly remind myself that God is much bigger than any of my fears or other mental demons. Nothing is beyond His reach or His power. The worst I can imagine isn’t more than God can handle—and it’s also very unlikely to happen.

I don’t want to live in fear. On the surface it looks like I’m being practical, but sometimes “being practical” is just a shiny façade covering over fear and dulled faith. I don’t want to remain boxed in by the weakness of my belief or shackled by my limited view of what’s possible. I don’t want fear to be the part of my imagination that I have the easiest time believing or that gets the most use.

I don’t know what is out there behind each of my fears and worries or beyond the limits of what I can see and dream, but I have a feeling that only by leaping will I acquire the faith the leap.

I Think Therefore I Rant: Pet Peeves

Every year pet food looks more and more like human food. The packaging is becoming more similar and so are the contents. There’s a variety of cat food with broth that (at least in the commercial I saw) looks a lot like a bowl of soup a human being might consume. I can buy canned cat food with a lid that removes itself, even though I enjoy no such luxury when I buy canned tuna for myself.

I understand the impulse to make pet food look less disgusting. This way the people feeding the animals aren’t nauseated by the task. But there are a few products I take issue with. They don’t just make snacks for dogs and cats; they make appetizers too. Appetizers! I’m just waiting for the day when I’ll be expected to cook for my pets or offer them a beverage other than water. I suspect energy drinks for dogs are just around the corner.

Didn’t we all finally agree that the cat with a bowl of milk cliché has lived all of its nine lives? Isn’t it now widely known and accepted that cats are lactose intolerant? Then why is one brand of cat food making a cheddar cheese variety? Whose cat goes crazy for cheese? My husband once had a cat that loved cantaloupe, so I suppose anything is possible, but I’m skeptical of the notion that cats are clamoring for cheese.

What I think is happening here is that pet food companies are trying to appeal to human tastes. They know that we have so anthropomorphized our animals that we’ll readily assume they want what we want or need what we need. Never mind that cats are lactose intolerant. People love cheese, so let’s put it in cat food! Some humans are trying to be healthy. Let’s get them feeling guilty about not feeding their dogs enough vegetables (even though their wild and ancestral counterparts aren’t rooting around for carrots and peas). Fluffy and Fido should also have organic options. And let’s have low calorie offerings, because if the people are dieting, then their animals must be.

If our pets are fat, we’re to blame. Why are perfectly healthy dogs riding around in strollers? Who decided these dogs needed or wanted to be pushed around? Just because the thought of walking down the block is enough to leave some people feeling pre-exhausted, doesn’t mean their canine companions can’t handle it. I’m confident that even the smallest of dogs can out-walk the average human on any ordinary outing. If a three-legged dog can run and fetch and keep up with her four-legged friends, then Lord Furrybottom can make it to the grocery store on his own steam.

So please remove your healthy dog from the stroller, baby carrier, or whatever other contraption we used to reserve for human infants and let your dog be a dog like a dog is supposed to be—paws on the ground, nose sniffing some other dog’s butt, marking territory, and loving you unconditionally.

The Fire & Us: An Update as of 10.21.11

Today marks the completion of our first full week back in our re-new apartment! It has been a VERY happy homecoming. When last I updated you (on January 19), we were about to live in an apartment in Long Island City through August 1. We thought that would be long enough to move from there back into our renovated apartment, but we had to move two more times after that. First we moved back in with JC and YY (who graciously let us and our cats live with them for a month—for a second time). That took us through Labor Day weekend. Surely (we then foolishly thought), this would be our last move before our homecoming. Construction on our apartment had been finished since August 15. Now we were waiting for the NYC Department of Buildings and the NYC Department of Housing to conduct inspections and lift the vacate order that was keeping us out. That turned out to be like waiting on line at the DMV while everyone is taking their break before going on vacation for a week—and they’re planning on sneaking out of the back door while you stand on line with the wrong forms in hand. Each time we thought our building managers (who were awesome through this whole ordeal) had finished all the necessary steps to get the vacate order, it seemed as if one of the departments would spontaneously generate more hoops to go through. It was like asking someone what you have to do to get from point A to point B, and they tell you. But what they’re not telling you is that point B is just one sub-step on the way to point Z which is really where you’re going. And then thy feed you one more step at a time, all the while making you think the step you’re on now is the last one.

Needless to say, we weren’t able to move home by the first week of September, so we made our penultimate move and began living with my husband’s parents. It was nice to be somewhere we could stay indefinitely. It was nice to live with loving family and have the luxury of LF cooking meals, AF making jokes, and IF playing with imaginary characters in the bathroom (unless I had to pee—which was often), but it was also a tight fit in that small bedroom—on that twin size bed—for the four of us: me, my husband, and our two cats who didn’t get along with the cat or dog my in-laws have, so we were all in there…litter box included.

