The fires in California send me into flashbacks. They also send me into flashforwards. Is that a word? If it isn’t it should be. For a good portion of those people who lost their homes, this is just the beginning of a long downhill slide.
We were incredibly lucky when our house burned down. We all survived. Physically we were for the most part intact. Our friends came together in a way that was incredible, unheard of, remarkable. Our community was stellar in its’ response to our needs. It humbled me and made me so proud of where I live.
When the smoke clears (yes, I went there) and everyone goes home, you are left on your own to deal with what’s left. And you’re really not exactly sure what that is. It’s been over a year and I can’t finish telling you about the fire because I want to pluck my eyeballs out of my face and stomp them into my ears so that I don’t have to see what I saw or hear what I heard anymore. Did you know that burning puppies can scream just like burning little girls?
Did you know that little girls can scream and scream and scream and scream and scream and scream and scream and scream until you think that that is the only sound left in the whole entire universe? And did you know that when that sound stops it’s like a vacuum that sucks at your eardrums and makes you think you’ve gone deaf, even though you can hear all the other sounds around you? You can tell yourself that you can hear other things but because you can’t hear that, you must be deaf, and no matter how many times you explain it to yourself, you can’t quite convince yourself that you can hear?
And did you know that little boys can be so silent at the same time that you think they might never ever make another sound again until time stops? And did you know that little boys will then start talking and never seem to stop even in their sleep, so that they won’t have to hear puppies and little sisters scream?
Did you know that a man who crawled out of a house already so thick with smoke that you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face while you were on the floor, still thinks he should have done more? Did you know that that same man, who was the only one who could make the screaming little girl stop screaming for one second to take a breath, could think that he hadn’t done enough and could feel shame every time he looked at his wife? Did you know that that could cause deep trouble in a marriage that was otherwise strong for many, many years?
It seems like, once your things have been replaced, that you should just be able to get over it. But I won’t ever be able to replace the pictures of my dead grandson. Or the lock of his hair that they cut off of his head for me at the funeral. There will be no more of those. They are forever gone. I can’t ever get back the pictures we took on what His Highness The Buddha called his idea of the perfect day. They were on the computer that melted. (public service announcement: copy all pictures to disk and keep it some place else, you won’t regret it) My Dearest Husband’s clock, the only memory he has of his father who died in VietNam when MDH was three, was damaged. That clock can also never be replaced.
We live with what ifs. We live with if onlys. They are everlasting. They are devastating. They can make you go quietly insane. No one wants to hear this for over a year. It’s depressing. It’s sad. It’s maddening. It’s frustrating.
It’s hard when you’re riding down the road and someone is burning leaves and you slam on brakes and you become nauseous. It difficult when you’re at someone else’s house and a smell catches your attention and you suddenly start to breathe hard and sweat and all you want to do is find a door and run. You catch each other’s eye. You want to cry. You don’t want to leave home. It feels shameful. It’s embarrassing. It’s painful. It hurts.
The nighttime is bad. When you wake up in the middle of the night and you don’t know if you’ve dreamed the sound or the smell or whatever woke you up, if you even KNOW what woke you up. You’re terrified to open your eyes, but you know you have to because seconds are hours in a fire. I’ve noticed at night that it’s always smokey looking to me now. I never see clearly at night anymore, so when I wake up I have to walk the entire house and check everything in every room because I never know if the smoke is real or just my imagination.
I feel terrible guilt because our friends went so above and beyond the call of duty that no matter what I ever do there is no way I can ever repay them for what they did. I feel inferior and not up to the challenge. I feel so discouraged and unable that it’s difficult to even face them anymore. As a result, we rarely ever even see any of them anymore. That is the most heartbreaking thing of all. We owe them so much and yet I can’t meet their eye. I want to hug them and spend every waking moment with them, but I’m afraid that if I touch them I will smother them with my continuing need.
I want to cry every moment I’m awake and I’m so sick to death of my crybaby ass that I want to beat myself to death just to shut me up.
So I don’t talk about it anymore. I pretend that everything is okay. I laugh, I joke. And I’m quietly losing my mind.
I feel for the people in California. I heard this morning that so far fifteen hundred housed have burned. That’s fifteen hundred families who are going to begin a descent into a nightmare once the fires are out and the cameras turn off and everyone goes home.
Then those poor people are going to feel like every nerve ending in their bodies have been scraped with sandpaper, salted down and dosed with hot pepper sauce. And they will be grinning like idiots during the whole thing because they won’t know what else to do.