ok so here's the story of last week, ready set go
Last week was weird and sad and traumatic and horrible and uplifting and heartwarming and I'm going to try to tell the story of it now. I told it piece by piece in a private forum where I felt a little freer to just blurt as shit happened, but I didn't have the wherewithal to do A Real Blog Post about it until now. Honestly, I'm not sure I really have that wherewithal tonight, but now's better than later because everything gets harder with procrastination.
So. A story.
Sunday June 10th began like any other Sunday in the life of a Boulder County Bombers Travel Team member. We had practice from 10 AM to 1 PM. It was a long, slow, exhausting practice because we were in the tail end of a heat wave and the barn we practice in has no air conditioning beyond the two industrial-sized box fans at either end of the track. The coaches gave us long breaks, urged us to drink water, and passed around ice packs to hug to our chests or smack on our foreheads. But even though we took it slow, we worked hard. It was our last Sunday practice before a big away game scheduled for Saturday the 16th in Pittsburgh, a sanctioned bout that would make or break our hopes for a berth at the North America West Continental Cup. The main topic was "second pass defense." The opposing team's jammer just got out of the pack with Lead Jammer status; how do you keep them scoring as few points as possible? Answer: You get them off the track and you run them back. Repeatedly. Here's how you're gonna do it...
I went home after practice and napped hard for most of the rest of the daylight hours. So did John. Eventually we both got up. He left for the night. I found enough energy to scrounge a bite to eat and settle into a session of Spiral Knights. The Shroud of Apocrea event was on, and I wanted to farm enough Apocrean Sigils to eventually craft all three special weapons. I was this close to being able to turn my Silent Nightblade into an Obsidian Edge!
Around about 10:00 or 10:30 PM, I was in the middle of meticulously clearing the Grasping Plateau when John texted me. "Have you seen the news on Facebook about the barn?"
The first thought, the very first thought that jumped into my head was, "Oh, shit, did it burn down?"
So on the Grasping Plateau you get stalked by a big unkillable beastie known as the Apocrean Harvester. When it catches you with its many hands, it zaps you 'til you're dead. You avoid it by using the "dash" action, which makes it lose track of you for a short while. I started hitting the keyboard shortcut for "dash" a lot so I could check Facebook without getting dead.
I found the Facebook post. I saw the pictures of flames pouring out both the barn aisle and the track area. I thought about the sportcourt we'd just bought. I realized I'd left all my gear at the barn, including my skates with the Bont boots that had come in only the month before. No one could say yet how much league or individual property was damaged, not even after the fire was put out and the building was shown to be still standing.
Eventually I gave up and shut down Spiral Knights because I couldn't even. I shut it down and curled up on the sofa and cried for a little while.
Then I put all my Habitica damage on hold, used a stempo so that my 4thewords streak wouldn't be broken, and began a dedicated reread of all the Diana Wynne Jones novels in the house just to give my brain somewhere else to live other than in the horrible, horrible world I was suddenly inhabiting in which the only certainty was that my derby world just went up in flames and all that was left was to find out how extensive the damage was.
I kept waking up through the night wondering why there was pain lodged in my mind, then remembering why, then having to read some more to in order to forget again sufficiently to fall back asleep.
The next morning--Oh, good Gods, I had to get the Volt to its regular check-up appointment and I had to do something about the Saturn completely failing to start yesterday and now there was the barn. OK. One thing at a time. The Volt went to its appointment. John and I and Avedan had breakfast. Avedan helped distract us with pictures from her trip to Iceland, paying special attention to the baby sheep. The distractions helped, but there was only so much distraction that was possible when John's cell phone screen caught my eye and, without meaning to, I read the text he'd just received from a teammate: "Everything's been destroyed." I put my head down on the table next to my biscuits and gravy and tried not to scream.
As soon as we'd reclaimed the Volt from the garage, we went up to the barn to see for ourselves.
Thanks to our teammates who'd already been there that morning, the first thing we saw was a neat line of the burnt and melted remains of skates. I could barely look. I've been told since then that one of those pairs was probably mine, and I could probably salvage the plates; a couple of my teammates did and skated on them in Pittsburgh. I wish I'd looked more closely; we haven't been allowed back since. But at the time it was too much.
Inside, everything was black with soot. Where gear had been packed away or set out to dry Sunday afternoon, there were heaps of... gunk. You could kind of make out a toe-stop here, a wheel there. Where my own gear had been, I found the remains of one boot and its insole melted to the floor. I poked around looking for my tools--they were metal, they should have survived--but nothing else recognizable was there.
The team benches, repurposed pews discarded by the church group next door back when we practiced on Weaver Park Road, were still standing. Their upholstery was destroyed, but the wood was still solid. So were the penalty benches that our head NSO, Spectre, had lovingly crafted for us. He'd also made a big rolling box to store a bunch of officials' supplies neatly in drawers and on shelves, and it still existed too. Someone had pulled it outside into the clean air. Its contents would turn out later to have sustained smoke damage, but the laptop and projector stored inside, nestled in foam, would boot up just fine as though nothing had happened.
