shelter

The Space Between

Delving into the story of Nick and Pam Fiore's dream, complexity emerges. This in-depth narrative explores the parallels between structural and emotional collapse.

Home is, but a fond memory for Nick and Pam Fiore. It taunts the present. It nurtures the past. It is a place for decay and a place decayed. Silence hangs, over the winter days of their lives. Time stands still, as they count down the hours in the days to live.

“I’ve made my peace with God a long time ago about being gone in a matter of a moment,” says Pam concerning the roof collapsing over her head.

Everything used to revolve around their home. The Fiore family’s reputation traveled beyond the circles of their community.

“We were a closely knit family and we knew we were making it as a family. We were doing it.” The family concrete pouring business, Fiore & Sons Poured Walls, was doing so well that it was bringing in over a million dollars a year.

All that came crumbling down when an underground coal mine blast shook the ground beneath them. It had shattered the roof over their heads, sunk their family business, withered relationships. “Like one domino pushing down the other one. It knocked us down as a family unit and we went down.”

“The good part, prior to? Life, laughter, love, evident, apparent, everywhere, hugs, kisses, laughter, joy, comfort, safety, security, it was all there. That in my opinion is a life that you can’t bypass,” says Pam.

“A home is not a mere transient shelter: its essence lies in the personalities of the people who live in It.” – H. L. Mencken.

Home is where all dreams come true.

The day the ground shook, the calendar marked September 8th, 2004. The winds howled and rain fell unforgivingly. Mother nature was restless.

Crack. “Did you hear that?” Crack. “Did you feel that?” Nick asked. “Something just happened to this house.” Pam acknowledged, while waiting dreadfully by the phone for her daughter’s brain scan results from a car accident. Her mind was preoccupied with the picture of her lying on the operating table with her skull open.

Drip. Nobody could have fathomed the tragedy that was about to unfold. Drip. Drip. Water was leaking from the ceiling in the front room and had broken through the skylight seals in the back rooms. Pam was furiously working to contain the moisture with pots, pans and bowls.

In his arrogance, Nick Fiore said to his wife, “This house don’t leak.” He designed it to be impenetrable. He thought he had built a bomb shelter, and even thought it could take a helicopter landing.

The idea of safe, drowned with the water rising.

Nick stood still. He was paralyzed by fear. “I just looked at her and I don’t know what to say, I wasn’t helping, doing nothing about it.”

The family business along with all the construction equipment sat helpless in lower elevation as it flooded.

A scream shot through the underground home. Pam walked across the newly installed carpet, with “the perfect shade of red,” into the back room to find her daughter, Toni, standing in ankle deep water, with her papers floating around.

“It was soaking wet.” Pam describes it with a blank stare on her face.

The light bulbs were dimming and brightening. The fans were slowing down and speeding up.

Pam’s son, Joey, was fighting hard to control the jackhammer as he drilled through the carpet and concrete floor in the back room to fix the sump pump.

Toni continued to scream. Water made its way across the red carpet, like blood pouring across the floor.

The night faded into a vignette in Pam’s memory.

Daylight broke. Pam and her son, Joey, stepped outside. Out of the nightmare, into the calm quiet gentle caress of the wind. Havoc had been laid. The breeze washed away the weight of the night and gave a momentary relief. Darkness continued to linger inside their home.

There were no rainbows in sight.

“We had a beautiful home, beautiful kids and a thriving business. All of a sudden this starts happening. How do you comprehend?”

Home is where it all began.

In 1986, the Fiores moved into a home they thought they would spend the rest of their lives in. It was an underground home, 76 feet long, 2,200 square feet in size and made entirely out of reinforced concrete, with a 12-inch roof. It was buried and hidden in the bank of the hill. It resembled a modern military installation.

“If I wanted to get away from the outside world in peace and quite, I was finding it here. You’d never know when it was going to storm; it didn’t bother you if there was a tornado warning or tornadoes in the area. Nothing. You heard nothing outside. It was peaceful, it was quite, it was beautiful, it was safe, and it was secure.”

The underground home had been Nick’s idea for a spec home to showcase what they could do with their concrete pouring business. The home was a rarity in the state of Ohio.

It was the dwelling that Pam worked hard to maintain. Everything had to be immaculate. “I kept it clean, I wanted it clean. I was proud of my home. I thought this was the perfect idea.”

