Don’t Read This One

Seriously, I’m just ranting – you don’t need to read this one.  I feel like I say too much, but not nearly enough, and am just trying to get out of my head for a moment.

It’s okay to give this one a pass.

I’ll write something else later.

Either way, here goes nothing…

To say I am frustrated and disappointed with the Fire Marshal would be an understatement. There really are no words, yet at the same time, there will never be enough words. I can’t wrap my head around what appears to be a flippant dismissal of the loss of life, and responsibility, and justice…and while none of that can bring back those kids, I feel like a half-assed investigation only adds insult to injury. I mean, isn’t the main function of a Fire Marshal investigation to determine the cause of a fire? Not just call it inconclusive, sit on it for over two years and then say, “Oh, I don’t know, it was probably caused by (this first guess). Case closed.”

I don’t think a Coroner would just wave his or her hand and say, “I don’t know…the person probably died because of (this first guess). Case closed.”

Or maybe they would. I don’t know if anyone is doing their freaking job anymore. I have lost confidence in the people who hold such positions to carry their share of the responsibility in determining what happened, and how similar tragedies can be prevented in the future.

They didn’t even interview the lone survivor about that night, let alone any of the people who were at the apartment so often it was like a second home to them. Yet apparently felt it was fine to ask me questions through a friend. For the most part, though, they just made an assumption and called it a day. An assumption that was quite likely incorrect. Didn’t even look into anything else; any other possible cause.

One smoke detector had no battery, the other was probably not working – they’re not sure. Just that everyone reported that no smoke detectors were going off when the fire was discovered. One was located above the stove in the kitchen, and one outside the boys’ bedrooms at the front. So…I guess the one in the kitchen also served as the regulated-by-law smoke detector that is supposed to be outside of the girls’ sleeping areas, as well? A little double duty from over the stove in the kitchen?

That both exits were on the same side of the building doesn’t seem to have raised any concerns about the apartment being up to code, nor the fact that walls were added to turn the space into a 4-bedroom instead of two. I have a screen shot of the rental ad – well, a rental ad for that apartment. Not necessarily the one the kids answered when they found the place. But basically the same. It wasn’t turned into a makeshift 4-bedroom for them specifically. It was advertised as such. Are two smoke detectors really enough for a 4-bedroom when one of them is in the kitchen area? Above the stove, for Pete’s sake?

That the landlord is not legally responsible for maintaining the smoke detectors is frustrating. Apparently we as a society feel it is up to a group of kids in their early 20’s to dutifully check to ensure everything is in proper working order when they move in, rather than the owner dude renting the space to them in the first place. I didn’t check mine until this all happened, because I know that the landlord checks them regularly, but when I found that things like this can not only happen, but also be my fault, I became a little more paranoid than I was before (and I was already really paranoid). I am not in my early 20’s, though. Not on my own for the first time. I was 41 when I started testing my smoke detectors more often than the landlord was doing it.

The kids’ landlord didn’t do it at all. Not in the time that they lived there, at least.

And apparently the Fire Marshal doesn’t deem that an important factor, either. Doesn’t think any of it is, really. So what if three kids and a little kitten lost their lives? No one need speak for them. No one need determine the reason how any of it happened. I used to believe people in those positions would fight to do their jobs to the very best of their abilities. That not knowing wasn’t a suitable answer. That guessing was never the way.

Which means I watch too much TV. Turns out to real people, it’s just a day job, and then they go home, without giving another thought to those who will never get to go home again.

I get that everyone’s just doing the minimum required. I get that nothing can change what happened, no matter how much investigation is done. I understand (almost) all of it on a reasonable level, but that doesn’t change my frustration and sadness and disappointment and anger and hurt and…just…overall upset-ness. The minimum effort raises more questions than it answers, and those kids deserve more. The families deserve more. Ethan deserves more. He at least deserves the chance to fill in some of the blanks for those investigating what happened. He was there, after all, and he’s the one who has to live with those memories for the rest of his life. At least ask his side of it, if it’s your job to determine what happened. To me, that actually falls under the bare minimum, but then again, I’m not the Fire Marshal. Just someone who, on some level, will never really understand any of it at all.

I go over that night in my head constantly, you know. Constantly. I wasn’t there. I’d never been inside the apartment until after everything had been taken out. I didn’t even know any of them but Alysia. But I picture it over and over; my mind is full of unanswered questions about how everything happened, trying to fill in the many, many blanks. I feel like if any one thing had gone differently that night, they would all still be alive.

If even just one smoke detector had gone off, for example.

I had a dream last night that I was choosing between…like, it had something to do with Spanish, even though I don’t speak it. But essentially, I had to choose whether I would learn to help Spanish-speaking people in a legal forum, or a musical one. I know. But hey, music speaks, too. I had the impression that either I would be working for people’s rights – the rights of those who could not communicate effectively due to the language barrier – or if I would help in a more spiritual/emotional way through the implementation of music and dance programs.

I chose law, and even in the dream I couldn’t believe I was picking the more difficult road.

I just felt it would be the one where I could be most effective and make the most difference.

I chose to speak for those who could not speak for themselves.

Canadian Screen Week and Navigating Grief

So, this coming Monday is the start of Canadian Screen Week, which has quickly settled into position as my new favourite event of the year.  On the whole, Canada has never been very vocal about its own awesomeness, so to have a week-long celebration of the Canadian film and television industry is a huge step in recognizing some of the things we do really well.  Patting ourselves  on the back isn’t something we do very often, and I’m finding that it’s not only fun to do, but also something we have earned the right to do once in awhile.

