There is a Zen-like ornamental garden ten feet from the busy rural highway where we now live in this borrowed house. I do not relax at all when I watch my toddler play here.
Two days after the fire, a friend thinks to give me underwear, for which I am grateful. I wear the same skirt for the first ten days after we lose our home, even to my kitchen shows as a consultant for Pampered Chef. It is a moss green linen skirt that falls to my ankles.I feel like a pioneer.
Our clothes are returned from the cleaners, where they had been sent by our insurance company. It has been a month since the fire. They are bundled three or four to a package, tightly wrapped in transparent plastic.Trinidad stacks them like blocks then climbs the mountain to look out our living room picture window.He can see the city and beyond.
I pay $60 to restore a basic collection of spices for rudimentary cooking. I never knew what treasures I’d owned.
In the grocery store, I hold Sam to my breast with one arm while Trinidad rides in the cart, grabbing what he can off the shelves. I stare with wide eyes at the packaged food before me. All color. Something is missing. I am very still and then suddenly, as if emerging from deep water, I fill my lungs with air and the world around me comes alive again. I forget that I have this problem, not remembering to breathe.I am surprised by it again and again.
I prune the grape arbor that stretches the length of our front walk.It bleeds and bleeds clear sap for weeks.I am appalled that I made those cuts. I cannot stand its crying.
In the outdoor equipment store, Trinidad runs squealing and hides among the tents.He is all the way across the store from me, and I stand motionless, disoriented, and embarrassed. I call to him but my voice sounds like it’s underwater. I have a list in my hand, people walk all around me, and I think, “To them, I look like a housewife going about her day.But so do all of these other ladies. Who else in this room has just been through a fire? Who else has a husband who wants to wear dresses?”
One morning in May, two-year-old Trinidad enters the kitchen naked and puts on his yellow and black striped rubber bee boots.He opens the front door and stands in a patch of lemon-colored sunlight. “I’m going out,” he says.
There is no fire escape plan from our bedroom window on the second floor in our borrowed house.I imagine jumping out, snapping both legs, and lying there to break my children’s fall as my husband tosses them out to me one at a time. This vision is far from the Hollywood exit I would like it to be.
I get a massive breast infection while nursing my infant son. Fred is unable to come home from work as my temperature peaks at 103.5.I lie in bed, delirious, nursing Sam. I somehow manage to give detailed instructions to Trinidad for one obstacle course after another, waiting for Fred to get home from work. “Run to the living room, jump twice on the sofa, touch the refrigerator in the kitchen, then come back.”
My husband tells me that while I was at my mother’s, he wore a skirt all the time.It swished around his ankles as he danced up and down the hall, and my husband had an epiphany: he was meant to be a woman.
Everything is clear. To him.