Back when I last updated you in January, we had no idea how long we’d be out…how many times we’d have to move between December 27 and the day we got to move home (six!)… or how many gifts, life lessons and opportunities this loss would bring. We learned how to live with just what fit in my car (in two or three trips)—how much less than what we had we actually needed to be comfortable. We were fully embraced and cared for by the friends and family around us—we were blown away by generosity. We got to be on TV (NY1 interviewed us. You can still see the video here: http://queens.ny1.com/content/131759/couple-works-to-rebuild-after-elmhurst-fire). The Red Cross put our story up on their website, and then interviewed us for their fund-raising video. Then they asked us to speak at the annual Red Cross gala at the Plaza Hotel. FF had grad school, so I did it alone. You can see a picture of me here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30084374@N02/5818565487/in/set-72157626806532457/. And whose speech did my speech follow? Niki Taylor’s—a speech about how blood from the Red Cross saved her life. That’s right, I had to walk up on stage—in heels—as the following act to a supermodel the very same week Shania Twain fell walking to the stage at the CMT awards. No pressure, right? Oh and that picture of me I linked to…I had to pose for that after Niki Taylor posed for hers. Can you see in my expression how I’ve been humbled? Speaking at the gala was terrifying and fun, and also meant getting a head-to-toe outfit a la personal shopper at Lord and Taylor because all of my dress clothes were damaged or in storage—I’m talking from shoes to undergarments to earrings to purse.

That Long Island City apartment was also a gift. Because we had a few months there, we were able to get somewhat settled, put down some shallow roots, but roots still. We had luxuries we couldn’t afford except for the fact that our insurance company was paying for them: a doorman, a roof deck with a beautiful view of the city, a gym. Having a doorman was a great gift given that we were in the process of replacing all of our stuff and opted to order almost everything online. Those doormen saved us countless trips to Fed Ex, UPS, and the post office on those days they would have been, “Sorry we missed you.” And then we moved back into Manhattan, living in Union Sq. As I’ve mentioned before, living in Manhattan, and in such a convenient and interesting neighborhood was a longtime dream of mine I thought would go unrequited.

And now, almost ten months later, we’re home again. The apartment is completely renovated. They had to gut it down to the foundations. The floor plan is the same, but the floors, walls, electrical—everything—is newly implanted. Some things I’m still adapting to. My muscle memory reaches for light-switches that aren’t where they used to be. A few of the apartment’s charming character-giving details were replaced with what I’m sure was a time/cost-saving alternative, but almost everything else is new and improved. And our name will finally be on the intercom (!)—or so they tell us.

It is so good to be home. Thanks to our renter’s insurance, we were able to replace (and sometimes upgrade) almost everything we lost, and the things we didn’t replace are things we don’t need. And thanks to my recent struggle with insomnia, we’re almost entirely unpacked—there’s just one more lamp to assemble, one big and one small box of stuff to go through, and one more bag to unpack—none of which are my responsibility (ahem, FF). I do have a bag of old cell phones and miscellaneous cords and connectors to make heads or tails of, as well as the rest of our pictures to hang. But that’s it. 80% of our living room furniture is here. The one missing piece (on backorder) comes on November 1. We’re sleeping on an air mattress again until our bedroom furniture comes on November 7. We learned the hard way (back in the Long Island City apartment) that cats and air mattresses don’t mix, so Carrie and Mr. Big have been banished from the bedroom for now. We’re also technically still living out of suitcases—each one lined up against the wall and filled with our clothing, but that’s okay. I don’t care. I’m home.

Here’s the picture my husband took of me when I got home from the Red Cross Ball. No Niki Taylor in sight, so I’m a bit more comfortable in my own skin.

The Fire: From the Beginning

This week has felt like one long day. The only reason I know that at least two nights have passed since Monday, is that I distinctly remember sleeping in two different beds. My brain now keeps time in BF and AF (before fire and after fire). My life’s course took a sharp turn at a rapid speed this past Monday when a fire broke out in my apartment building.

At 6:30, my husband and I were just having a normal weekday evening. Our computers were open, the television was on, and the cats were where they wanted to be. All of a sudden, we heard screaming. I assumed someone was having a heated argument in our hallway. It wouldn’t have been completely out of the ordinary. But then suddenly I heard what was being screamed, “Fire! Get out!” I wasn’t at all alarmed, I just assumed it was an over reaction and calmly walked to the door of my apartment to see what things looked like. A woman told me to get out now—there’s a fire. I looked up and saw a small amount of smoke coming down from the floor directly above. After years of fire drills in college, I assumed the least serious scenario: someone had burnt popcorn or toast or something.

