Friday, February 27, 2009

Pass the butter...'cause my car is TOAST

Tuesday, February 17, 2009 was Sugar's 10th Birthday. I felt the need to mark it - to make it a big deal, though in a very personal way. The Friday before we took her and friends out for a movie and pizza and cake, and that was nice. But I felt like it was really important that on her birthday it be just her and me - sharing experiences together, just like we shared our very first experience together the moment she was born 10 years before.

So we had a wonderful day together. We went to the top of the Empire State Building, where neither of us had been before. We had lunch and shopped in Times Square and Rockefeller Center and basically had a NYC tourist day - which is always a bit of a treat when you're a native NYer.

It was the kind of day that should make you sleep like a rock all night - but neither of us did. Spice climbed in bed with the Bull and I sometime in the night and seemed determined to suffocate me by sleeping on my head. I spent hours moving around the bed trying to get away from her. And then I woke up around 4:30 am to the Bull's voice talking Sugar.

Sugar was saying she couldn't sleep and for some reason the Bull was asking her if she'd done her homework. I guess he thought that doing homework would bore her into falling back asleep.
Finally after listening to this ridiculous exchange for a bit, I got up and took Sugar back to bed. I put her in Spice's bed, got in next to her and waited for her to fall asleep. By about 5:00 she was knocked out. I stayed for a few more minutes, contemplating whether I would get more sleep by staying there with her, or going back to my own bed, where Spice was waiting to spread her little body over my neck and nose and cut off my air. I finally decided that the worst thing that could happen was that Spice would wake up, come looking for me and all three of us would wind up in one little twin bed. I got up to go back to my bed when the bell rang.

Let me tell you, even if it's never happened before, when your bell rings at 5am, you just instinctively know it's the police. You don't know why they're ringing - but you just know there's no one else it can be.

The Bull answered the door, and as I came out of Sugar's and Spice's room, I heard a deep male voice say my name and ask if I lived there. The Bull said yes, and the official sounding voice said,

"Her car has been set on fire. She needs to come with us."

Something in my head went numb at that moment, and I don't know if it's gone back to normal since then. I ran to my dresser, grabbed a bra and a shirt and jeans and threw them on. I asked The Bull, "Which car?" while hoping against hope that it was our beat-up 14-year-old Camry. He looked at me, shook his head, and said "The Sienna." My worst fear, the still new, 2007 Sienna that the girls and I practically live in.

The Sienna has been my life-line for the last year and a half. With the girls in schools on opposite sides of the city (Sugar on the east side, Spice on the west), and the best shopping and cheapest gas in the country across the river in NJ - we spend a lot of time in the car. Not to mention that we chose the Sienna with the understanding that we needed the space for extra kids to ride. But it hasn't just been the kids who bring their friends along. It's been me. As often as not, my friends are piling in to go grocery shopping, take the kids on excursions, etc. It's been the center of the girl's and my social world - freeing us to do whatever, and go where ever we want.

So I was almost shaking as I shoved my bare feet into sneakers and grabbed the first coat I put my hands on, to walk out the door with the two officers that were standing there, waiting. Downstairs, I climbed into the back of the squad car as the officers debated about whether to take me to the scene or back to the precinct to write up the report. They asked me and I said I wanted to see the car - that I needed to see it to know that this was real. So they took me to the scene - just two blocks away.

As we pulled up, I could see a fire truck, and police cars and yellow tape - and then there was my car. At a quick glance, in the dark, it almost looked normal - the outside paint was completely in tact - but the windows were all broken out and as I looked past the shards of broken glass sticking out from the window frames all I could see was black. Black metal. Anything soft or made of plastic or rubber was gone. The seat frames were all that was left of the seats, the metal frame of the steering wheel. The cushions I sat on. The driver's seat cushion where Sugar had gotten fabric paint on it, while climbing into the car with a project from camp when the car was just a few weeks old - gone. Spice's Britax Roundabout car seat - gone.

Even now, a week later, it's the sight of a small glob of melted plastic, small enough to fit in my hand, stuck to the metal frame of what was the seat that could only be the remains of Spice's car seat that sets me over the edge. My baby's seat, the contraption I most relied on to protect her, reduced to a small glob - sent me into a small fit of tears.

But somehow, standing outside in the cold at 5:30am with a bunch of detectives and uniformed cops and firemen, just doesn't seem to be the time to break down and start crying. So I pulled it together quickly. Still, one of the officers who brought me over, saw my distress and offered me the comfort of remembering that my loved ones are safe and that a car can be replaced.

I spent the next 2.5 hours out there, talking to detectives and fire marshalls - telling them over and over, that no, I don't have any enemies and neither does the Bull. That's there's no one we know who would do something like this. And over and over, they reassured me that they felt it was a random act. That it really had nothing to do with me - but that they just had to ask.

As I watched, I noticed them fussing over something on a bench. Then I started hearing detectives talking about it and began to understand that the person who set my car on fire had left a note. I began asking around, but no one would tell me. So I just waited.

Finally they started talking to me about being able to go home. They'd all asked me everything they needed to. I asked about what would happen with my car - if I could get the plates. At first they weren't certain, but eventually they decided the car would be impounded as evidence. They said they'd get the plates back to me.

I went home. The girls were just waking up. I told Sugar what happened and tried to go about my day. I called the insurance company and told them what had happened. They were very helpful. Gave me the name and number of the person who would handle my case. Later, I called them again about getting a rental car and they set that up. By the end of the day I was in a rental - relieved that I could at least get around.

At one point I went out and came back in and there was a business card on my door from a reporter on ABC news. I debated for a while about whether or not to call him. Finally I decided I would. He answered immediately, only to tell me that he was now covering a story about a 14 year old boy who had jumped or fallen from the window of an exclusive private school. He'd landed just a few feet from a group of 4th and 5th graders who were playing outside in the closed off street.

This put everything in perspective for me. The police had arrived at my door that morning to tell me my car was gone. Somewhere else in the city, on the same day, someone would be contacting a woman to tell her that her son was gone. My pain was manageable. Hers is something I can't even let myself imagine.

A car can be replaced. This is the mantra I held close during the first days after the fire. And I still hold that thought close. Though now, more than 2 weeks later, I have a clear understanding that replacing that car isn't going to be so easy.

I was told, at the scene, that the car was going to be held as evidence in the investigation and that the police would get the plates and send them to me. That seemed fine to me.

What I didn't know was that the insurance company won't do anything if they can't see the car. I've spent two weeks trying to connect the insurance company and the police or the fire marshall. The police and fire marshall won't let insurance investigators near the car and the insurance company won't do anything unless they inspect the car. The fire marshall's office says they'll send pictures to the insurance company and/or will talk to the insurance company, but the insurance company won't call the fire marshall.

I thought getting a lawyer would help - so far all it's seemed to do is make the insurance company refuse to speak to me anymore - they say that since I've given the lawyer permission to represent me, they have to speak to my lawyer only.

I'm at the end of my rope. I wish that it could just be as simple as saying "Look at these pictures the press took! My car is TOAST!"

Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. I am close to the end of my rope. I'm about to start calling the press and local government representatives. I am starting to feel more victimized by the lack of help I'm getting from the insurance company than by the fire. It's easier to accept that a crazy man randomly targeted my car than it is accept that a company is being deliberately stubborn about resolving this issue.

For now, I'll keep the name of the insurance company to myself. I know this blog isn't well read, isn't known by many, but it still doesn't feel right to put them on blast while they have the opportunity to do the right thing. But if it goes on much longer, or gets worse - I will be gladly put the word out in any way I can to warn people away from a company that will drag its customers through hell.

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