Posted to FB April 12, 2017 after a fire at my venue
I wondered to my therapist why I’ve been so emotionally triggered by the smell of smoke from coworkers coming back to the office after being in our fire-damaged venue. No, I don’t think I ever experienced a real fire trauma.
Well, there was the time when I was 6 and my big brother had the idea to create a Used Christmas Tree Lot, dragging the neighborhood’s discarded trees to our tiny back yard. We practiced lighting some needles and putting them out, until we failed and the dry trees went up in flames, out of control. I ran and hid at a neighbor’s house, wisely avoiding my normal hidey hole in the crawlspace under my house, where I played with matchbox cars in the thick dust and ash. My sister ran to the kitchen and came out with a single useless glass of water. Fight. Flight. Paralysis. Process. No, that wasn’t traumatic and no I don’t want to talk about why I played under the house.
Then there was the time as adults when arsonists developers were torching our rapidly-gentrifying neighborhood. We sat on a curb watching our next-door neighbor’s building go up in flames, and I said with sincerity: “I’m gonna get us the hell outta Dodge.” Medium scary, yes, we moved, but no, that doesn’t really register as a triggering event. Dad died that year so it was all just a chaotic mix of grief and laughter and insanity and creativity, constant soundtrack of Peggy Lee’s “Is that All There Is” to a fire? Then let’s keep dancing.
No, no, really, I insisted, dismissively, apologetically, these things do not trigger me…then suddenly:
OH! September 11th!
Right. September 11th. Windows open, my Cobble Hill apartment was filled with paper debris and the dust of buildings and humans. I used the FEMA vouchers to get an air filter and vacuum, which I still use. The fires burned for months. It always smelled in Chelsea where I spent all my time drinking and making comedy and when the wind shifted it smelled at home. I kept the windows closed, used my FEMA A/C unit. They said, never forget and we knew we’d never forget. We couldn’t. We tried.
I’ve been using all my powers of suppression since the election, suppression of my fear of our government again, suppression of fear of the actions this government is provoking, suppression of my deepest fear that it’s all over for America, a place I really had such high hopes for. And I have a very real fear that we’re just not going to make it. Lots of us didn’t. Lots more don’t everyday from the same forms of greed and hatred. And even if we do make it, we’ve got the disastrous effects of climate change, where we were already too late and now we are moving backwards. We are not going to make it.
It takes a lot to suppress this fear and get to the silly but somewhat meaningful business of my life. Just yesterday I was asking myself if I am too fancy for wanting a new vacuum, and I dated mine to Sept 2001, so it’s not like I don’t remember it happened, every day. I just didn’t remember the smell, or the emotions, or how I was purposefully trying to forget, every day.
Thank god for therapy, doesn’t take much to scritchy scratchy at the layers to get to the heart. And now I can say: THIS is not THAT. This smoke smell is not that smoke smell. But this fear IS that fear. This empathy is that empathy. This America is not that America, which was just starting to grow up but then went the other way. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw Americans cheering if it happened to NYC today, as Trump did that day. So many sick maniacs in charge and out there, but let this be our national bottom. Let this be the fire we fight and rise up from.
But yeah I’m getting a new vacuum, I mean sheesh.