Sunday, August 21, 2011

Paradise Lost

Wednesday afternoon I heard the mournful wail of the fire station about a half mile up the road from my house.  I had learned over time it's a forewarning to any vehicles on the busy, winding street that it fronts that an emergency vehicle is about to come bounding forth.  But, it's an eerie sound that almost sounds like the harbinger of the end of the world.  And, sure enough, a couple of minutes after the siren from the station house itself stopped, I could hear the higher pitched wail of the fire truck as it rushed out onto the street.  After a number of months here, I hear these sounds as just part of the noise of the city, they barely give me pause.  But, this seemed different because sirens kept on coming, one after another, rushing up the main street of our area.  And then the same mournful wail of the other fire station, about a mile and a half down the road going the other way as it belched forth its engines.  Whatever was happening was big.  Then I heard a helicopter, and I finally went outside to look.  Black smoke was visible over the roof line of the same house where the eagle had perched many months ago now, and my eyes and nose were stung by the smell of burning.  Boy, I think to myself, that seems really close.  As it turns out, it was three blocks away.  A house was completely destroyed when fire fighters were prevented from getting too close due to the excessive number of firearms kept there and the potential for explosion.  No people were hurt, but two dogs inside the house perished.  Marissa tried to keep that last part from me.  She knew it would upset me.  It does:  I hope those ignorant, gun toting bastards spend their eternity, when they finally meet it, feeling the fright and agony of their poor pets in their last moments.

Death did not seem satiated however with the sacrifice of two helpless canines.  Friday saw storms roll into the area, which is nothing unusual.  Systems will generate out over Lake Erie and then make their way through Pittsburgh routinely.  Also not unusual is that they will pass through, seem to double back around and take another shot at it.  So, the skies darkened to almost black mid-morning, the rumble of thunder a constant soundtrack to my work and some rain fell.  Not a lot, not a little, just a late summer shower.  Then the clouds cleared, the sun came out and the humidity hit the roof.  Late afternoon, the clouds decided we'd had enough sunshine, so they rolled back in, casting the house in such deep shadow, I had to turn all the lights on in my little office to see what I was working on.  Once more, thunder rumbled and a steady rain fell for about twenty minutes when it seemingly decided this was not fun anymore and the clouds broke up once more, this time leaving us for good.  I was glad for the rain, and I like stormy days, so - aside from the miserable humidity of the midday - I was pretty satisfied.  Little did I know that less than six miles from me along a roadway I've traveled many times before, a deluge was happening, causing the designed drainage to fail and resulting in flash floods that would take the lives of four individuals: a mother and her two young daughters and an older woman.  A number of others had to be rescued from the tops of their cars, completely submerged in water.  I read an account in this morning's paper of a young woman rescuing another older cancer patient who would have otherwise drowned.  The paper began the article pondering the question how a flash flood of that magnitude could happen in a major American city.  I am sure the father of those two lost girls must be wondering the same thing.  I can only imagine the lawsuits that will be filed over this, as it apparently is not the first time that street has flooded, and this is an area where a lot of rain is not unusual.  For my family, this is the roadway most logically traveled back and forth to Marissa's college and many other areas of the city we frequent.  Now I'm afraid for her to use it, already a little paranoid anytime she's out of my sight.

So, you realize that there is no such thing as a perfect place to live.  And aside from the petty little complaints one could have - I can't seem to win the mildew battle in my bathroom during the heavy humidity of the summer, and oh, the fleas(!) that love the warm bodies I brought them and seem resistant to every type of remedy we've spent hundreds of dollars and hours of time fighting, only to have just picked one off Tum-Tum's face - I realize I have probably spent a number of months idealizing this city.     Well, it's far from perfect.  There are areas of the city I dare not go.  It's not necessarily because I'm white, it's because anyone, including those individuals who live there, spend time there at their peril.  There are other areas of town I'd love to go to more, but fighting traffic gridlock to get there is hardly worth it.  There is real poverty, crime, idiocy and infrastructure issues here.  Pittsburgh is not another name for Paradise.

Another thing Pittsburgh cannot do is bring an end to our sense of grief, and heal the wounds our little family has endured.  Only time can do that.  Maybe I over sold this place.  Maybe, when I brought us here, I presented it as a place where all our sorrows would not be able to find us.  But they can, and they have.  But, as I sit here, watching a shower of golden leaves fall outside my window, as summer begins to give way to fall, I personally think I have found my home.  This is where I will stake my claim and hopefully live out my days.  I accept this place, with all its flaws, so now it is perhaps time to begin to dive in and figure out ways to help alleviate some of those flaws.  In the meantime, I hope my family, shaken a little by the events of the week, and realizing the weight of missing Kelsey remains just as heavy here as anywhere, will join me in that quest.  In the meantime, I am off to try and clean mildew off my bathroom ceiling as rain clouds begin to gather outside, and I can hear a siren not far off racing to some unknown encounter.

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