This happened the other day, just down the street. A block from my house.
A WALL OF FIRE.
Stunned, sudden nausea prompted me to swallow hard.
When I left my home forty-five minutes prior to receiving this photo, there was a small light grayish puff of smoke just over the top of the peak near my home. Pulled over and phoned 911 immediately. The emergency operator assured me an engine had already been dispatched to the scene. Having done my civic duty, and feeling confident the small patch of flames would be extinguished forthwith, I hung up and drove out of town.
Put the incident out of my mind.
I was in Irvine, thirty minutes away, getting preapproved to buy a new home, when my phone dinged letting me know Ladera was ablaze. Three friends sent messages, reaching out, offering their homes, in case my daughter and I needed to evacuate.
Opened up my Facebook and waited impatiently in the conference room for my loan officer to appear. He wasn’t late; I was early. But it felt like he was late. Needed to get home. One leg crossed over the other in an effort to feel productive; my foot began to tap briskly to the beat of my increasing heartbeat; took everything I had not to postpone our appointment and leave.
I had to do something.
Texted my daughter: take the dog and go to Grace’s house. NOW.
Posted on my wall. Everyone checks Facebook; those not in the know will be alerted. Texted a friend to inform a mutual friend we knew who lived up near the ridge. Firemen were now evacuating some of those streets. Wasn’t sure if her street was included, but better safe than sorry. She had just remodeled the entire house. Damn.
Took a deep breath and put my fears into the hands of the universe.
Al, my young earnest loan officer finally walked in, sat down and opened his laptop. I shook his hand, and skipped the pleasantries; pulled up the picture of the fire and informed him of my urgent need to expedite our meeting.
“Can we make this quick?”
He thought for a moment,
“You know, if it (the house) burns down, you’ll get more money than if you sell.”
Stunned I simply let out a heavy sigh,
“Um, no I don’t need the headache. I’m good.”
Then I prayed. Please. Firemen. Contain the flames.
After confirming my daughter and her dog were safe, I got on the road to go home. Rush hour or natural disaster looky-loos? Not sure, but the freeway was jammed. My chest felt heavy. Frustrated with the traffic. Became hard to breath. Move!
Trying to stay calm, I thought about what to grab if I was allowed to go home?
What would you grab quickly if all you could take was one car full of stuff?
I knew immediately.
I’d grab a large cardboard box from the garage and toss in the following:
A couple of treasured portraits of my children.
A handful of framed photos and Hollywood memorabilia.
My strong box with important documents.
A hefty bag full of some intimates, comfies and coats.
A smaller box filled with important papers, letters, old photos I am using in my memoir.
Had a game plan.
Knew right where the box was in my garage, and the route I would follow starting upstairs. Should only take about ten minutes at most. I could be in and out.
If I was given more time, I’d grab scrapbooks. Pillows, bedding and shoes.
My mind raced: what was I missing?
Then, it hit me…
NOTHING ELSE MATTERS.
In fact, my most important treasures had already been moved to safety. I knew my son was with his dad. My daughter and dog were with blessed friends.
NOTHING ELSE MATTERED.
I had been homeless before. Been there. Done that. I could do it again if I had to. No fear.
What a gift.
Then a snapshot of the last item on the list above flashed in my mind: the smaller box sitting on the floor in my family room. Cardboard. Holding a history of clues to the story of my life.
That box of random, scattered moments from my past I am working to piece together; threads from my painful traumatic childhood that will hopefully cloak me one day in a cloth of comfort; a cathartic tool to understanding my path, my memories, was something I could not replace.
I needed these visuals to write my book. To learn about why I am who I am.
Didn’t realize how truly vital that box was to me. How getting it right, doing it justice, honoring the truth, has now become.
I would not wish a wall of fire on anyone. Yet, it does give one an instantaneous perspective we might not otherwise encounter. What a burst of clarity I encountered!
As it turns out, our local courageous rock star firemen contained the blazing inferno before any fireman, civilian or property was damaged (14 acres in all were charred black).
Can I hear a roar of applause?
Yeah, they are amazing! Supposed to be a threatening fire season. Many stayed up there all night with a controlled burn, so as not to encounter this again.
Personally, I am more than grateful. One particular firefighter is a close friend. Texted him with a heartfelt thanks.
He said, “Yep. I’m headed back now to shower. I stink!”
These men and women focus, train, work so hard. Risk their lives for us!
Then they smile. And do it all over again.
I tell ya, that ignited tidal wave of orange heat that rose a block from my home, made me wonder about our local heroes, our firefighters who brave the rage of flames for each of us…
Why is it we pay those who entertain us so much more than those who save us?
Food for thought.
Think I’m going to embrace this experience. Learn from it.
Crisis’ teach us about ourselves, and about those out there willing to help us. Sometimes, we forget there are those at the ready, waiting in the wings. I don’t want to forget ever again.
I want to remember.