My poor biographers

According to the radio, the fire was caused by the guy below us flicking a cigarette out his patio door. It landed on a chair, which caught fire. Some people are looking into litigation options for us even though we don’t actually want to sue. There’s plenty of righteous indignation out there on our behalf, I guess.

In any case, now that the investigation is over, the process of salvaging what’s left in the apartments can begin.

We won’t know for a couple of weeks if our hard drives survived. This is because it’s too dangerous to go into our apartment. Some construction people are setting up a support structure so that other people can get into their apartments and try to save their possessions, but we won’t be allowed to do that. It’s too unstable. So we have to wait until everyone else has gotten their stuff, and then the firemen will scrounge for whatever they can find in our apartment and the one below ours. After that, the building will be demolished.

I am really hoping that my hard drive(s) can be saved. I hold little hope for the external drive that had most of my Kyou Kara Maou on it…but you never know. The server, which was nearest to this window, had all our mp3s on it…while it would be nice to get those back, that’s not very likely either.

Meanwhile, my main hard drive had everything else: chat logs, email, photos, writing, websites. This is a huge loss not just to me, but to the people who will write about me in the future! So, as you can imagine, I’m hoping that my hard drive wasn’t completely incinerated, and that a professional recovery company can scrape at least some of the data off the platter.

(This brings to mind a quote from the Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever: “There’s only one way to hurt a man who’s lost everything. Give him back something broken.”)

Updated sidebar

I spent some time throwing together a partial list of stuff we lost–it’s mostly DVDs right now. Then I set up an area in the sidebar for it, under Links. So there you go.

Some semblance of normalcy

You don’t know how much it meant to me to be able to watch an episode of Saved by the Bell: The College Years this morning.

(It was the one where Zack is conflicted about whether to date Kelly or Leslie, with side plots about Screech and a dorky bicycle and Slater switching from easy classes to real classes.)

The guys at smugmug = some of the nicest people in the world

I got an email this morning from Ben MacAskill at smugmug:

Several of us here at smugmug noticed your journal about the tragedy with your apartment! We all send our condolences on your loss, but we are very glad that a lot of your photos were online and not lost at least. I wish there was something tangible we could do to help you out, but we figured the very least we could do was change your account to a free lifetime professional account. I know you have fairly recently renewed, so it won’t help with any immediate monetary concerns. But I suppose in the long run every bit counts, and you at least know we are thinking about you!

I hope you manage to get back on your feet again soon. It sounds like you have a great friend and family support network, so hopefully the transition won’t be too painful. Good luck!

Can you believe that? Not only did they notice what had happened and send their condolences, but they’re giving me a free lifetime pro account…I’m totally overwhelmed by this. It’s just amazing.

Thank you, Ben, and everyone at smugmug!

How to help

First of all, if you’re in a position to help anyone, you should really give to the Katrina relief effort. It’s just horrible what’s happening down there in Louisiana and Mississippi. If you start thinking “I can give Heather X dollars”, at least give X/2 to the victims of Katrina.

Second, I wanted to give people some ideas of things they could do for us that don’t involve just handing us money. While all donations are appreciated, I honestly feel like it’s tacky to ask friends for money, especially since 1) our families are giving us money; 2) we are living very cheaply at Sean’s parents’ house and are therefore able to put the majority of our paychecks into savings.

But I know that people want to do stuff for us, so here are some things that would really help:

  1. Treat us to dinner or something fun. Money is going to be tight for awhile, and we’re probably going to go stir-crazy. (You could argue that I’m already going stir-crazy.) If you’re local, we’d love to go out with you and just spend time together. If you’re not local, you can always send us a gift certificate to something like a movie or a restaurant.
  2. Replace the irreplacable. If I’ve ever given you copies of photos; if you’ve got a story I wrote on your hard drive; if you’ve saved email or chat logs…I would love to see that sort of thing again. Send files (of a reasonable size) to my gmail account (cosleia). (You don’t need to send me copies of any photos that are currently on my smugmug account.)
  3. Clothes. If you’ve got clothes you don’t need that are around our sizes, send them our way. (Steer clear of underwear; I’ve kind of got a thing about wearing other people’s panties.) You don’t need to buy us anything new! We can fill in the gaps.

That’s essentially it. Thanks to Sam for the inspiration for this post!

