The morning of October 9th is one I’ll never forget, not very easily anyway. It felt like it was going to be a normal Monday, like any other, as I went to bed around midnight the night before and set my alarm for 7:55, giving myself the usual 10 minutes to get out of bed and over to Dillon Rec Field for my sand volleyball class. Waking up at 6 am to my phone ringing was not necessarily how I wanted to start my morning, so I let the two calls go to voicemail before I got worried when my friend called for a third time, so I decided to check my messages. The first thing I saw were two texts from my best friend back home: “so does your family still have a house” and “In other news are you all okay”. Half asleep and completely confused, I didn’t respond right away and kept scrolling through notifications until I saw a text from my mom, “Call me when you wake up” followed by a series of texts she had sent earlier that morning: “There is a fire in [Santa Rosa]…The fire is headed our way so we evacuated…I just wanted to let you know in case you saw something on the news or social media.” The morning of October 9th was the first morning of the Tubbs Fire in Sonoma County, which would ensue hell from the night of October 8th until its full containment on October 30th, destroying over 5,500 structures and taking the lives of 22 people, one of which was an acquaintance of mine.
I called my mom immediately, only to hear her crying when she answered the phone, so I knew what she was about to tell me wasn’t going to me good. She didn’t know for sure, but our house was most likely gone. About twenty minutes later, she sent me a video that my youngest sister’s friend had taken of our street, and I literally couldn’t believe what I was looking at. Everything was completely gone. No standing walls, no burnt remains of homes, nothing. Just cement, charred remains of vehicles that had been left in driveways, and heaps of ash and sheet rock where the twenty-one houses on my street used to stand. My neighborhood, along with many other neighborhoods, look like bombs were dropped on them. All that remained were scattered chimneys, charred vehicles, and the concrete. It was easily, without a doubt, the eeriest thing I have ever seen — both in a picture and in person.
This was one of those things that I didn’t know how to process, and quite honestly, still don’t. We all hear about natural disasters occurring and devastating cities in other parts of the country or across the world, but we all never think it could happen to us — to our homes, to our friends and family, until it does. And there’s no handbook on how to handle it when it does happen. So here we are, almost two months after the fire, just now word vomiting all the emotions and thoughts that transpired in the weeks following the Tubbs fire.
Fast forward to the Friday following the worst of the fire. A friend and I had driven up the night before and got to Santa Rosa, only to find my family carrying on with life like normal, celebrating a birthday at my grandparent’s house. If we hadn’t known a fire had devastated the other side of town, we would have thought it was just a normal day in Santa Rosa. Once I got over to the side where my home had been, though, that immediately changed. The hill facing my freeway exit that had once housed two hotels and a historic, round, red barn, was now charred and barren. The shopping center across the street was leveled, along with many buildings and portions of the high school across the street from my neighborhood.
Being escorted in to see my home via the back seat of a Sonoma County Sheriff patrol car was inexplicable. My eyes were glued to the window, staring through bars at the vast devastation that still didn’t quite seem real. I remember sitting there, just mumbling “oh my god, oh my god” under my breath as we drove from the hospital parking lot to my neighborhood, less than two blocks away. It was night and day, the difference between the two. Everything west of the hospital stood untouched, while almost everything east was decimated. Walking onto my street was easily the strangest thing I have ever experienced. There was absolutely nothing left aside from the cars that remained in front of where homes had been and some scattered patio furniture that had survived. The sidewalk had literally melted and crumbled, breaking apart under our feet as we walked down the street to my house. I stood where my bedroom had been, in complete disbelief of what I was looking at. The only noticeable, distinguishable thing left in my room were the metal portion of a three-ring binder and the shower tiles from my bathroom that had collapsed into a pile.
I walked through our “house”, collecting dust and debris in the soles of my shoes as I paced back and forth. Getting to my friend’s house the next day and finding remnants of ash and sheet rock in my shoes was something that rocked me pretty hard.
And it rocked me just as hard over Thanksgiving break, as I went back to the house, walked through everything once again, searched for some jewelry that had been in my room, and left, once again, empty handed but with shoes caked in ash and sheet rock. I walked over to my car, tried to kick my shoes together and scrape some of it off, only to get in my car and make a mess of my floorboards, as I took my shoes off before I drove home. I sat there for a minute with my vans in my hands, looking at the white debris caked on them, coming to terms with the fact that my life, my memories — both tangible and conceptual, everything for the last seven years was stuck to the soles of my shoes. It stuck in my shoes for the rest of the day until I got to my family’s apartment and was able to wash my shoes off, as I complained to my mom and sisters about how big of a mess it made on the floor of my car. It’s been a week since that day, and I’ve yet to wash my car. Maybe it’s because I’m lazy and don’t care, or maybe it’s because I’m subconsciously not ready to fully let go of everything that ensued in the beautiful chaos of the past seven years on Willowgreen Place, but I normally keep my car immaculate, and I’ve yet to wash my floorboards.