My husband, however, saw something completely different. He ran to the windows and looked out. In the reflection of the windows of the building across the street, he could see flames spilling out of an apartment on the floor above us. Our building has only six floors, we live on the fifth. Understanding the severity of the situation, my husband (FF) rushed to get shoes and a coat on so we could leave. I, not having seen the flame with my own eyes, and still in “this can’t be that serious mode,” changed into jeans out of my pajamas.

The odd thing is that part of my brain knew this was serious, but part of my brain was convinced that it was a minor event and we’d be back in our apartment once the firemen came and checked things out. I thought to myself, “This is like that time in college when someone left a hairbrush on their radiator. There is a lot of smoke, but no fire. As soon as the firemen get here, they’ll check it out and let us back in.” So my “not serious” or NS brain figured, given the temp outside, let me get dressed for standing outside for an hour. But then there was the “VS” or “very serious” part of my brain that comprehended I might loose everything I left behind. That is the part of my brain that made me move quickly. That is the part of my brain that told me to put on my wedding band and engagement ring. That is the part of my brain that told me to get the cats out with us (even though we’re not supposed to have pets in our building, and I’d be showing my hand).

Unfortunately, we couldn’t wrangle the cats. We only had one carrier at the time, and neither of them liked going into it. I got Carrie in, but in trying to get Mr. Big to go in after her, they both got loose. With FF screaming at me that we had to get out and NOW, I started to become panic-rushed. That is to say, my VS and NS brains were still telling me different things, but my body was now shaking a bit, and I wasn’t able to do anything gracefully. With sadness in my heart, I left the carrier empty on the floor and went to get my coat, my cell phone, and my house keys. Then I turned off the power-strips attached to our TV and laptops (VS brain was telling me if firemen pumped water through out apartment, it’d be best to not have too much electricity on tap). I turned off the lights and locked the door. NS brain let me forget to take my wallet or car keys.

Soon FF and I were standing on the street corner across the street from our apartment watching as bright orange flames raged out of the apartment one floor up and one unit over from us. Even then, my NS and VS brains were at odds. I now understood that this wasn’t overcooked popcorn, but I also thought that since the apartment on fire wasn’t directly above ours, but one unit over, our apartment would be fine as long as the fire stayed where it was. And why wouldn’t it stay where it was? Weren’t firefighters—even now—on their way? Yes, they were on their way, but the snowstorm of the previous day meant they had to stop to dig out and tow cars blocking their route, frozen hydrants on our block meant they had to link hoses to hydrants three or four blocks away, and the winds were in the fifties.

Now that I saw a real fire was underway, I kicked myself for not trying harder to get the cats out, and for leaving behind everything save the coat on my back, for not putting on better shoes, for not taking any form of identification, and for leaving behind my only set of car keys. Thanks a lot NS brain.

Within just a few minutes, the firemen arrived, but no matter how hard they worked, just as it seemed the flames were coming under control, another burst of fire would erupt and rage again. It sounded like a thousand furnaces all going at once. After a while we could see that the fire had spread to the apartment directly above ours and that a large section of the building’s roof was on fire. The firemen used our apartment to get in (as it is attached to the closest fire escape). After about three hours of standing, shivering and watching, my VS brain told me hypothermia was imminent, and I should get inside. FF had already headed towards a friend’s house since he was wearing so little. But I had stayed back to look on, because my NS brain was telling me that soon and very soon the fire would be out, and the firemen would let us back in the building. And I wanted to be around for that. I walked to a nearby laundromat and tried to regain the feeling in my fingers and toes.

This is when VS brain started doing the majority of the work. VS brain was doing the math. This fire had been going for upwards of three hours and was now a classified as a five alarm blaze. It wasn’t worth it to stand around waiting. There would be no home to return to tonight. I started walking the mile and a half to my brother-in-law’s home (where my husband was waiting for me). Friends (with FF in tow) picked me up before I had walked even a quarter of a mile. They had dug out their car to pick FF up, and even though I was willing to walk (not wanting to make them come out again), they insisted on getting me. And I was grateful…my feet were cold and wet, my fingers refused to warm up, and as much as I love walking, a mile and a half never seemed so long as during those first tearful steps.

So how did this all come about? Turns out someone had left a space-heater too close to their bed. Their sheets caught fire, the mattress followed suit, and then the flames took over from there.

And that’s how the second-hardest week of my life started.

Operation: Meow Move!

