The irony wasn’t lost on me.
After waiting forever for the tri-tip steak to cook over the coals (as we always do), I sliced up the garlic bread, and tossed the salad. Calling the kids in out of the pool, we passed around paper plates, and settled in to feast. Summer was made for times such as these.
We invited them over for a BBQ, our friends: a family that goes to our church, with kids the same age as ours.
The kids finished up, hopped down, and dug into the toybox. One by one, we called them back, made sure they took their last few bites of salad, wiped messy mouths clean, and let them go. With a sigh, we leaned back in our seats. Having caught up on the bits of life that we missed over the past few months, the conversation turned back to the fires. We are now in fire season again, reminding all of us vividly of the North Bay wildfires last October. In a sense, it felt right to bring those times up again amid a group of us, like we could face the trauma better together, just as we did when smoke sat heavy in the air, banded together, almost a year ago.
Anniversaries do something to a person.
They’re an inevitable checkpoint, whether we like it or not.
Our region has changed dramatically in many ways.
The October wildfires incinerated over 5,000 home in our area, and everything within them. Can you even imagine that number?
Some people are rebuilding on their original home plot, amid the scraped empty lots that used to be neighborhoods. Some people took the insurance money and bought another home in the area, so they can still reach their same jobs and schools. Some have left for a fresh start in another state. Rent has skyrocketed county-wide, and many cannot afford to pay anymore. Some people have been kicked out of their rental homes altogether because the owners lost their homes in the fires, and needed a place to live.
The real estate market is insane. I just saw a 2 bd. 3 ba. home on almost three acres listed for $1.3 million on Zillow. Seven years ago it was listed as worth $675k. Our utility bills are increasing. People are surmising PG&E is dispersing the cost of rebuilding their burned infrastructure, and the ongoing lawsuits, among those left standing.
This is all secondary and tertiary fallout from the fires, only now coming into view.
We are still here. Our neighborhood wasn’t burned. But the we have new neighbors up and down our street: people who lost everything in the fires, and who were displaced into rental homes in our neighborhood.
We are a region working to piece itself back together. It feels like none of us have all the parts for the puzzle.
I think that was one reason it felt good to reconnect with friends over the whole thing. It was a confirmation: “Yeah, that really happened. We were so scared for weeks on end, while still caring for the kids. We drove around with our valuables packed into our cars like impromtu armored vehicles. We skipped town to protect the children while our husbands kept going to work in the smoke, like some weird alter-universe.”
The support of friends is necessary. Anniversaries of trauma can be surprisingly hard, but not impossible, to deal with. It’s good to pay attention to it ahead of time, so that we won’t be as surprised by the emotions when they come up. When they do, we will have the support system necessary to allow them, and weather them, together.