Thursday, March 23, 2017

Is there a statute of limitations on this stuff?

My husband stayed home from work yesterday. Over the weekend, he'd fallen up in the mountains, going and hurting himself in the process. When he could hardly move, I insisted that he should probably go to the doctor just to make sure he didn't do anything that won't heal on its own. The diagnosis? Torn cartilage around one of his ribs.

And yeah, he got the, "At your age..." lecture from the doctor. Weekend warriors of the world, I salute you. So do all the orthopedists.

Since he was here, he did all the things he does on any given day...just most of the time, at least during the week, he does it when he is at work. On that list of habitual daily things...he checks the pictures on the cloud from this day in prior years.

I tend not to do that, for a few reasons. One, I am deeply in the realization that my kids are growing up before my eyes right now and don't particularly need to see pictures of them as squishy infants at the moment. Two, I've got issues. A boatload of them in fact. Once you've dealt with PTSD as a result of your issues and needed years of therapy to work through them, you kind of give up being a tourist in your own life. Three, I'm usually too busy teaching the homeschooler and preventing the toddler from dismantling the house all day long to remember to check.

He checks.

Sometimes when something makes him feel things, he sends me a picture or texts it to the kids.

Sometimes he laughs, trying to figure out what that picture was - especially on the days when it's abundantly clear that some kid lacking photography skills had clearly taken one of our phones and had a little photo session.

Sometimes he's quiet and reflective.

And sometimes he's a mixture of annoyed and pissed and amused.

Yesterday was one of those.

The pictures he saw, and then showed to me immediately since he was here?

The ones of the day of the fire.

"The" fire.

I always feel really unsettled this time of year. Edgy. Or at least I have for the last five years. It took me a while to put two and two together, but the days when it's prematurely warm and windy are always the worst, especially when it's towards the second half of March.

The reason? The fire.

The one that I still don't really talk about, and have only mentioned briefly here before. I think maybe it is time for me to finally write about it. I know that it'll likely end up with me getting a few messages from people. I know that someone will probably tell me I'm wrong, because that is usually what happens.

I actually brought it up independently a few days ago, not realizing we were so close to the anniversary. A friend is dealing with a situation similar in far too many ways to the one I was in back then, six years ago. I see her and what she is going through. I see the guilt and the conflict and the questioning, I see her trying so fucking hard to do the right thing, never sure of what it is. I see her shielding her child from as much of it as she possibly can, knowing that she has a duty as a mother that is bigger than her duty as a daughter. I see it. I see it because I lived it, and because I understand how impossible a situation like that truly is to endure.

So, the fire. "The" fire.

My father had died about six weeks earlier. My mom had come out here to visit, in anticipation of moving out this way. She needed to get out of the house he died in, and I understood that she had to come here. So she did.

And she was not in a good place. She hadn't been for a long time, and maybe never really was. She was doing this thing that I've seen so many people do when they lose the person who was the center of their life, and they spiral out of control. She was reckless, she was irresponsible. She was spending money as if it actually grew on trees, which was precisely the kind of thing my father hated most when he was alive. She was newly free of his guidance, and living it up on her terms. Smoking like a chimney, even in the wake of watching her husband die of lung cancer.

And then she was here.

That afternoon, I had to take one of the kids to an eye appointment. She offered to stay here with the other kids so that I wouldn't have to take them. I hesitated just a moment, but then the overwhelmed mother in me said, okay. I left and took my daughter to the doctor.

At the time, my oldest was not yet nine years old. The same age his younger brother is now. My younger daughter was five. The youngest back then was only two.

The wind had picked up quite a bit, but I didn't pay too much attention to it.

When we turned onto the street coming home, the gusts had picked up more. I saw what appeared to be smoke and started to panic a bit. As I pulled around the curve and could fully view our house, I realized the smoke was coming from our yard.

She was out there, trying to connect the hose to the house, as it was still too cold to leave it connected overnight. Desperately.

The mulch was smoking all over the yard, visible flames in a few areas. The underbrush of the plants all along the fence were engulfed. And the flames licked the top of the fence line, urging their way upward with each gust.

I screamed. Threw the car into park. Told my daughter to go into the house and immediately call 911. I ran to the side yard and ripped the hose from her hands, still not connected. Got it all together, and started stamping out what I could with my feet while pouring water on the fence.

She was yelling.

"I don't know what happened".

"It's not my fault".

"It was the wind".

