My husband and I live in Lawrence, MA, one of the three cities where a series of gas explosions displaced thousands of residents last weekend.
My husband is 23 months sober.
Home is more than a building. It is more than a physical place. It is much more than a shelter. This is a post about our long trip home.
A few days ago I watched my city erupt around me as an estimated 70 fires and explosions rocked my community in a few short and terrifying hours.
Let me start from the beginning. It was Thursday and I was at work. I had not checked my phone in hours. At six pm I looked at my cell and discovered text messages from my husband saying he had been evacuated from his office building at work and that our city and surrounding ones were experiencing a series of unexplained fires and explosions due to gas line malfunctions. I called him in a panic. He didn’t know if our building had been impacted and was trying to get home. You see our babies were there, a dog and two cats. He couldn’t get there though. The city was being evacuated on short notice. Traffic gridlocked as people tried to enter and exit the city, some fleeing their homes, others rushing towards them. Roads and exits were being closed, including those that led to our apartment, and emergency vehicles, with sirens screaming, rushed through the streets, as fires and explosions barraged three cities like the steady and deadly bullet spray from a machine gun. I left work and started my desperate drive north to try and reunite with my husband. I wouldn’t get to him for another 2 hours. It would be longer before we got to our babies.
On my way, I listened to the news and checked my phone in terror, not knowing when or where the next explosion or fire would occur. I learned that the gas pipes were “over-pressurized”. I was unsure if Columbia Gas, the company whose pipes were exploding and leaking, supplied our building. My husband and I talked on the phone and decided, with some relief, it probably did not. Our utility is National Grid. Later we found out that we were wrong. I am grateful I learned the truth later.
Driving home on the highway I watched as dozens of firetrucks, ambulances, and other first responders vehicles raced by me on the highway. My husband assured me that we probably would have seen our building on the news if it was on fire, but the desperation of not knowing was a pit in my gut. Soon the traffic slowed to a crawl. I sat in a sea of cars and looked out to the city to see if my home was burning. Unsure of where my building was, I was without answers. All I could see were blacked out windows of large shadowy buildings. On the phone, my husband’s voice told me that in order to avoid more explosions, the power had been turned off. Just like that, my burning city was plunged into darkness. I imagined my dog, her tiny chihuahua body trembling alone in the darkness and felt despair. I traveled in my car, creeping past one, after another, after another closed exits to the city north of mine where my husband waited in a parking lot. I sat, my senses keen, yet overloaded, and I noticed everything: the chopping helicopter sounds circling above, my vision reflecting puddles of flashing red lights, my smoke tinged nostrils. I moved through chaos, and slowly, without choice, I passed my home. I traveled past, I waited, and I prayed.
That night, after finally reuniting, my husband and I took one car and drove the back way toward home through the unaffected areas of the city. We imagined we would eventually meet road closures and prepared to park and walk. We didn’t end up walking and around 9 pm we finally made it to our mostly evacuated building, with the exception of a few confused stragglers. On the sixth floor in our apartment, we were happily greeted by our furry crew.
We learned the gas was turned off, and that the building was safe, but the electricity would be off indefinitely. So we packed bags in darkness, fed the cats, and left with our dog to find a place to stay. We, like so many others in the Merrimack Valley, were displaced.
My husband is a recovering heroin addict. Addiction inflicts trauma, on the user and their loved ones alike. So I am no stranger to trauma. On Thursday night I experienced a similar mental and physical trauma as when my husband was using. Emotions resurfaced: loss of control, fear, despair, chaos, confusion, desperation. But I was lucky. My home did not explode and we were not harmed. I am lucky. My husband has been clean for 23 months, it has been a long trip home.
There is sadness inside of gratitude.
My husband speed-balled heroin and crack. At rock bottom he robbed me of my ATM card in the hallway of our apartment using physical force. Heroin was once the gas leak that poisoned us. It was thousands of daily explosions. When my husband was using I watched everything burn. I didn’t pass the blaze, instead I traveled into the fire and that is where I waited and I prayed. I perished in those flames. On Thursday night the home I rushed to was not my apartment, it was my family. My husband, our dog, and our two cats. They are my home, it has taken years for my husband to make the long trip home.
There is sadness inside of gratitude. If there wasn’t, how could I recognize gratitude? I know gratitude because I am intimately acquainted with grief.
Today they are removing roadblocks from the streets and we are back in our apartment. From our window 6 floors above, I see families walking across a bridge carrying luggage as they return home, but the crisis in our city is not over. Gas has not been restored and the fall chill in the air and turning foliage reminds us that winter is coming. Recovery is a long term process. It is one that requires patience, love, and gratitude. Even in winter. Even when everything is burning.
Here are some pictures of home:
Six months ago my husband and I started trying for a baby. We haven’t had any success yet. I am 35 years old, so on Friday we had our first fertility appointment.
I imagine the universe is the most magical alchemist, making art from life’s sorrow, infusing me with resiliency and turning system-entrapment into gold.
See you sooner rather than later.
In love and hope,