Bernadette had a check up today with the pediatrician. It had been rescheduled a couple of times over the last few weeks due to the fires. The pediatrician’s office has been closed and just was opened up this past week. I tried on a few different occasions to get in touch with her pediatrician during all the madness, but it never worked. We had a long list of things to discuss as well as labs and shots. It was a long appointment.
The road to get to the pediatrician had also been closed this whole time as well. They were not allowing people to drive in that particular area unless you were a resident there with proof of your address. It is right in the middle of everything although their building was completely untouched. Looking to right, your eyes are met with destruction covering the hills. To left, buildings that were leveled. This morning was my first time over in that area.
I briefly thought about what it would be like driving over there last night as I went to sleep. I thought about what it would look like and how it would feel. I know what I have seen from photos of that area but photos don’t capture the feeling of the areas. They don’t capture the heartbreak of seeing people surveying the land that once housed their home and treasures or digging through the ashes trying to find anything that may have survived. They don’t capture the stench of burn that overwhelms you the moment you step out of your car. They don’t prepare you for your own emotions of seeing the areas with your own two eyes as you drive into the devastation.
I didn’t have my other daughters with me today. Just me and Bernadette. I dropped off the other girls beforehand. Our oldest has been having a hard time processing through all of this. I wasn’t ready to face another conversation about why God spared our house but our friends’ had been burned to the ground. Questions I don’t feel remotely equipped to answer other than with a “I don’t know, my love.”
She has a sensitive heart. She cried when we talked about the people we know who lost everything. She continually recounts the events of the night we evacuated. She talks about how it made her feel to be gone from our home for a week. She cries what she calls happy tears when she thanks God we still have a home to be in.
I was in rush mode on our way there. I had left later than I had wanted to and was trying to get there in time to get her labs done before the appointment. I got off the freeway and staring start back at me was a very black hillside. The empty space where buildings used to stand. Down the road was rubble everywhere where a barn once stood that housed horses. It was gone.
I parked and got out of the car to get Bernadette. The smell was strong. Overpowering. It’s a smell that has haunted our city for the last few weeks now. One that is stronger in the areas that burned the most, but also comes around if the winds change direction in other areas, making its presence known and reminding us as if we had a moment to forget of the great tragedy our area is still working through.
I walked into the office. There were some people there, but it felt quiet and less buzz than normal. The questions from various staff members reminded me once again that things indeed have been anything but normal.
How strange is it to go around town and receive the questions are you safe? Is your home safe? How did you do in the fires? Where did you go? And of course, stay safe. Still at the end of every single conversation.
The appointment didn’t go quite as I had anticipated so my mind was elsewhere as we left the building. I put Bernadette into the car and hopped in. I sat for a moment. I could feel the tears forming as I turned the key to start the car. I was attempting to go about my normal business but there I was. Caught up in everything around me that was anything but normal.
And there I sat, right in the middle of it all.
I pulled out of the parking spot and headed north. There were still areas I hadn’t seen with my own eyes. Areas that friends live whose homes were spared but they too live in neighborhoods that were not completely spared.
As I drove, I cried. I let the emotions I have been holding in the past couple of weeks come out. Emotions that are hard to understand, hard to talk about and hard to express. The adrenaline for so many has been wearing off now and the reality of this new life is staring them straight in eyes. A new life, a new normal that was not chosen by them but rather they were forced into.
People were out surveying their land. A sight that is hard to stomach. A tent had been set up in one area with supplies for the fire survivors that were walking around their lots.
I looped around and found myself back on the freeway heading home. I stopped at the coffee shop to pick up a quick drink on my way home. I sat there looking around. Buildings completed flattened in the same parking lot as the coffee shop but yet there it was. And I wasn’t the only one getting coffee. They were busy. They were continuing on with life. Again trying to embrace the new normal this town is facing.
So here I find myself again. Emotional. Wishing my resources were unlimited in a time when people need so much. Wishing I could physically do more to help those who really need it. Trying to figure out how to process through my own emotions and to help my daughter process hers. To be a light in this community that is really hurting, deeply.
It’s true that we are stronger together and we will continue to rise up through the ashes. We are a strong community. This community we will rebuild as we all come together to help one another, to encourage one another and to be shoulders to cry on in the midst of the hard hard days.