We became homeless on April 15, 2013. That day bombs exploded during the Boston Marathon. We won’t soon forget the images and stories of people affected – people who lost their limbs or lives.
My husband and I were coming home from the airport on April 15. We were eating a late lunch in a small restaurant when suddenly the TV displayed images of smoke pouring into the Boston street. Although we could not hear the TV, what we saw was chilling. In a somber and grateful to be alive mood, we took a walk along the Delaware River before driving the rest of the way home.
I was the first one in our house and immediately realized something was drastically wrong. Every surface of the house was coated with an acrid grey dust. The air smelled of machine oil. I left grey footprints as I walked around the house. When my husband increased the thermostat, grey dust began filling the rooms. I said, “Let’s get out of here. We shouldn’t be breathing this air.” We went to a local hotel, still bewildered about what had happened to our house while we were gone.
Over the next days, a team of inspectors, engineers, and insurance adjusters examined the furnace and concluded that a local contractor we had hired put in the wrong size condenser unit, placing it too close to the fire box of the furnace. The unit melted and spread ashy plastic and soot throughout the house. This was called a puff back, and we soon talked with other people who had gone through it.
The insurance company concluded that everything we owned needed to be cleaned. They took away shoes, belts, pillows, bed spreads, blankets, afghans, sheets, mittens, scarves, baseball caps, towels, rugs and clothes – literally anything that was portable and could be cleaned. We had only the clothes we wore out of the house the night we moved into the local hotel.
Adjustment to hotel living
My husband and I reacted differently to being in a hotel. I was happy to be in a place that was clean, warm and comfortable. My husband got edgy because his routine and environment was disrupted. The first place where we stayed was about 45 minutes from our office. It had a decent restaurant and a quaint colonial atmosphere with four poster beds.
Midway through the 2 week clean up, we switched to a hotel in the same city as our office. It was taken over by teams of little boys who were participating in soccer tournaments. The breakfast room was overrun by these boys, making it impossible to eat in the same room.
Three days into the stay, I woke up in the morning with itching bites on the top of my shoulder. All I could think of was bed bugs. I reported them to www.bedbugregistry.com. The hotel brought in a bed bug sniffing dog, who did not find bed bugs, but the hotel said they believed I was bitten by something. (I wonder if those little boys brought in bugs from the soccer fields.) We cancelled the rest of the reservation and headed back to the colonial style hotel.
Meanwhile the insurance company sent 7 workers to our house to clean it from top to bottom. My husband met them at the house to let them in. Cleaning took a week. We moved back home two weeks after the disaster. A year later, there is still a lingering odor at times.
What I learned from being homeless
1. There were moments of pleasure in this grim time. I was forced to buy clothes to last through the two weeks, which I enjoyed.
2. I have a new appreciation for how hard it is for people to have their lives disrupted by illness, disability, divorce, or any of the other factors that cause stress.
3. When I saw all of my clothes come back after cleaning, I realized I have far more clothes than I could possibly use. Every item came back with a tag on it. I remove the tag when I wear the item. This will enable me a year later to figure out with a high degree of accuracy if I wore the clothes in the previous year. I am going to give away clothes I have not worn since they were cleaned.
4. We were fortunate that the disaster took place in April. We had to replace the furnace with a propane furnace. The end of the heating season allowed us to get the new one installed without the pressure of time.
5. We became undesirable to insure. Our insurance policy covered the cost of the cleaning and new clothes. But we’d previously filed a claim when our oven caught on fire the year before and for damage from Hurricane Sandy. After the insurance company paid the cleanup bill, they cancelled our policy because we’d filed three claims. I learned that insurance companies like to accept policy money but not pay it out.
6. No matter what inconvenience we went through as a result of being homeless, we emerged safe and whole – and with a cleaner house. The Boston Marathon victims had life changing experiences that put what we went through into perspective.
Pat Iyer is grateful for what she went through. It could have been much worse.