The perfect home, had large window panels, plants in the green house, a mason fireplace with an oven on top, carpet flooring, a hot tub and skylights in the backroom.

Tigers adorned the home. It was on sheets, curtains, statues, toys, ornaments and banners. The Fiores adored the Cincinnati Bengals, their favorite sports team.

A wooden sign that reads ‘the Hail Mary Room’ hangs above the doorway into the boys’ room. “I wrote and hung it because I know it’ll take a lot of prayers to get them boys raised, and to protect them throughout life,” says Nick. In his mind, it worked. “They’re all still alive and crippled up like me because they worked hard.”

At the turn of the 21st century, when people were celebrating a new wave of a social consciousness, a coal mine operated by Wampun Hardware and owned by Oxford Mining began mining operations in New Lexington, Ohio and was actively blasting underground.

Soon after September 8, 2004, the Fiores finally understood what was happening to their home. They made the connection between the ground moving beneath them to the underground blasts in the proximity to where they live.

The next five years brought a series of unfortunate events that led to the demise of their family concrete pouring business, their homeowner insurance, their mental and physical health, their financial stability, the environment at home and the relationships they shared together.

The family’s quest for the truth eroded everything their home was meant to be.

“All of a sudden when your spirit is taken away from you, you start walking around like a zombie. Like dead flesh. And pretty soon you live it over and over,” says Nick.

They filed complaints, and even tried taking the mining conglomerates to court. The result was a seven-hour deposition of, “being mocked, insulted and disrespected.”

Nobody believed in their case, in turn, their story.

“Home, is where the heart is,” says Pam. The Fiores didn’t want to leave their home. It was everything they knew, everything they worked for. Financially, they couldn’t afford to. Emotionally, they wanted to rebuild.

They’ve talked about moving out into an apartment in the city, but ideals and stubbornness stood in between. “I’m prepared to die. Have been. I like no help from society, the law and these big corporations,” Nick explains. “I refuse to let them steal my soul.”

“I am not allowed to put another dime in the house,” says Pam. “We can’t rebuild here, as long as they are doing what they are doing.”

Before Hurricane Katrina even wrote itself into history books, they had applied to FEMA, hoping to get emergency relief. “When the guy from FEMA was here, he made a sound of disgust. FEMA condemned the house an “unsafe place to live,” says Pam. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina happened and they never heard back from FEMA again.

Pam refused to give up. She spent the last five years on the phone talking to everybody she could talk to, secretaries, congressmen, senators, business owners, attorneys, geologists and even local television reporters. She even wrote to President George W. Bush and received a reply that summed it all up, “Sorry about your luck.”

The blasts continued. Once a week, twice a week. Pop, crack, pop, crack. It was the sound that Pam heard, when her major support beam shifted from the ceiling. Every tremor was followed by a scurry to the kitchen, a glimpse of the calendar, the scribbling of the time and description of the blast on it. Pam has kept a log of every single blast since.

She hopes to one day compare it with the mining company’s blast log.

Sometimes she would find pieces of stone and mortar lying across the floor or discover cracks in the wall traveling on its own.

In the winter, icicles hang from the edges and snap abruptly. Two to three feet of ice, shaped like daggers would come crashing down. Paranoia bred.

The house is damp and covered in mold. “These curtains are up, the windows are always fogged and steamed up, don’t matter if you washed them. They stay dingy and dirty. Look in the yard, the grass ain’t been mowed,” says Nick.

“It’s depressing, this was a beautiful home.”

“Once your home goes, and nobody seems to care, everything seems to be going down the drain, down the floor,” says Pam.

The Fiores eventually approached the Small Business Disasters Association. They took out a loan and that was when everything started taking left turns. “This has brought us down to where we never thought we would be.”

They bought more equipment and expanded their business. It was a projection of optimism, taught to a generation of baby boomers that all hard work would end well.

The business didn’t pick up; workers were starting to get hurt. They tried making up for the business slow down by doing more. Their sons physically fell apart. The battle uphill tore them apart.

They defaulted on their loans. The bank came in and seized all their equipment. The Fiores had lost their means to an end.

“What’s there to take from me? They can’t take no more. There is nothing else to take,” says Nick.

Nick obsesses over the idea that he should have hired private contractors to measure the seismic activity and do damage assessment. “No one would give me the readings or the names of the companies that they got it from. Everyone backed out.”

