To the Editor:
As I type this, a full moon beams down through the large windows of my living room, Cassandra Wilson and Jacky Terrasson provide the music, and I think of an approaching anniversary.
On January 14, 2006, my life was interrupted. Not just a minor annoyance like a traffic ticket or a failed romance but a slam into the wall, dead stop. A house fire took all of my possessions and destroyed them. Worse, it took my canine companion of six years, Dabo. Things can be replaced, companions not so much. What could not be measured at that time was what other elements of my character would be altered by the event, which lessons would be learned, and how long it would take to recover and to what degree, because I have come to learn you never completely recover from certain aspects of such a tragedy.
The fire started at a wood stove that got too hot and ignited what surrounded it. As simple as that. I had gone to work a few hours earlier and returned home for lunch. All appeared normal until I opened the front door to a wall of smoke. From there it was all just a matter of calling 911 and waiting for the emergency responders to arrive. A call to my insurance agent brought him to the scene shortly thereafter. After a few hours there was nothing to do but leave. I went to my office and made some incoherent phone calls. I had a place to stay for the night and that’s all I knew.
The days and weeks that followed were tough. Being January, the Island was a quiet place, and I called people to let them know what had happened. There was no social media back then; no Facebook, no Twitter, no smart phones. I can count on one hand the people that helped me rummage through the remnants of my life and acted as a support system outside of my immediate family.
My story was a blurb on the radio, a couple of paragraphs in the local paper, not much else. Life went on. After a month or so, rather than repeat the entire event to people who asked, “How are things going?”, I simply replied that things were fine. I didn’t know if they knew what had happened and I didn’t really care if they did. I just wanted to move on at that point. Most of the people asking that question were clients that asked as casual banter, not out of genuine concern.
Rebuilding my life, both physically and mentally, proved to be challenging. The financial crisis hit just as the cost overruns for the house went 30 percent over the estimate. It nearly bankrupted me and my family. The banks cut my lines of credit, my income diminished, the house was not completed. It should be noted that the insurance companies give you two years to either repair or replace all that had been claimed or forfeit the full value for reimbursement, including the house itself. Not very realistic.
Now, nearly six years later, I still have yet to even come close to where I was before the fire. Obviously I am not the only person facing financial difficulties, but considering the trials I have faced, I think I am holding my own quite well.
On New Year’s Day, a friend of mine also had a house fire. She was lucky to escape with her life. She had no insurance of any kind. She lost all she owned, quite literally. It’s gone. But she has friends, lots of friends. We are all going to help her through this tough situation. We are organized on Facebook (facebook.com/friendsofpaola), Twitter, and through letters like this one. This is how it should be, a community coming together in a member’s time of need. One friend at a time, doing whatever they can to help her out; because it’s the right thing to do, because she would do the same for any one of her friends. Do you want to be a part of the Martha’s Vineyard community? Start by helping Paola Fuller.