I sit here and I wait.
I cry myself ragged in the dark. My body shakes. My voice cracks. And then there is silence. A woeful numbness that washes over me until the next bout—the next level—of hopelessness comes around.
Thirty-six hours ago I was told to start packing a bag. A half hour later I was told to leave my house.
But this is something from a movie. This isn’t real. I spent most of that time packing my bags still processing the reality of the situation. I’d only heard about the fire that morning.
Ready. Set. Go.
Like it’s a game. Some kind of race. But the prize at the end is you get to stay alive as all the traces of your life are incinerated. The fruits of your labor, your heartache, your every intention, goal, plan, creation.
I left my house. Still frazzled. Unsure of what was happening. Or where I would go.
“What do I do I do about my cats?!” I screamed it and tears met my words.
I only grabbed one of them. I tried, some small effort, to grab the other one. But after 13 years together…I ultimately abandoned her.
I drove away from my home. The home I’d grown up in. Alone. Terrified. Cars driving the opposite direction from me.
“Am I going the wrong way?!”
“I don’t want to do this alone.”
Why is it in a time of panic everyone I know feels so impossibly far away? When I just want to be held and there’s no one there to do it.
How do you evacuate and social distance?
I drove, under a red sky that poured ash upon the earth, giving back what it had taken. Used up. Devoured. And spat back into our faces.
I screamed when I saw the flames at the mill I’d driven past for 20 years.
I cried, when the blue broke out from the flame scarred skies and breathing came easily again, knowing I was out.
I sat, still and rigid, next to the carrier containing the one cat I’d easily grabbed in the franticness of evacuation.
Why do people try to comfort you by telling you ‘it isn’t so bad’? When they didn’t see the sky. When they didn’t breathe that air. When they didn’t have to leave everything behind.
I’d just been sent a draft of my divorce papers. Followed by a panic attack in the store checkout that followed me to my car. I was just starting over. Starting at the beginning of me. Alone. And now, what I had just started to build…
If I’d done more that morning. Rather than wasting time drinking coffee. If I had just maintained control and stayed focused. If I’d stayed calm while packing. If I just had a little more time…
Last night I laid in bed. Trying to sleep. But not really succeeding. Things I forgot to grab listed themselves off in my head. Things that could not be replaced. I cried silently in the dark, trying desperately not to rouse my mother sleeping next to me.
I didn’t grab the kids’ toothbrushes. What a strange thing to be so worried about. But I was.
Making it to my mother’s home at the beach felt like salvation. Like hope. I was determined to be someplace where I could breathe, and in the last year, her house was the only place where breathing didn’t feel like a struggle. But as we drove over the coastal mountains and that same red sky hung over the distance, I couldn’t breathe. I wanted nothing more than to scream. To shout and hide and run…but run to where? Everything, everywhere, is on fire. There is no place that could make me feel safe, if this one couldn’t.
“If I can do this alone, I can do literally anything.” I repeated this to myself while I hit the line of outbound evacuation traffic escaping my hometown.
“I want my dad.” I whispered in the dark just a few hours ago.
News comes as quickly as it doesn’t come at all. And it repeats three times as often as that.
At the coast, the air is cloudy and smells of smoke. My hair smells of smoke. My clothes. Everything. I used to find some kind of comfort in the smell of a campfire…now it just pulls the air from my lungs.
I start to calm while watching tv and eating for the first time today. There are moments that I manage to forget the chaos, the danger so far away. I finally sleep. Though it does not come without a price:
The news that the fires had been seen horrifically close to my home…to my cat…to my art…to the book my daughter wrote…the SD card with my kids’ baby pictures…the news that there were reports of people robbing the abandoned homes, the reports of witnesses seeing men deliberately setting fires on the cross street my house sits near…
I am without hope.
I am angry. I am terrified. As fires rip through my entire state. As they even near where I am now.
I think of that blood-red sky and all I left behind. Reduced to ash. To nothingness. I took so much for granted. Including myself. Now what will be left? What will I find when I pull into that driveway in some unknown amount of time. All I can think of is my camping spot. Ripped and torn and unrecognizable. Nothingness. Small mounds of reminders. My case of change—the savings my kids had started for their dream trip to Hawaii. Dishes? Charred and covered with…what?
I listen to my mother coughing in the next room and can’t help but think Covid has snuck in during the chaos and 2020 aims to completely dismantle me. That is the world we live in now.
I can’t breathe.
It will be the title of this book of history.
Now the air itself is toxic and filled with the shredded pieces of hope that managed to hang on. I’ll choke on it. If I were anything anymore. I feel as though so much of me is gone. Broken into such microscopic pieces that it hardly remains matter.
I am trying. To hold on to some shred of light. To the kindness I’ve been given. The offers of refuge. Knowing my people are safe. Knowing that I am. Knowing that stuff is just stuff. But some things are more. Some paintings mean more. Just pieces of me scattered like stars in the sky. Only I can’t see the sky. On these cloudless days and nights there is no sky to be seen. No stars. It’s just smoke. Burning. Blinding. Blocking out hope.
People ask, "what can I do?" "what do you need?"
And the truth is...I don't know. I don't know what I have and don't have. I know that I just want to feel safe. To feel taken care of.
I want something heavy in my belly. Maybe a chocolate shake.
Mostly, I want another chance. I want to feel foolish and happy to pull into the driveway and find everything as it was left.
I want to live in a world where people are not expected to die for the economy. I want to just fucking feel safe.
But I have no hope. I am burnt up. Too much flame for one candle. The fires keep raging. People are dying. My stomach burns.
I am just ash on the wind, drifting under a blood-stained sky.
People have been asking me how they can help. As the fires close in around my home and while I am displaced. A dear friend and #WritingCommunnity sweetheart, has set up a gofundme page. If you you feel so inclined to donate, know that I am eternally truly grateful and have been moved by the outpouring of support my twitter fam has provided during this crisis. I will never have the words powerful enough to express my thanks. I will just try to continue to be worthy of such love and generosity. Thank you.