Operation: Meow Move was not the seamlessly covert endeavor I’d hoped it would be. There was no stealth. We were neither graceful nor inconspicuous. I do not have a future in feline smuggling.

Objective One: Recruit cats to come in from the backyard of my father’s house. I thought this part would be easy. It was a wet and drippy day, and I figured the cats would be glad to come in to a dry home. Just the other week I had gone over to pick up a gift from my Dad, and both cats seemed very happy to see me (or, perhaps more realistically, the cat food I’d brought with me). I thought food was all I’d need to woo them again yesterday, but I was wrong. It took FF’s patience, calm spirit, and cat-like reflexes to get them in from outside and then up in the living room where we had the carriers waiting for them.

Objective Two: Prepare cats for inter-borough transport. If you’re wondering cats (at least mine) don’t want to go into a carrier head first, however butt first is a bit more difficult for the person holding them. The girl seemed to accept her confinement with dignity (and she was the first one we got in). The boy on the other hand, would not go gently into that dark box. Usually silent (to the point where I was under the impression that he was mute) he began meowing as soon as his body was in the carrier. And once he started, his sister chimed in.

Objective Three: Drive the cats to our home. The I-don’t-like-this-carrier meowing turned out to be nothing compared to the oh-no!-this-carrier-is-moving meowing. They began to let out the type of loud plaintive wails that suggest your victim is being mercilessly tortured. And this sound carried. I was pretty sure that by the end of the day all four of us (humans and felines alike) would need intensive counseling and emotional rehabilitation. Once in the car, the wails decreased in their volume, but not in their pathetic heart-wrenching quality. I hoped (in complete and utter vain) that they would eventually quiet down, because once in Queens we were going to have to sneak them into the apartment. But that became a secondary worry for a moment when FF turned to me and asked, “What’s that smell?” Turns out we had literally scared the crap out of the boy. So now, not only was I worried about how loud they’d be as we tried to bring them in the front door and up five floors in our apartment’s elevator, but I was also worried about opening the carrier in our apartment and letting a scared and skittish poop-covered cat run around.

Objective Four: Get the cats into our apartment without being seen or heard. Ha! The cats didn’t stop crying the whole ride over. This was not going to be easy. FF went in alone to see if all was clear. I stayed in the car double-parked in front of our building. And that is where our super (whose permission we had not asked to bring the cats in) found me. He was heading to his car, and seeing me double-parked, wanted to let me know I could take over his parking spot. I kept close watch to see if his eyes would travel to the back seats of my car. They didn’t (as far as I could tell), and he didn’t ask why there were cat cries coming from behind me. We had put the cat carriers in laundry bags because we were under the impression that the cat would be less scared if they couldn’t see anything, so visually there wasn’t any clue I was smuggling animals, but there was an abundance of auditory evidence. In any event, I parked in his spot, FF came down to join me, and we took the cats out of the car. They hated being in the car, but clearly they hated having the carriers carried even more. As soon as they were outside, the volume and frantic quality of their cries became significantly more pronounced. They were in full wail mode, and there were three people standing in front of our building. So even though it was a more circuitous route, we decide to use the service entrance to our building’s basement (which meant we would have to travel up one more floor in the elevator). The elevator took forever to come, and while we were waiting, a man in the laundry room (who must have thought a small child was being viciously beaten) came to figure out what all the noise was about. So much for us going unseen and unheard. We got in the elevator and prayed that it wouldn’t stop on the ground floor to let someone on. And that was the only thing that went our way. FF and I each gave a shallow sigh of relief and proceed to race our feline contraband into our home.

And so went Operation: Meow Move. Now we’re in the acclamation process. The girl seems to be adjusting well, but the boy is exponentially more timid. He spent the first few hours under our loveseat, which given his massive size, and how close the bottom of the couch comes to the floor, took a lot of work on his part. I finally coaxed (actually pulled) him out, and though he was clearly unhappy to be where he was, he did love being petted (he is an affection glutton). I tried my best to clean him off, but he is still a bit smelly. When I was getting ready for bed last night, the girl was happy to follow me around and then sleep by our bed, but the boy stayed statue-like by his safe hiding spot. When I woke up at three this morning, she had clearly moved around, but he had not. I could barely make out the white part of his chest still there by the loveseat. I tried again to entice him, and I was able to get him to come to me. After that, they both spent the last few hours of the night under the bed. And that is where they are at this very moment. I’m pretty sure I overly anthropomorphize them (which is why I think things like, “Well, even in the move is hard, they will find comfort in each other’s company”), but I think she’s only there for him. She’s a good sister. She looks after him. FF thinks he’s retarded, I just think he’s fearful, but on the phobic side of the spectrum.