During that walk-through, I became fascinated with what the fire had claimed and what it had left untouched. It had utterly destroyed the sportcourt we'd just bought, yet underneath the subfloor we'd all sweated and labored over at the end of 2016 looked untouched. (There is some question as to how much damage the plywood floor took from being doused with fire hoses. We have yet to really determine how viable it actually is. I remain cautiously optimistic simply because the subfloor is of a "floating" design; the plywood wouldn't have been sitting in the water for any length of time, and between the fire and the heat wave it probably dried quickly. But we will see.) The paper lanterns decorating the rafters were lying on the floor like globes of magma, their paper darkened to a rust color and yet still paper. How does paper not just go up in a flash in those conditions? The laundry basket full of helmet covers for pivots and jammers, as well as mesh pinnies for creating black-and-white team color distinctions in a hurry, was a weird egg-shape in the center of the track where the basket had melted around its contents. We cracked the egg open to find a surprising amount of undamaged helmet covers inside: enough for each of our home teams to skate in come the round robin tournament on June 23rd, and certainly enough black and gold to bring to Pittsburgh. They were singed and melted in places, but we wore them in Pittsburgh.
The back end of the barn, where the fire hadn't reached, was just as blackened, the sportcourt just as crisped and curling, but more items there were intact. Everyone was "overjoyed" to know that our plyo boxes--the wooden crates we did box jumps and depth jumps on as part of our off-skates conditioning--had survived the flyer with just a coating of soot. (I did a depth jump off one of them, just to stick my finger in Fate's eye.) The rolling whiteboard that John considered the bane of his existence--it had always managed to be in his way when he went looking for drill supplies--survived the fire too. John considered that a personal offense. He rolled it into the center of the floor and took a picture of it, to cuss it out more effectively on Facebook.
Possibly the greatest source of hope after the apparent survival of the subfloor was the seemingly untouched state of our old sportcourt, or "Old Blue" as we'd taken to calling it. When we bought the new one, we tried to sell the old one off. No one nibbled. We wound up storing it in stacks on pallets at the back of the barn aisle. Again, because the fire had been mostly at the front of the building, Old Blue, seemed to have escaped completely unscathed. We hope, with a cautious hope, to skate on it again.
There was this ball of duct tape we'd been growing since the 2016 season. Every time a skater had to use duct tape to keep their gear fastened--it happens a lot as the velcro fastenings weaken--they'd take the tape off after practice and add it to the ball. The thing had gotten to about two feet in diameter at least. Someone took a picture of it after the fire, looking like a two-foot-wide cinder, and posted it on Facebook with the caption RIP DUCT TAPE BALL. Several league members commented along the lines of, "Just put some duct tape on it, it'll be fine."
Anyway, I could go on, much in the same way I could have wandered around the burned-out barn for hours oscillating between despair and scientific fascination, but that would serve no good purpose. Let's move on to the happy stuff.
The happy stuff starts here:
And then it continues:
Impromptu Fire Damage Fundraiser for Boulder County Bombers hosted by 300 Suns Brewing
And continues, and continues, and continues. The retweets/reposts/reblogs of the fundraisers across the worldwide derby community. The neighbor leagues starting impromptu fundraisers of their own. The deep discounts on replacement gear from local sponsors. The outright donations of gear by people known to us and not so known. Neighbor leagues inviting us to their practices, discounting their drop-in fees for us.
I was able to replace all my gear in time to skate Saturday in Pittsburgh. We won both our games, and the sanctioned game between the BCB All Stars and Steel City's "Steel Hurtin'" was very very close. It was the best kind of smart, strategic chess-on-wheels you could hope for. I said to John later that it was like a wizard's duel: "I'll be a mouse and hide from you." "I'll be a hawk and stoop on you." "I'll be a Boeing 747 and suck you into my jets." "I'll be a ground-to-air missile and blow you out of the sky." It was a game of each team adapting to the other's strategy as the other's strategy changed to adapt to theirs.
Steel City and their fans were absolute sweethearts in every way. The announcers repeated the story of our barn burning all night long, sending oodles of people to our merchandise table to buy shirts and drop cash in the donation jar. They sold $1 "shout-outs" as an additional fundraiser. (The skate shop that had a table set up at the bout donated a bunch of wheels!) And that's on top of just being a fantastic host league in the usual way, showing us all the hospitality and love that is the best of derby community on the track and off.
Even deeper than the need to win a game, was the simple need to play a game. To know at a gut level that despite losing our practice space (temporarily or permanently remains to be seen), we're still going to play. As our captains said during the pre-bout team meeting, "We lost a building, but we didn't lose our home. Whenever we're strong, smart, and together on the track, we are home." So we made our home in the Pittsburgh Indoor Sports Arena for the night. We made derby happen. We're gonna make derby happen, no matter what.
Or, to put it another way, the real winner Saturday night was Team Derby.
And here we are now. This is back-to-normal week. Last week was full of mourning, post-crisis logistics, and pre-travel preparations, all of them affecting each other--I mean, when you suddenly have to replace all your gear, even if you're fortunate as I was to be able to do so without financial hardship, it's pretty much your whole day; and then there's everything else the week brought me, like late library books to return and hardware to pick up at McGuckin and no second car to do it with because of no time or energy to deal with the non-starting Saturn. Well, today I got some writing done. I also got a much-needed post-bout massage and I distributed flyers to ten different locations in support of the home team round robin tournament. And I got this blog post done.
And I installed a new battery in the Saturn all by myself, and the car started up again, first try.
One way or another, things are going to be OK.