Fire Woman

I suppose I knew the sheer magnitude would begin to become a bit overwhelming as the date grew closer, but it was not until this week that I recognized I was being crushed by it, whether I wanted to acknowledge it or not.

My Facebook timeline looks something like this:

  • Fire, photo
  • Fire, book
  • Fire, magazine article
  • Fire, newspaper article
  • Fire, painting
  • Fire
  • FIre
  • FIRe
  • FIRE

This week it finally broke me. I saw yet another in a long string of fire-related content and thought: “Are you fucking kidding me?”

Yes, those exact words, as I often use fairly salty language in my head which fortunately doesn’t always make it to my lips.

I don’t want to make it sound like anyone is at fault, as I know the “anniversary” of the fire is a significant date in many ways; but the truth is that it seems like a mountain that threatens to fall on top of me, the instability likely of my own making as opposed to any fault in the mountain.

Someone asked if I would be watching the impending television coverage, and all I could say is that I didn’t think so; after all, I was here on May 3 and have been here every day since re-entry, with few exceptions. It’s kind of the same response as when someone asked me if I took any photos or videos during the evacuation and I said no – why would I need photos or videos to remember something I lived through and would likely see when I closed my eyes for decades to come?

And someone asked why I have not published a book, a one-year retrospective; and while a book is in the works, all I could respond is that the story is far, far from over. While others tell the tale of the fire, I want to tell the story of the sparks that came before and the slow burn that followed it as a community struggled to recover, and that is a story still being shaped every day.

But as we inch closer to May 3, 2017, and as the fire-related content ramps up in every conceivable way, I find myself shutting down. So, instead of shutting myself down, I am instead shutting it down.

I am not watching the television shows, seeing the films, looking at the photos or paintings or reading the books. I am not saying I will NEVER do those things; I just won’t be doing them at a point when I am already feeling vulnerable and emotional. There may be people who wish to immerse themselves in those things, but I am not one of them.

In May of last year when I was struggling to cope I commented to a friend that I was having trouble with the photos and stories. Their simple question was why I was viewing or reading them, as if I was finding them difficult then I was likely traumatizing myself repeatedly, a form of taser-ing myself emotionally on a regular basis.

And so I stopped.

I stopped watching the news and instead began talking to real live people. I stopped looking at the pictures and focused on real faces instead. And I stopped living and breathing the fire on a daily basis, because the fire was beginning to burn me to emotional ashes inside.

Dear friends, it is okay to step away. There is no requirement to continue to expose ourselves to an experience we lived through if we do not wish to do so; it is not only understandable but normal to want to establish some distance from it at this point.

During that long drive south almost one year ago, I had my satellite radio cranked loudly to an 80’s alternative music channel. The sound was all about mitigating the feeling of loneliness, staying awake and trying to drown out the nervous panting of the dog and the caterwauling of three unhappy felines (that was the drive when I learned why it is called “cat-erwauling” as it is an apt description). After about six hours in, a song came on the radio and I laughed so hard I cried. And then I just cried for a bit, and kept driving into an uncertain future while contemplating how strange life and the world is.

Since that date whenever I hear the song I crank it up, remembering that moment and that time, thinking about how I knew even then that despite the uncertainty I, the people  I love and the place I call home would be okay.  This song makes me laugh for all the right and wrong reasons. It takes me back to that day, but not in a bad way; it takes me back to a point in time when even though all seemed uncertain and unknown and frightening, there was still time to find some absurdity in it all.

And it reminds me that while I might now see myself as a “fire woman” and Fort McMurray might be internationally known as the home of the “Fort McMurray wildfire”, both and I this community are so much, much more than just a fire.

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