Bad Memories

This is the post I don’t want to write. If I think about it, it seems like a dream, something surreal, like I’m an outsider looking in at the events of my life, but if I look at the pictures, everything comes back full force. I won’t be posting many pictures of what happened.

On May 31st, my husband and kids left for a road trip to Florida. On June 1st at about 8pm, there were storms rolling through Dallas, and our house was struck by lightning and caught fire while we were 18 hours away by car.

The feeling of helplessness was immense. Thankfully, we had a house-sitter who was there at the time of the strike, and 911 was called immediately. Also, my brother-in-law and neighbor were there to help out. At the time, I didn’t care about our material things. I figured they were lost. I was only worried about our three cats. The house-sitter wasn’t able to find any of them before the smoke grew too thick.

The strike hit over the master bedroom where the fire burned away the ceiling and spread through the attic. This was normally where the cats would go if they were scared. Without that sanctuary, the firemen found my old man right away. For all his 11 years, Ben has always been a friendly cat, so he didn’t hide. However, this experience has changed him and he’s very shy now. We keep a large dog kennel outside for the neighborhood stray cat, and they were able to get that set up to keep him safe. Our neighbor offered to keep him until we made it home.

Once the fire was out and they declared the house safe to enter again, the neighbors and our house-sitter found Caly that night. My neighbor packed her up with Ben and took them to her house. Caly is short for Calypso, because she’s a pirate (one eye is missing). She also has asthma, and although our neighbor tried, Caly wouldn’t take her pill the whole time we were gone. The smoke also did some damage to her lungs, and she was having asthma attacks daily for a while. The vet did a full blood workup on her and recommended an inhaler, which is the same as mine, but have you ever tried to give a cat a puff on an inhaler? I think the stress on her was enough to induce another attack. Caly has since recovered and is back to her normal routine with only a few attacks when it’s rainy outside.

That night, our neighbor helped us locate a contractor who secured the roof, as there were more storms coming in. The contractor ended up doing exceptional work for us to help rebuild the house. We spoke with him, the fire marshal, and our insurance agent, who all said to just stay in Florida. Our rooms were already paid for, and if we went home, we would just be staying in a hotel, anyway. There wasn’t anything to come back to. Except for one thing. They never found Inigo, my daughter’s cat.

My daughter found Inigo when he was 6 weeks old. That’s too young for a kitten to be away from his mother, but somehow he got into the storage room at the fast-food restaurant she worked at. She said her co-workers went crazy and thought he was a rat, but she had experience with cats and was able to catch him. My daughter promised she would take care of him, pay vet bills, and then help find him a home when he was ready. However, after caring for him in her room for two weeks before we introduced him to the other cats, the option to find him a home disappeared. Inigo had adopted her.

Whatever happened in his first 6 weeks (or that day in the storage room) traumatized Inigo. He has always feared everyone except for us and hides as soon as someone opens the front door. He grew to be a huge cat, around 20lbs of muscle, teeth, and claws, so I warned the contractor that if he found him, he might be in for a fight. The contractor’s team was working in our house those days before we made it back, clearing away debris (the ceiling had caved in all over the house from the water damage) and sitting up huge fans to help dry out the house so they could save what they could and prevent mold from growing. The fans ran on generators and were LOUD. I gave people an idea of where to look for Inigo in the house, but he was probably terrified and didn’t want to be found.

We did stay a few nights in Florida but ended up coming home early. Everyone told us to stay and enjoy what we could of our vacation, but how could we? The good thing was we had so much time scheduled off work, we could use it to help salvage some things and deal with insurance and contractors. When we made it home, my daughter went into the house first while we went to the neighbors, who had also offered to let us stay there until the insurance could get our hotel set up. We figured if Inigo was going to come out, it would only be for her. I gave her a few minutes before going in to check on her, but found her crying in what was left of our living room. She couldn’t find him.

Walking into the house was horrible. It stank. It smelled of rotting carpet and smoke. Most of everything we lost was due to either water damage or the smell of smoke seeping into everything. Not much of our actual possessions burned due to the fire being contained in the attic, but we still lost all our electronics and furniture. We were able to wash and save a lot of our clothes, and most of the hard objects in the front of the house survived. The fans did not stop the mold from growing on our couches or mattresses, not that the smoke smell would ever fade from them. That is not something you want to be reminded of.

We all came in after my daughter’s first search, and all of us looked for Inigo. We couldn’t find him or hear any meows over the sound of the fans. There were windows and doors left open throughout the house to let it air out, and we eventually figured he must have escaped. It was midafternoon and horribly hot, so we went back to my neighbors to get settled in.

Once it cooled off and my daughter had calmed down some, we decided to walk through the neighborhood to see if we could spot Inigo. That walk led us to the back of the house. Even though I didn’t have my keys on me, I tried the backdoor and the contractors had left it unlocked. I decided we might as well sweep the house one last time. We looked everywhere. While I was trying to find a safe way into the attic, thinking he could have gotten up there from all the many holes, I heard my daughter yelling from the master bedroom over the sound of the fans. She had finally found him, hiding underneath the nightstand, at ground zero, in a place that he shouldn’t have been able to fit.

Inigo seemed fine, although it was obvious he had lost some weight. I think once he got under the nightstand, he never moved for days. I dragged the kennel to the master bedroom and ignored the pain in my shoulder. My arm was still in quite a bit of pain and carrying the kennel over the fans and debris that blocked the hallway caused more damage. It didn’t matter, though. We needed to get Inigo out and to a safe place.

I’ve never seen our cats so happy to see us. The neighbor said Ben hadn’t come out from under the bed the whole time, but he came out as soon as he heard us. You could see the joy and relief in their eyes and the way they wouldn’t leave our sides. Even Inigo, who generally only gets close with my daughter, was sleeping in bed with us. All of us were safe now, and we would work out the rest later.

I have a lot left to write on what happened, but this post has stretched long enough as is. I knew it would. It’s a lot of story to tell. Some things that happened were unbelievable, and I’m not sure how much detail I want to get into, but that will be for another time.

For now, it’s back to editing. I’ve gotten a lot of work done these past two weeks, and I’m very pleased with the progress. If it all continues to go smoothly, I’ll be able to start sending chapters to my editor by the end of this week. My hope is to have the final draft, or at least close to it, completed by the end of the month. By then, I should be able to release a few details about the book(s) that will be coming soon.

Until then, please stay safe and happy reading.

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