Of course, furniture and appliances are welcome–I hardly expected any, but we’ve already had offers of a couch, a recliner, a day bed, a coffee table, and a dining room set(!). But please remember that we don’t have any place to put that kind of thing. If you have something you need to get rid of right away, please just go ahead and offload it. I promise you that we’re going to be fine. If you can hold on to it for a little while, at least until Sean and I have time to rent storage space, then by all means, we’d love to take a look.

Thank you so much to everyone for all the kind words of encouragement and the offers of assistance. We’re grateful more than words can say.

Quaker Chewy Granola Bar

I found a Quaker Chewy Granola Bar, Chocolate Chip, in my drawer at work. I guess it’s the only other thing to escape my apartment intact.

Now I’m going to eat it.


We were able to get replacement drivers licenses and social security cards and debit cards and cell phones and keys for our cars.

I don’t want to post contact information here directly, but here’s some general information:

We are living with Sean’s parents. Some of you may know that address.

Our cell phone numbers are the same as they were before. If you have called me and I haven’t returned your call, I apologize. I’ve been very busy but I am trying to get back with everyone. Dawn, I’m sorry I won’t be able to call you, but thank you so much for calling. I saved your message.

We both still have access to our original email accounts. As we don’t have a computer yet, we can’t respond immediately to email, but we will respond eventually. Several friends have generously offered to let us come over and use their computers. We also both have computers at work. My email is cosleia AT QX DOT net; if you email me there I can give you the other contact info.

Sean’s employer very generously gave him the week off, paid, and didn’t remove the time from his normally allocated PTO. I took Monday and Tuesday off and right now I’m at work, which is how I’m posting this message.

My mother is sending me a new camera. It’s exactly the same as the one I used to have. She found it on eBay.

As I understand it, the Red Cross is actually going to help us in some way. AIMCO, the company that owns Springhouse, is also taking up some sort of collection to distribute among everyone who was affected. In addition, friends and family have been helping out.

We are going to live with Sean’s parents probably through the end of the year and just save, save, save. At that point we plan to buy our first house, and that’s when donations of furniture and appliances will be extremely welcome. At this point we don’t have any room for that kind of thing, although several friends have offered to store things for us if absolutely necessary. We are also considering renting storage. Ultimately, though, at this point we would prefer to not receive furnishings and similar items.

We have replaced our toiletries, and several people have given us clothes. Our wardrobes aren’t up to snuff yet but they will be eventually–clothes are still welcome, although you will have a hard time finding things for Sean. We will probably have to buy all of his stuff new. He wears a medium shirt (he prefers polo/golf shirts), and his pants size is 30″ X 34″. I’m currently wearing XL shirts and size 16-18 pants, not that I have ever wanted to advertise my sizes on the Internet. (I’m not telling you about my underwear and bra.)

I am planning on making a new Amazon list called “Things We Lost in the Fire”, which people will be welcome to buy from later–mostly it will just be a catalogue to work from when we go to replace things, and in case we sue or whatever. Sean and I both have ethical issues with suing if it was an accident (in other words, if there was negligence but it was slight), but if there was gross negligence or arson that would be fine.

Sean is ordering us some laptop computers from Dell, but there was an issue with the financing yesterday so he might not get the great deal he was going to get, so we’re not sure if we’re still getting the laptops. Either way, we don’t have room for a desktop in his parents’ house. We have to maintain as small a footprint there as possible, meaning that pretty much everything we own has to be stashed away in a closet or drawer when we’re not using it, so that it looks like we’re not there at all. If I sound a little bitter, it’s because I’m petty and can’t stop looking gift horses in the mouth.

I may go crazy, but oh well.

I have been keeping myself as busy as possible. Last night when everything I immediately needed to do was done, I had time to really think about it for the first time. Of course I’ve been seeing things and saying dryly, “I used to have one of those, but it burned up in the fire.” But I was keeping myself from really feeling it as much as I could. Last night, I had run out of distractions, and I figured that I should let out some emotions, so I cried for a long time.

Then I was having trouble stopping. Sean wasn’t there because he was at a coworker’s house buying the laptops online. It got later and later and I was already upset and I started to worry that he might be dead. I mean really worry. I was hysterical. Finally he came back and it turned out that he’d run his battery completely dead talking with Dell customer service and financing on the phone, so he wasn’t able to call me back. It took me awhile to calm down and finally be able to sleep.

My long drive to Lincolnton this morning gave me plenty of thinking time, but I reverted to trying not to think about it as much as possible. My eyes are dry and I feel like I could start crying at any moment.

