october 2021

So: I haven't written for a while because we had a major disruption to our lives and we're just now getting to a point where we can even think about what normal might look like again and start working towards that. Rather than try to write my own version of this, I'm going to share an edited version of what my wife shared with our friends and family a week or so after our lives as we knew them were changed forever:

This is a strange post to write, but we decided it was the best way to let friends from all over know about something huge we have been facing. I added the picture to remind us of happier days and what really matters.

We lost our home to a major house fire on Tuesday morning. The fire was electrical and nothing we could have predicted or avoided. We were both working from home and were able to get out safely. Thankfully, Will was at school. We tried to use our fire extinguisher and garden hose to put it out while waiting for the fire department, but by the time we were aware of the fire (which started on our screened porch) it was too big to make a difference.

The damage to our home is severe—fire damage to the porch and attic, smoke and water damage most everywhere else. Most of our belongings are not salvageable. But the absolute worst thing is that we lost our 3 cats. We would give up every belonging we have been able to salvage if we could get just one of them back.

Now for the better news:

The support we have received from family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers has been overwhelming, awe-inspiring, beautiful, touching, and mind-blowing. I vow to pay it forward when we get to the other side of this. Many of the helpers are Facebook friends….know we do not have the words to express the depths of our gratitude. The support and love we have felt has carried us. Thank you, and we love you.

Our insurance company and the army of helpers that come along with them have so far been amazing. We have secured great temporary housing (a cute Airbnb 5 minutes away) through the end of the month, then a lovely home 10 minutes away until we rebuild, which we expect will take 8-12 months. Both places have beautiful backyards, and nature heals my soul. The long-term rental allows cats.

Though the damage was extensive, our home (a solid brick 50s rancher) will not need to be razed. We can rebuild the house we love.

We are safe. Will wasn't home and didn't see it. I said that before but it is worth saying over and over.

Anyway. We are still in transition, and likely will be for a while, but we have a rental house in a good neighborhood near lots of friends, and we're settling into a rhythm of life here, where we'll likely be for at least another year while we rebuild our home. More details to come in posts over the next couple of weeks.

One thing that has helped over the past few weeks since the fire is all the support in so many different ways from so many different people. Meal trains, gift cards, check-in visits, and offers to help have come from so many people in the different communities we're a part of—our neighbors, our friends, our families, our workplace colleagues.

Every day is a challenge, and with so much work left in front of us (we're nowhere close to a settlement with our insurance company, and we can't even start the process of picking a contractor and starting to rebuild our house until that happens), I can't say that there have been many good days or that I can even envision when I might have a good day again. But I do know that without all these people who, in ways big and small, have helped carry some part of our burdens and supported us through all this, the time since the fire would have been much, much worse.

One thing that we've really tried to focus on since the fire, for both ourselves but also for Will, is doing lots of fun things that will help keep Will distracted from the trauma of the fire (which we'll all undoubtedly be working through in our own ways for years), but will also remind him that there are still good things in life, and that things will get better eventually.

In the weeks since the fire, this has included going to see the Braves a couple of times (including a playoff game), going to an Atlanta United game, taking a trip to the High Museum of Art, and a visit to the Botanical Gardens.

But the biggest one was finally getting to see Hamilton at the Fox Theatre. We originally bought tickets for Will's Christmas present in 2019 for a show that was scheduled for April 2020, then to August 2020, and then finally for September 2021. Our tickets were for less than a week after the fire, when there was still so much to do just to have a stable place to live and basic necessities, but even though it felt really overwhelming, we also realized how important it was, and how we'd always regret it if we didn't go after waiting so long for the opportunity. And it was great, and so cathartic to have even just one evening where we felt like we could escape from all the chaos in our lives.

We'll continue to find ways to make Will's and our lives a little bit more enriched with events and happenings than maybe we usually would. I'm starting to go to concerts again, which would be a huge win after the venues shut down so long for Covid anyway, but which is even more meaningful given my personal circumstances. And in lieu of World Series tickets (which I wasn't able to procure at anywhere near reasonable prices), we're taking Will to the final home game for Atlanta United but sitting in the VIP section that not only has field-level access but which also comes with access to an unlimited buffet in a private club area underneath the seats.