Plus, I have friends in the nominee list each year, and that tickles me some.  I am proud of them.

This year, The Mind Reels will be covering Canadian Screen Week – and especially the big awards ceremony broadcast gala next Sunday – with a larger presence than we ever have before.  We’re adding a few new elements to our coverage, and continuing on with the tried and true things we’ve done before.

As crazy excited as I am about it, though, all of it also comes tied intrinsically to memories of losing one my closest friends (and Brody’s momma), Alysia Graham, in the #JAKEhouse fire during this week two years ago.

On this particular day in 2014, I was nervous about covering a non-broadcast gala by myself for the first time.  Tim wasn’t able to make it, but I felt The Mind Reels needed to continue our presence at the events, at least in some form, as a sort of thank you to Touchwood PR for allowing us to participate as much as they do.  I never want to give the impression that we are any less grateful than we are for all the support we receive from those amazing Touchwood peeps!

I knew I wouldn’t be doing any interviews that night, because it seemed weird to do it without Tim, and besides that, I really was nervous as hell.  I remember trying to figure out how much beer I could pound to calm my nerves but not be THAT girl in the press room.  But aside from beer, what actually ended up being my saving grace that night?

Alysia.

We’d joked about trying to sneak her in with me AS Tim, but in reality,  that girl gave up a few hours of her night at home to text me constant support as I tried to settle into my place in the press room on my own.  Thanks to her – her support, her humour, and her ability to seem present even from across the city – I was able to calm down enough to figure out a kind of perfect (for me) plan of attack.

Part of my luck was in the fact that my nominated friends ended up freaking winning in their categories!  The winners were brought back to a red carpet area in the press room, where photos could be taken and quick interviews could be had.  Rather than setting myself up there, though, I hung back a bit, and as they left the red carpet, I grabbed a few seconds for hugs, handshakes and a quick silly selfie.  I had the idea because I thought it would be fun to send them to Alysia as I took them.  As well, however, I realized that I could Instagram them and share to social media in real time, using all the appropriate tags, and it would make for a rather fun and unique bit of coverage for the event as a whole.

Thanks to that kiddo’s generosity with her time that night, I not only got past my nerves enough to survive the night, but I also stumbled across what’s become a bit of a Mind Reels staple moving forward, and had a great time doing it.

Little did I know – in no way could anyone know – that just 2 days later, that vibrant young girl would be gone, and the world forever changed as a result.  I think even now there is a part of me that still can’t understand how someone so present could suddenly just not be here anymore.  My mind railed against it for a long time after, so I think true grieving for me didn’t begin until I let myself accept it.  Until I let myself feel it, and stopped trying to control it or compare it to what anyone else was feeling.

Grief is a weird thing, isn’t it?  We all go through it, many times, over the course of our lives.  To varying degrees, sure, but we all have to live with it.  And yet it’s so different for everyone.  There’s no right or wrong way to navigate grief.  There’s no guidebook or manual to show you how to get through it.  I’m not even sure anyone CAN get through grief.  I think you just learn to live with it, and it becomes a part of a new you.

It’s kind of painfully ironic to me that my brief friendship with Alysia could have me feeling more like myself, but that then losing her so suddenly could change me so much more.  If I thought it was confusing before, trying to figure myself out, it became infinitely more so after.  The world turned upside down and inside out and fell off its axis and my emotions became so raw I not only didn’t know how to express them, but I also stopped being able to contain or monitor or edit them.  Sometimes, things just come out now; still now. And most of the time, I don’t know why, nor what to do with any of it.

By this time last year, I was consumed with dread over the pending first anniversary of the fire.  I was having regular panic attacks and had no idea how to face it or get through it to the following day.  I didn’t know how to help her family and friends, who had quickly become my family and friends, too, because it was the only way I felt like I could keep her close.  To keep her people close, and help take care of them for her, as best I could.  If I could at all.  And part of that fear, I think, was not only surrounding that first anniversary, but also in the vast of uncertainty of…what next?  What about March 8th?  What the fuck would any of us do then?  When the year of firsts is over, what are we supposed to do in the days that follow?

What happens when there are no more firsts?

My terror was that focus might then revert to lasts.  And I wasn’t sure how to move forward into a life of lasts, let alone how to be a useful support to those who’d lost her more than I.

This year is a little different.  Not more or less difficult, but different nonetheless.  The panic and dread is not as overwhelming, I think because we have gotten through March 7th, March 8th, and almost an entire year after that.  And the focus has not changed to lasts, as I’d feared.  I’m actually scheduled to work on March 7th, which I’m not sure was the best idea ever, but hopefully it will at least be distracting to a point.

Hopefully.  I’m a bit worried about it, actually.  Maybe I can meet up with people after work for a bit, just to mark the day together, or something.  We’ll see.

As for March 8th, I have THAT day off, and unintentionally filled it with things I can look forward to.  An appointment with my neurologist in the morning (okay I look forward to that less, but it’s good to have someone keeping an eye on my health), a trip to the zoo to – among other things – meet some baby panda cubs for the first time (and maybe with luck a baby rhino dude), then back home and downtown to cover the first awards gala of Canadian Screen Week 2016!

I think the new me – the one I am still trying to figure out as I navigate through daily life now – will always consider this a difficult and bittersweet time of year; a time of ups and downs and memories both amazing and horrible.

But I’m learning to accept that this, too, is a part of who I am now.

And in all of the things I am learning about the process of grief- for me – one of the smallest has turned out to represent one of the biggest achievements.

Like it or not, for better or for worse, I now know I can still find a way to make it to March 8th.