Lord, I feel like we haven’t talked in a year. I feel like I’ve lived about two lifetimes the past two days.
On Thursday, I got two messages from my mother in rapid succession, which I missed while exercising. Since it was the day before the anniversary of my grandmother’s murder, I was on edge and tense and reflective, the way we are when these days come back around.
The texts just said “Please, call me.”
I called, and my mother said, “Have you heard about the fire? Ross (my brother) called from his truck. He evacuated the hospital and was trapped on a road, surrounded by flames.”
And then the line cut out and my mother got no more information.
In a word, I fucking flipped. I was thrown directly back into the moment I learned my grandmother was murdered: full body shaking, racing brain, barely able to speak. Shock, I guess. Luckily I had friends there, since I was just leaving her house.
My brother’s wife and children made it out, but I had a vision of my brother suffocating, jumping out of his truck, burning up. That was at 11am. From then until 5pm, we had no idea if he made it out or not, and all I could do was watch Twitter updates of the Camp Fire in Paradise, now the most destructive fire in California’s history, and pray to God my brother wasn’t in that. You tell yourself he’s super smart and level-headed. You tell yourself he won’t take risks.
It dawns on you that raging fire kills the logical alongside the illogical. You go back to Twitter.
And yet, he was in that. Right in the center of it. I could see where he was on the map, and I could see where the flames were via Twitter updates.
It was 110 degrees inside the cab of my his truck. He watched the bumper melt off the car in front of him. People were driving on hubcaps because their tires had melted, running out of cars that had caught fire. There were cars and propane tanks exploding, people carrying kids and pets needing rides, running to buildings for shelter only to have it catch fire, too. It was black as night in the middle of the day. Apocalyptic. Devastating.
Turns out my brother made it to a Kmart parking lot and sheltered there, and obviously, made it, or this post would look very different. The hospital where he’s a doctor found him through emergency services.
They lost everything, as did most people in that mountain town. They’re here now, and I can’t tell you what it felt like to hug my sister-in-law and niece and nephews. And to hold my brother’s face in my hands.
They showed up yesterday, on the anniversary of my grandmother’s murder. It was strange to gather again on the same day, two years later, in despair, again, and yet, not quite, because we all made it through this one.
I’ll share what I wrote on Facebook, and a few photos, but the truth is I don’t have insight right now and I’m so, so fucking sorry for people who have lost everything, for the terror, for the devastating we dodged but others will receive. I can’t even think about my brother and sister-in-law soon walking over the ashes of their home with their three children for the past seven years.
So much love to all of you. Please keep the people of Paradise in your thoughts, and the Californians affected by the Southern California fires. If you’d like to help people in the NorCal fires, here’s some info. I may set up a fundraising account for victims, but I need to organize it and figure out who will get the money, etc.
Local friends please look up on Facebook places where you can drop off supplies to be taken to Chico.
This is what I wrote yesterday when my brother and his family was on his way to us.
Two years ago today, my grandmother, Joan, lost her life at the hands of my cousin. It’s strange what the heart can hold, what it learns to exist alongside. We’ve moved through worlds since then: terror, rage, bone-deep sorrow. I still move through them.
Yesterday, when we didn’t know if my brother made it out of the fire, I kept thinking there is just no way we could lose him the day before this. That’s not a thing.
But then again we never thought we could live through what happened two years ago, but it’s strange what the heart can hold, how you learn to live with a side of you always grieving, a little afraid, a little confused. It washes life in more vivid light. I’ll give you that. Nothing is clear. Nothing is as it seems. Nothing is secure, but truly fuck the whole concept of “every day is a gift.” I mean, it’s true, but fuck it on principle.
Today we are gathering as a family just like we did two years ago. To be alive and be friends. To hold what the heart holds.