Six days before the anniversary of the Fort McMurray Wildfire I sit on the sidewalk in front of the house I grew up in and watch in a paralyzing daze as the fire fighters run in and out and around my family’s house putting out the flames that consumed it.
I was coming for dinner. My Dad had been working non stop nights and my step mom invited us over for something to eat before he went to work. When the flashing red lights of the fire truck, ambulance and police cars blocked off the entrance to my street stopping me from turning in I knew. I didn’t know what exactly, but I knew it was my family they were there for. It always was. My heart dropped and I turned the truck around and sped to the back entrance where I found more flashing lights – it was blocked from both ends. I started to panic. I parked the truck, the two girls in the back and ran ahead a little. I saw my uncle’s truck parked and my suspicion was confirmed. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think. I ran back to the truck. Then I ran forward a bit again. I couldn’t leave the girls alone but I couldn’t think straight enough to take them out. I must have went into the truck, opened the door, shut it and walked towards my house and then back about 4 times before I talked myself into just getting them out of the vehicle and bringing them with me.
I was trembling as I inched closer to my house. Please let everyone be okay. Please let everyone be okay. I saw my Dad. Then Angie, my step mom. Thank you, I thought, my stomach still tying into knot after knot.
“It’s gone, Alyssa” my stepmom said walking up to me. “It’s burnt. It’s gone.”
“Fuck off” I replied, “No, it’s not”
“I’m sorry, Alyssa, I tried to call you. It’s gone. It’s burnt.”
I stared blankly tears welling up. I shook them off. This is not happening. It’s not fucking happening. It can’t be. I look around. My Dad is talking to a fire fighter, the neighbours are bunched together standing on their lawns taking it all in, my uncle and aunty are walking towards us now. There is so much commotion but it is silent at the same time like watching a film with no sound. My mind wanders to the first time we stepped foot in our house. I was 11 years old and my parents had just bought it. I was upset we were moving to Thickwood, I didn’t want to leave the Timberlea area. Angie thought it would be fun to spend the night in our first house before we actually moved in (we never lived in a house before, only apartments and mobile homes) and it was so much fun! We had no furniture, it was completely empty, but we ordered pizza, chased our dog, Peanut, around our new big house and slept in our sleeping bags on the living room floor…
My heart is sinking, closing, figuring out how to put up yet another wall around it’s tender flesh. This feeling is all too familiar. I hate it. But I’m comfortable in it. Used to it. It’s sickening.
I’m trying so hard not to become bitter over the loss of my parent’s house, the house I grew up in. There are so many reasons to become bitter and I have to admit there is still an anger inside me about it all. I can list a million reasons why it is unfair, how it shouldn’t have happened to us, how my parents have worked so hard and been through way too much to have this happen to them, but since the wildfire last year that claimed so many people’s homes in its rage, I am humbled in the fact we are not alone. The kind words, the phone calls, the text messages, the support we’ve received from family, friends, organizations, and complete strangers is remarkable. I love Fort McMurray, my family, my community… we are a different kind and I am beyond proud to call this place my home.
In my quest to keep my heart from closing off completely, I am trying to feel. Feel it all. Feel to heal. And search for God, for joy, for meaning in the little things. Yesterday, after it rained I took the girls out for a walk in the Birchwood trails. The sun was shining through the misty air. It was hot and cool at the same time. The grass was drying but the soil was still wet and gave off that sweet earthy smell just after it rains, my favourite smell of all. I closed my eyes and breathed it in. It was all so beautiful. The contrast between hot and cool, damp and dry. Mother nature has it figured out and God always gives little glimpses of hope if you look close enough. There needs to be this balance between forces. There needs to be a storm before a rainbow, despair in order for joy, heartache for happiness. And so, I wait patiently for the light to come from this darkness ❤