Okay, so the house is burnt. Before that, it was drowned. But it ain't over yet.
Several bloggers complimented me on my calm, level-headed demeanor. I mean, what the hell else can I do? If crying and screaming could make it all better, I'd be bawling like a Saints fan after losing yet another game in the last two minutes. But as the great philosophers Page and Plant tell us, "Cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do you no good."
As the news of our Tuesday morning fire spread, several people (bloggers, co-workers, friends and family apparently all think alike) were quick to point out that we might be able to make a new claim on our homeowners insurance. Some suggested this fire could turn out to be a good thing!
Well, that remains to be seen. Yes, our insurance is still in place, but I don't know all the details about what may or may not be covered, or even by how much.
It's one of the lessons thoroughly driven home in post-Katrina New Orleans and all along the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast: you think you know what insurance you have, but you don't really know until you file a claim. I could probably give a seminar on the topic, "The Large Print Giveth, but the Small Print Taketh Away." Sometimes these little details amounted to a few dollars, sometimes thousands. Sometimes the minutia of insurance works to your favor--yes, it happens--but most often not.
My Darling Wife and I discussed this Tuesday afternoon. I thought it would be strange to put in a claim for damage to an already ruined house that we plan to knock down anyway. She correctly pointed out that the structure still has value, and that until we actually carry out the demolition it retains that value. I finally just said, "Call it in and see what they say."
On Wednesday, an insurance representative called me to get our claim moving. He asked me for some ordinary facts and information, and then he asked if he could record a statement. Sure, why not?
The taped interview began with a recap of the same ordinary facts and information, but then he asked me, "What time did you leave your house on Monday morning?"
I reminded him that the fire was on Tuesday morning.
"Yes, I know, but I'm asking about Monday."
Uh oh. With a tinge of dread I began to realize where this was going. Goosebumps rolled over my body like a cold tide. Successive questions confirmed my fear.
"Did you go directly to work, or did you make any stops along the way? Do you work in an office? Did you remain at work all day? What time did you leave work on Monday? Did you go directly home? Did you go anywhere Monday evening? What time did you leave your house on Tuesday? Did you make any stops on Tuesday morning, or did you go directly to work?"
Yes, it turns out that I am a SUSPECT.
Think about that for a minute. We've all heard stories about people who torch their own failing businesses or financially cumbersome houses just to collect the insurance. It's just so logical that when someone is hurting for money and there is a suspicious fire, the owner is the most natural SUSPECT.
Rationally, I understand.
Emotionally, I am furious. I am embarrassed and I feel abused. Suddenly, my trustworthiness is called into question. Suddenly, my honor must be investigated.
I know this is just routine. I know it's not personal. I know that it will amount to nothing because I had nothing to do with the fire.
But to be asked, point blank, by my own insurance company, "Did you go directly home?" is indescribably rude.
I had to remind myself of the foster children we had about ten years ago. We had two little girls, sisters, staying with us, and one afternoon, the youngest complained about her elbow hurting. After trying everything we could, we finally had to take her to the emergency room to get it looked at. The diagnosis was nursemaid elbow, a common injury that was easily treated.
But then we had to fill out a report for the Department of Social Services. The social worker conducted a detailed interview to determine what happened, and to see if we were being abusive. I remember being a bit insulted at the time, but it amounted to nothing since both girls admitted they had been rough-housing at the time of the injury. And the social worker was just doing his job. No harm, no foul, right?
Still, it is strange and unpleasant to think that I am now a SUSPECT.