And now it’s time to start working.


what used to be our apartment

So, our apartment burned down last night.

We were awakened at about 2 am by some sort of loud noise. I actually don’t remember what it sounded like. All I remember is thinking that one of the air conditioners down below our office window might have blown up (they had been making a lot of racket lately). “What the fuck?” I said (sorry, Mom), running out of the bedroom and into the living room.

Only to see a wall of flame coming through the patio door.

“Shit.” (Sorry again, Mom.)

I didn’t even stop to think about how the flames were coming through when there was supposed to be a door there. That simply didn’t occur to me. I went back into the bedroom and got my glasses and rings and put them on, then came back out, then said, “We need to get our phones,” and ran back into the bedroom and got it. I thought briefly that I should go into the office and get my purse and camera…but I figured that someone would put out the fire soon, and I shouldn’t endanger my life by going past the fire in the living room, even though it hadn’t yet started burning anything inside (that I could tell).

So I went outside and started down the stairs.

Sean was doing something during all this time, I don’t know. He came outside with me, and he was the one who thought to pull the fire alarm. But when I started down the stairs I realized he wasn’t coming. He was doing something at the apartment, going back in. I didn’t see that he had a fire extinguisher. All I could think was that he was trying to save something from the apartment. By this time smoke was billowing out the front door into the breezeway.

“Get out of there!” I yelled at him, repeatedly. It really didn’t take long for him to give up on putting out the fire and join me below. A fire truck had already arrived.

We stood and waited while the firemen took their sweet time getting a hose upstairs. Then they paused to bang on the door of the apartment below ours. As if ours wasn’t on fucking fire. As if there wasn’t time to save our stuff.

At some point we walked around the building to see what it looked like from the back, and then we could tell that the fire had started in the apartment below ours and traveled upward via the patios. We still don’t know what exactly started the fire.

The fire didn’t seem to be abating at all. There was a fire truck back on that street too, but it wasn’t doing anything. “They’re incompetent!” I cried. “Put the fucking fire out!”

We stood and watched the fire infiltrate the office, and then the bedroom. We watched our ceiling burn away. We watched the second floor patio collapse and spread the fire onto the first floor.

At some point the truck on the street just beyond us finally started spraying a huge jet of water onto the roof, and the fire was reduced to thick grey smoke within minutes (seconds?). We had already called our parents, and now we walked around the apartments the long way to get to the front entrance where Sean’s parents had arrived to pick us up.

All we had were our phones and our night clothes: underwear, T-shirt, and shorts for both of us. We had no shoes. We had no keys. We had no wallets or money or credit cards or drivers licenses. We walked barefoot to Cheryl and Reid’s truck and got in and they took us to a gas station to get a drink and then back to their house. We showered and changed into borrowed clothes and sat awake for a long time.

Our apartment, and everything in it, is gone.

We have no home.

We have no possessions.

We don’t even have chargers for our phones, and as I discovered today, they don’t make accessories for our outdated phones anymore. We’ll have to buy new ones.

We’ll have to buy new everything.

We didn’t have renters insurance.

Yes. Yes, we are stupid. Thank you for pointing that out. I promise you, though, we already know.

My camera, my constant companion and translator of my memories, is gone. (I took today’s shots with Brooke’s camera.) My computer, with all my saved chat logs from the last ten or so years, all my writing, all my photography, all my archives–and yes, all my anime, is gone. My souvenirs from Japan–my beautiful hand-made pottery tea set, my wallscroll with calligraphy done by my host sister Yoko, my other dishes, my journal that I hadn’t gotten around to typing up and blogging–are gone. All my photographs that weren’t digital, that were instead shoved into the compartment on one of the end tables in the living room, are gone. All my books–hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of books–are gone. Our DVDs are gone.

Everything is gone.

detail of what used to be our office and patio

I’m posting this from Brooke’s computer. Sean’s parents don’t even have a computer, not to mention the Internet, so I may be scarce for awhile. Sean and I are both all right, though, and we’ll be in touch.

We are being taken care of. Our families and friends are already pitching in to help us replace our clothes and get new keys for our cars. We’re going to be all right.

I’m still in shock/denial. I’ve only cried once–only let myself cry once. I haven’t been alone enough to cry.

I lost so much. But I didn’t lose Sean. Last night, all I could do was cling to him.