Last night, I had a dream. I had a dream that we were driving through our neighborhood in Fort McMurray. Odd fence-like, plastic cubes covered a lot of the houses along the way. I remember feeling sad that the newly built, obviously well loved house a few streets down from ours seemed to be gone. I remember agitating over what we would see when we turned the corner onto Brett Drive and Warren Way. What it would look like, how it would smell, was I going to cry? And then we did. Everything was covered in ashes, flames still made sudden appearances among the rubble and destruction, a burned out car was smoldering upside down. In the dream, I held my breath, I hardly dared to look – and there it was. Standing amidst the destruction was our house, our home. Unscathed, untouched, just as it looked the last time I saw it. I ran up the stairs and flung open the door. It was all there; the cluttered coat rack, the chalkboard full of indecent doodlings made by the cast after our wine and cheese night, the lone sock next to our stack of shoes. It was all there! – and then I woke up.
Starting today, the people of Fort McMurray are allowed to return to their homes. Many plan to simply go for a few days and assess the damage done to their property and neighborhoods, to sleep in their own beds, no matter the smell of smoke or the water boiling advisory. Others might stick around, now that the town is taking it’s first shaky steps towards being populated again. Seeing pictures of stocked grocery stores, videos of new fridges being delivered, of the hardworking people who stayed behind now welcoming others back, of friends reuniting with their homes – it all warms deep places inside of me. I’m genuinely happy. Happy for everyone going back and for the town as a whole, that the outcome so far seems to be much brighter than anyone could have imagined a month ago, even though we suffered losses and pain, desperation and fear – we are still standing!
There is also the part inside of me that is less noble, less likable and much less talked about. It’s a wringing of the heart and a closing of the throat, a feeling as if you’re choking, withdrawing, breathing tiny shallow breaths. It’s a slap in the face. It’s a horrible pang of jealousy.
Please misunderstand me correctly; these negative feelings of mine don’t diminish the gratefulness I feel for everything that has been saved through the sacrifice and hard work of the incredible people who stayed behind to fight. I’m not wishing this upon anyone else. I’m not begrudging the people returning to their homes their joy. (Who do you think I am, the Grinch?)
Mostly, I feel sad. Sad, tired and homesick. One day, as I walk towards the train station in the sunshine and life feels amazing, everything is going to be okay! The next, I wake irrationally angry and spend the rest of the day snapping at people left and right, walking away from conversations because if I don’t, my head might explode. Any little thing might make me cry. I forget names and faces and what I had for lunch. Sleep comes demanding immediate attention, but never stays and leaves me sweaty and disheveled. Then, I’m laughing again.
I am also very tired of being told to be grateful, to look on the bright side of life. I know it’s coming from a place of concern, from a place were negative emotions – all that sadness and anger and fear – needs to be extinguished and swept away immediately. Where people simply want to make me feel better, preferably right away. It’s coming from a place of kindness, of wanting me to be happy. I understand, and I appreciate it, I really do – but it’s so taxing. So grating. I am grateful, I am happy – but I’m also all those other things. I still laugh, just let me cry and mope and be quiet when I need to.
(And please, for the love of God, never exclaim “with all the things we need to throw out, I kinda wish our house would have burned down too!”. Just… no… no, you don’t.)
But alas! There has been extremely fun moments during this shitty month of May too. As always they have been brought on by the people involved in them. Like Diana’s birthday, when we surprised her with cheese and karaoke, or rock climbing and bowling, or when we went to the ADFA Provincial Festival in Grande Prairie where Diana and Zenon rocked everyone’s socks off and took home best actress, best actor, best director and best production. I cried then too.
The crying might diminish as the summer months pass by, I honestly don’t know. The anger might subside too. I really hope so. As it is, we are trying to reestablish everyday life again, dealing with questions that we have no answers to; “where will you go, what will you do, what’s your next step?”. Me and Jon Snow could start a club where we gather all the things we do not know in a neat little wildling pile, because I have no answers. I know nothing, and that more than anything brings on that pang, that choking sensation.
All my life I’ve been a-hopping, always arriving somewhere with the intention of promptly leaving again within a couple of years. Travelling, studying, coming and going – such was life as I knew it. When I moved up here, I only brought the things that mattered the most, the ones I couldn’t stand to leave behind, I was ready to live here now. Still, the urge to leave has always been present. Settling into Fort McMurray was a monster all in its own right, one that I have battled and fought, denied and deplored. Nesting, as it were, was never my strong suite. The thought of staying in one place indefinitely, of truly making it my home for the long haul, was terrifying – up until about a year ago. It might have been my residency finally being approved, it might have been my friends, but all of a sudden the urge to hit the road diminished. Like a little puff of smoke. Just like that I was ready to settle, to nest, to burrow into this oddity of a town and mold it as it would undoubtedly mold me. As it already has.
All these emotions; the joy and relief and gratefulness, the anger and the fear and the jealousy, all of the ugly tears and vivid dreams, the longing and the heartbreak and the shame. The constant tiredness. The random brain farts. The homesickness. The laughter. Deep down all I want to do is stomp my foot like a five year old and demand that I can go back right away, that my house is still there, to pick up where we left off. As if nothing happened.
We all know I can be irrational when I want to, right? But just like with a five year old, we all know this is a phase. That it will pass. When the time is right, I will be back. When a few questions has found their answers, I will be back. When I can sleep through the night again, I will be back.
Together, we will do more than just rebuild.
We will make it better than ever.
I have so much love for Fort McMurray and all its people and all of those who kept her safe.