I screamed something to the effect of, "Why didn't you call 911? Where are the kids? What the fuck happened????", then told her to go inside and get the kids and get them out of the house. Make sure 911 had been contacted.

She told me that we didn't need to call 911. And that everything was fine.

She finally stopped arguing and went inside.

I started screaming at the sky right about then. Sobbing.

Tried to call my husband over and over, his phone going straight to voicemail.

The only thing that kept the entire yard from going up was that I'd just soaked the dry brown winter grass the day prior. I shudder to think how quickly it might have spread if not for that. Whether the house could have gone up, whether my neighbor's might have.

Then the sirens. They got louder and louder.

Two trucks. Fire chief happened to be on duty that day.

By then, I'd managed to put out most of the fire myself. They checked​ the fence for hot spots, dug around the post to make sure there wasn't anything smoldering where we couldn't see.

Chief asked what happened. I told him I didn't know. That I'd been at the doctor with one child, my mother left here with the other kids, and I'd come home to this.

She came outside, hysterical. The oldest was holding the baby. The girls were holding each other.

Immediately defensive, she confronted the fire chief. Insisted that it had been put out. Not the fire, the cigarette.

She pointed at the can she insisted she'd extinguished the cigarette in, now rolling around the yard in the wind.

He didn't believe her.

My eldest child stepped forward, told them what he'd seen. She had gone outside, again, to smoke. Left him in the house to watch the others. Told him to leave her alone.

She was out on the porch, smoking in 40mph+ winds, talking on her cell phone. She'd put her soda can on the railing, laid the still lit cigarette on top, and it blew off, starting the fire. 

She was on the phone.
In the wind.
Instead of watching the kids.

The cigarette that was more important to her than watching
the kids. The cigarette that lit my yard on fire and destroyed
my relationship with my mother.

She turned around and with a vengeance in her face and in her voice that I'd come to be quite familiar with, she called him a liar. To his face. In front of us all.

He insisted he was telling the truth.

I had no reason to doubt him.

He had no incentive to lie.

The chief pulled me aside, asked me if she was mentally stable. I said I was questioning it. He asked if there had been anything traumatic in her life recently. I said Dad literally just died. From smoking.

He shook his head.

Asked me if I wanted to press charges.

Told me they'd have her arrested and charged with arson and child endangerment.

I said no.

I said no.

I said no because I hadn't yet fully wrapped my head around how reckless she was. I said no because I was still trying to protect her. I said no because I wanted her to just get her shit figured out and be a responsible adult.

I said no because I was in denial of the truth.

I said no because I was still leveraging the safety of my kids for her benefit.

I said no.

I should have said yes.

Maybe things would have been different. Maybe the path she was on would have changed. Maybe things wouldn't have ended the way they did. Maybe she'd still be here now.

I don't know and wondering does me no good now, on this side.

She's been dead now for three and a half years, and nothing about that is reversible.

What I learned in that moment and the months and years that followed was that I couldn't fix her. I couldn't make her better and no amount of trying would help. Didn't stop me from trying.

What it did, though, was damage my kids. Damage me. We required years of therapy and work to undo the damage.

She referred to it from that day forward as, "a small incident". Never took responsibility. Never accepted that she'd caused it all to happen, never admitted that she was lying, never once apologized to my son for accusing him of lying.

And I knew that I could never trust her again.

I could never leave her with my children again.

She absolutely could not live with us.

All this happened six years ago yesterday, and it took me this long to tell this story.

Is there a statute of limitations on this stuff?

Maybe, just maybe there is.

I'm guessing it's around six years.


  1. Love and light your way to give you warmth

  2. Your courage to stand up to your pain and share your heart never ceases to leave me speechless. Much love to you. <3

  3. To answer your question -- no. There is no statute of limitations on this stuff. "This stuff" is what haunts us. "This stuff" is what comes into our head when we least expect it. "This stuff" is what makes us constantly doubt our choices. "This stuff," whether we want to admit it or not, is the shit that shapes us. If it didn't rise up at unexpected times; if we tried to stop thinking about it -- telling ourselves that we're 'over it, now'; if we didn't talk about it, it would cause even more damage. I'm glad you finally wrote about it. You've alluded to it enough for us to know that it weighs heavily on you. Maybe putting it into words will help you cope. Maybe next year's anniversary won't be so dark. Maybe some day the anniversary will pass without you realizing it until after the fact. But, no, it will never go away.


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