They were left with the hope that the mining company would have the consciousness to correct their mistakes and wrongdoings. They even allowed them to assess the damage to the house and measure seismic activity.

“When something like this happens, are you supposed to run around through life and have a tape recorder and a camera?”

Home is where they raised their kids.

The couple had five children together. Four of them worked in the family business. They started when they were really young, helping Nick out when his business was still in its infancy. Billy and Mario, now 29 and 35, are physically handicapped. Joey, 28, suffers from mental breakdowns. Toni, the youngest daughter, is recovering from a recent vehicle collision.

Nicole, the only one who didn’t partake in the family practice, moved out to Fairfield County, Ohio, married a stepson of a man who works at the mining company and “doesn’t want to talk about the house anymore,” says Pam.

Everybody went their separate ways. They started to have kids of their own, a life and a home for themselves. “We were a family and as time went on after this happened, we became friends and now we’re almost virtual strangers.”

The eerie silence of air filters, dehumidifiers and water pump replaced the sound of children. “The house feels dead without the kids. They give it life,” says Pam. “Home, love and family. What they used to be and what they no longer are.”

Nobody wants to visit anymore, because it is a hazard. The house, as Nick describes, “it’s not fit, it’s dirty, it’s moldy. For my grandkids, it’s not a place that they can walk back in where there’s happiness. They can see that.”

Home is where the soul lies.

“Take a person’s heart and shut it down. From there, it is only a matter of trickle down effect,” says Pam. The couple lives, one day at a time; under the same roof they once considered a dream. “We get up in the morning, we check the clocks to see how many more hours in the day that we have to live through. We mostly just sat and wait out what was going to happen to our lives.”

“I don’t watch movies anymore because I can’t stand watching people living in comfortable homes, living a comfortable life,” says Pam. “I feel my life has been taken from me.”

“I live in the past, I live on what I know to be my past mistakes and where I went wrong and what I should have done different.”

Nick contemplates a different past: putting more shocks on the footers, making his house more earthquake proof, putting more sand in the concrete mix instead of having it sit on shale rock, reinforcing his roof, making it more impenetrable. He had wanted to go back, perfect his design.

“My wife, mentally, it’s robbed her. She’s so nice to the grandkids and loves them. She sits down in that chair on the front porch and looks down the road like a lost puppy waiting for something. Or someone.”

“I am getting older and I am not in good health. As you get older, and you get ready to meet your maker, you sit back and say, well, I’d just like to know the truth. I just want to know the truth because am I imagining this? Am I making myself more paranoid?”

“Sometimes I feel like I’ve been raped. This home used to mean a lot to me, it was a place where I thought my family was safe. It’s all gone now.”

Home is warmth.

“What was the point where I felt things deteriorate around me? It built up over time. It’s been 5 long years of living in total terror, of drips on your head, cold, fear, uncertainty. It was a process of time. It didn’t happen overnight,” says Pam.

Nick doesn’t have long to live. “My end of the rainbow is going to be crossing the veil and moving on to the next life.”

He believes that this tragedy has only made his family stronger. It had made everybody a better person. “The more you go through the pain, the suffering, the trials, it’s just like God has got a way of purifying you before he calls you home and this has just been part of his plan.”

“I just want to go to heaven. But I don’t want to go alone; I want my wife, all my kids and all my grandkids there. Because then, I’m going to have some fun and get to know them better.”

There is a blanket of darkness inside the house. Pam likes it that way, “I keep it dark on purpose because I don’t want to see the damages to my home.” The putrid smell of mold, mildew and cigarettes fill the air, stains mark the stone walls, carpets and tiles. The humidity sets in, soaking the carpet and wrapping the cold air with an icy feeling. “The dampness, the rotting, the destruction of this house, is me, it is my life,” says Pam.

“I still can’t accept the fact that my home is destroyed forever in that moment,” says Pam. “It took a while to realize that my house is a total loss.”

With no health insurance, no homeowner insurance, no car insurance, the couple are living day to day financially with Nick’s social security disability check. Nick even cashed in what’s left of his life insurance to make payments on their defaulted business loan.

They’ve been told that it would cost more to file for bankruptcy. Buried in circumstances, The Fiores have no choice, but to stay.

It is in this home that time continues to stand still.

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The Space Between