-Minnesota State Arts Board - Minnesota North Star

Art of Recovery


Julie Gard

Julie Gard
Thin Bits of Evidence


During the summer of 2006, a disturbed neighbor tried to burn our house down while we were away on vacation. The only evidence of the fire when we returned was a smoky smell, a scorched red rag beneath the basement steps, and a deep burn mark in the wooden wall at the center of our home

As arsons go, we lost so little from this fire. The hardest part was simply the sense of violation and vulnerability. The arsonist was, after all, a neighbor we’d been kind to when few others were, an eccentric middle-aged man with a mental disability. We weren’t aware of his history of arson until after his attempt on our house.

Writing is my way of processing experience and creating meaning out of chaos, and this fire was no different. Our neighbor had worked part-time at a thrift shop in town, and I went there one fall afternoon and filled a basket with objects that I felt drawn to in that moment, that connected in my gut to what had happened. At times I felt morbid to write about the fire, to dwell on it, but I also felt powerful whenever I picked up an object from that basket and composed a prose poem.

Many feelings came up as I wrote–anger at our neighbor, compassion for him, despair at his situation, and fear for my family’s safety. I found myself regretting the move that my partner, daughter and I had made from Minnesota to North Dakota, a much more conservative and less GLBT-friendly state. While the fire wasn’t exactly a hate crime, it felt too close to one.

In my writing, I tried to let connections and emotions emerge. As I revised the pieces, I attempted to shape them into a series that told the story of what had happened and did not offer any easy answers, because I did not–and still do not–have any.

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