Rebuilding from Ashes.









It’s been a bad week.  In a blink of an eye I’ve lost everything.  My home was destroyed in a fire (http://www.fox5dc.com/news/families-displaced-after-fire-damages-annapolis-apartment-complex), and that’s not even the worst part of it.  I hate asking, but if you have one dollar to spare to help me rebuild my gratitude will extend further than words will ever be able to tell.

On Thanksgiving night 2017 the condo building, where I rented my home, caught fire.  An elderly woman living one over, one up from me had a faulty heating pad that ignited her bedding.  Before long the fire grew into a three-alarm blaze that spread into nearby units, destroying 22 homes over 90 minutes.  As I watched the flames pierce through the building’s roof I knew that I would be losing everything.  Anything not destroyed by flames would be destroyed by water and smoke.  I couldn’t stand to watch any longer.

The next day, as I returned to the building, firefighters were still on the scene investigating the cause of the fire.  When they finally completed their work the building was condemned, and contractors were immediately brought in to board up the entire building.  The day after that I came back once again and found the contractors on site installing fencing to prevent access.  I was able to speak with the supervisor who had inspected every unit, or what was left of them.  He confirmed my fears that everything was lost.  “You’re right in the worst part of it,” he told me of my unit.  Whatever was spared from the flames was submerged under four feet of water before the fire was extinguished.  It would be weeks, if not months, before I would have the chance to go back in and try to salvage anything.  “But, really, it’s all gone,” he said.  So, it’s been a bad week.

As difficult as this is on its own, the greatest terror that gripped me as I watched the flames consume home after home is this:  The day before this happened I lost my job for filing a sexual harassment complaint with Human Resources, and then complaining further about retaliation.  I had only worked for the company for a few months, but things abruptly turned sour a few weeks prior.  I felt like I had to take a stand, calling out someone important in the company.  Almost immediately thereafter, my boss began picking fights with me on a near daily basis, yelling at me any time I asked for guidance or assistance, refusing to help, and began telling me that I should quit.  After about two weeks of this I had a conversation with her supervisor about my boss' hostility.  After two more weeks things didn’t improve, so I emailed her supervisor a second, written complaint, specifically stating that the only logical explanation I could find for all of this was retaliation.  Two hours later I was terminated.  I guess some policies aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.  It’s been a really bad week.

And the icing on the cake is that just a week before all of this happened I was shopping around for new renter’s insurance.  It seems so petty now to have been so worried about finding the absolute best deal possible.  A week goes by, you remind yourself you should do that first thing tomorrow because you’re late getting it done, and the next morning is too late.  So yeah, I guess it’s been a really, really bad week.

Those who know me best know that I do not ask for help easily.  I’m a proud man with a touch of stubbornness.  When faced with unfortunate difficulties I feel like it is my personal obligation to accept the struggle on my own until I’ve overcome it.  I owe it to everyone else to not allow my problems to affect them.  Even as I watched the flames tearing apart the building where I lived, the only thing I could muster to my own sister was “I know it’s late, but if you’re awake please call me.”  I didn’t want to disturb her if she’d already gone to bed.  She minced no words the following morning to tell me how “incredibly stupid” it was for me to feel that way.

The truth—and I’ve never before admitted this before—is that it’s not the pride or stubbornness that makes this so difficult for me.  It’s fear.  Fear of being ungrateful, because difficult as this may be I’m alive and I’m not living in Aleppo.  Fear that I am overlooking something, because I’m supposed to be intelligent enough to think up a solution to anything.  Fear that asking for help is the easy way out, because nobody in this world owes me a single thing.  Fear that whatever grief comes to me from this is exactly what I deserve, because the truth is that I can’t blame anyone else but myself.

I think that for most people, the most difficult losses are the sentimental ones.  But as much as I may miss my football autographed by three Ravens players, my authenticated dilithium crystal prop from the original Star Trek, assorted mementos from good times past, and keepsakes that remind me of past loves, I find myself most upset about the possessions that held no special meaning at all.  Sentimentality is not a luxury I can afford as I attempt to move forward.  Memories may be priceless, but handing out resumes and going on job interviews is free.  That is, until you’ve lost every suit you owned.

Emotionally, the hardest thing is trying to cope with the fact that what I am mourning the most are just things.  It’s the thousands of dollars in professional clothing that I would have been wearing today as I handed out resumes, and would be wearing on interviews to come.  It’s the $250 worth of food I had just bought, which will never make it into my stomach.  It’s the $200 worth of hygiene items I’d just bought in bulk because they were on sale, but now are another wasted expense out of my limited funds.  It’s the desktop computer that is gone, and the laptop that I was able to grab but may be ruined, which I used for my sideline work in weddings; my only potential source of income put in hiatus, diminished even if not obliterated.  It feels so materialistic to lament these mere things--shouldn't I just be grateful to be alive?--but these are the things that would help me survive this immediate crisis and climb out this hole.

It’s been a bad week, and I almost hate myself for needing help.  But the truth is that I need help.  I don’t care about furniture or my bougie coffee appliances or any of the various pleasures and comforts I accumulated over time.  To find a new home I need security deposits, first and last month’s rent (I can sleep on an air matress for the next 12 months if I have to).  For all of those I need to find a new job.  And for that I need so much of the things I just lost.  And so before the cruelty of life humbles me onto a street corner asking for a spare dollar, I humble myself now and ask that, if you can spare one dollar, help me rebuild from these ashes.
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Organizer

Patrick López 
Organizer
Annapolis, MD
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