That night I walked outside and sure enough, there it was: the big, fast moving clouds of smoke, illuminated orange by their own light, were coming toward and above me. Somewhere below them was the gigantic hysteria of a wildfire, driven mad by its own energy. Somewhere on the mountainside was my house engulfed, consumed by the flames and ablaze. But standing there on the sidewalk it somehow wasn’t real. I don’t know what I was feeling then, or if I was even feeling at all. Maybe it was because the moment was just too surreal to understand, or even impossible to understand at all.
That night everything was crazy. Milpas, seeming to be a ghost town with all the lights out, was bustling with chaos. Nobody really knew what was going on but just followed the crazy energy of everyone else. We saw the flames creep up on the Riviera and a couple of houses catch fire before we had to evacuate a second time. We watched the news on TV and their delayed updates on the fire’s situation. And when we saw a house on the news that somewhat resembled ours we convinced ourselves that ours looked nothing like it.
I don’t know if I really believed that my house would survive or if I was just pretending it would. But that night when we finally decided to check into a hotel and all three of us crammed into the single bed, I clenched my fists with the ridiculous superstition that I was holding on to the hope that our house would survive and chanted to myself that everything would be fine the next day. “After all, we cleared the brush around the house so well, we have a metal roof, and tomorrow we’ll go up and see that our house was the only one that survived. It’s gonna be OK ... it’s gonna be OK ... it’s gonna be OK ...” I clenched my fists even tighter.
Early next morning my dad went up to the property and came back with “It’s gone.” Well, that was it. It was gone, and it would never come back. We had to finally come to terms with the fact that we had lost our home and that we would be starting over. We had to put one foot in front of the other and start moving forward and on with our new lives.
I often think about the things I’ve lost and picture my room ablaze. For some odd reason my attention focuses on my desk chair, its black silhouette illuminated by the yellow orange of the flames. Eventually it falls to the ground, collapsing under its own weight, crackling. When I am at the remains of my house, looking at the vast graveyard of all our precious possessions, I can only imagine how the fire passed through, how it devastated all life living here and ate up all the things I loved.
I have since lost interest in replacing the things I used to have. Now, there doesn’t seem to be a reason to keep or cherish what I have because the things I cherished before were not spared. I now find it so bizarre to live for things because really, what we love the most does not withstand the test of time. We can do everything we can to preserve, transmit and protect, but in the end we are just an instant, a moment in the Earth’s life. We are so small and give so much value to things that we have created a superficial value for. I don’t understand why we make ourselves live this fake life if all it does to us is stab us in the back when we’re not looking.
Through this experience I have learned that my connections to other people are the most important things I have. If we only rely and make meaning for ourselves based on our possessions then all hope is lost. Losing my foundation, being stripped from what I relied on, has been one of the most insightful experiences that I have ever gone through. I have learned to appreciate not the act of having, but the connection to the things I have.
Overall, I have to say that however damaged or traumatized I have become, this experience has made me a better person. Every day I am so thankful that my dog was saved and when I look at him and cannot begin to imagine how life would be different without him. I am so appreciative to all the people who have reached out, in however or big or small a way. I am thankful to the firefighters for their remarkable courage. It is these types of disasters that bring out the best in people and I am truly amazed at how generous, giving and thoughtful people can be.
The key to moving forward is to look at the beauty that has come out of this horrid experience, and once we are able to look at our suffering in a positive way we can move forward in our lives for the better.