Our housing situation is fairly settled now, but it took a few weeks to get everything straightened out. For the first few days after the fire we stayed at my mother-in-law's apartment—she only lives about ten minutes away from us, and she graciously let us have the whole apartment so Julie and I could sleep in the bedroom and Will could sleep on the couch while she stayed with a friend in the building.

Within a few days, we had secured a full-house Airbnb about five minutes from our home where we could stay through the end of September while we searched for a longer-term rental where we could settle in until our house was rebuilt and we could move back home. The Airbnb was very cute with a nice backyard, although it certainly had its annoying quirks to go along with its eccentric charms. The most unique thing about it is that it was one of a very small number of prefab steel houses from the post WWII boomer era, so it had historic status, and the owner had reinforced this aesthetic with some nice mid-century modern furniture and design choices.

The most problematic aspect of the house was that all the rooms with doors had pocket doors which were no longer operational, but instead of trying to fix them, the owner decided to just put up heavy curtains with magnets to secure them to the walls (when I said the house was steel, that's exactly what I meant—it's not just a steel frame, the entire house, including interior and exterior walls, are all made from steel panels). This unfortunately included the bathroom, which meant you had no privacy in a very small space layout where the bathroom was essentially at the center of all the other rooms.

Our solution was to get a white noise machine that we kept in the bathroom so that whoever was using it could blast it at the highest volume to create a kind of sound curtain that gave everyone some sense of separation of privacy. It wasn't ideal, but it worked well enough.

For the long term rental that we're in now and where we'll hopefully be able to stay until our house gets rebuilt (best-case scenario: a year from now; worst-case: summer 2023), we got pretty lucky with the timing as well. As soon as we moved to the Airbnb, Julie was on the hunt for a longer-term rental house, and on the second day of looking, she found a place in Oakhurst (on the other side of Decatur farther from work than where our house is, but still not too far and a pretty good place to live) that had only been listed for a few hours. She reached out to the landlord immediately, scheduled a visit for the next day, and within a few days we had secured an open-ended lease (but minimum of eight months) that started at the beginning of October, giving us a weekend of overlap with the Airbnb to get everything moved over.

The landlord wasn't planning to keep renting out the property. She had bought it a few months earlier while the previous tenants still had a few months left on their lease, and her plan was to let them finish out their lease and then hand it over to her brother, who was moving to the area (our landlord herself lives outside of Atlanta right now, and her long-term plan is to move to the house herself, but not for a few years). But then her brother suddenly changed his plans, and the previous tenants had already signed the lease on another place, so she only had a few weeks to get someone in the property or she'd be paying the mortgage on an empty house.

So it really worked out well for both parties, and she's been incredibly understanding about our whole situation, only asking that we give her at least 30 days notice before we move out so she can have a decent amount of time to find new tenants. It's been a little bit of a pain to work out how to get Will to school—we're in a different school district, but we didn't want to further disrupt his already-massive-disrupted life by having him switch schools in the middle of the semester (and likely have to do that again when we move back to our real house)—but we have a lot of friends who live in the neighborhood, and it's quiet and walkable just like our other neighborhood.

One thing I'm already sick of that won't end anytime soon: shopping. I've never been a huge fan of that, but imagine that you had to re-buy everything you own, which is where we are now. Even though we're focusing on the necessities—clothes, work and school supplies, kitchen and bathroom essentials, etc.—just think about what you'd have to do to re-acquire all those little things that have become more or less vital to the daily maintenance and operation of your life and home.

Insurance will reimburse us for everything (with receipts and arguments, of course, but we will eventually get paid back), and we're lucky enough to have a cushion where we can afford to buy it all up front without killing our budget, but the actual process of remembering everything in your medicine cabinet, your cleaning supply closet, your pantry, etc., and then having to actually go restock it all is pretty exhausting. I feel like I've bought three years worth of stuff over the past thirty days (and in some cases I probably have), and I'm completely over it now. If I didn't have to buy another thing for the next six months, it will be too soon.

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