October 9 – October 15
It was Sunday around 11 when sleep was ready to take over my stiff body lying down on the couch when I smelled the smoke. I swore I was not crazy; I woke my sister up to make sure she could smell it too. It seemed like it was just above my head, maybe only in my head– but it grew and sweltered in our little apartment, no heat but just the thickness of a smoke nearby, like a wire spark. I opened the fire escape but the alley was dark. I looked out onto the street, nothing. Nothing, but something was up.
And then the ashes fell in the morning. A sheath of crusted gray covered the car and on the tops of tables outside of cafes on Chestnut Street. We wouldn’t be sitting outside in this stinging air except we had Bentley. A week later, whether it was the smoke or just because of his daycare, he would get sick, congested, a bad cough.
All through work I stayed in. I never noticed how cool and sharp the air 41 stories high in this building was. Stepping outside meant your hair would smell like the pack of Camels you didn’t smoke. It meant deeper breaths stifled by the quickly-ascending sick that couldn’t be shrugged off anywhere there was open space. A pink, hellish haze blanketed the skyline, the Golden Gate a clouded patch of whiteness, nothing.
Friday the 13th seemed fitting to fall right in the middle of this nightmare. At least in the city, it didn’t feel like one, but the devastation, the fear– it loomed and made everyone uncomfortable even if cities away from the true hell that was happening north. But it was on the 13th that something spectacular happened. The evenings seemed not darker, but cooler. Smoky, but a mist where pixies waited in the shadows. I was reunited with old friends and they with my new ones, and new friends uniting me with their olds. Walking around those nights as the fires burned bright and deadly far off, but here in this city it was dark and shadows of the night outlined lonely houses and twinkle lights edging the windows of second-floor apartment windows and living rooms. I remember only feeling good on those nights, not sick– not panicked. But I still felt strange. How was it these seemingly magical moments were on the worst of times for this place I called home? To the North, it was all nothing. Nothing was left. Everything was burning.
It is only I realize that, in the wake of these fires dying now, that feeling of hope. Something always magical lingering. All that remains are stories of devastation but just as many stories of love, hope, miracles. Odin and his goats, the wedding rings rising from ashes, the half-charred photographs that still possess those never-forgotten memories of the humans who may have lost everything, except that happiness, those moments. Though I cannot understand the total loss and devastation of what happened beyond the dark, the dark is only fleeting now. In the morning, it will be a different sort of light, the kind that warms without burning, the new day and moving forward and not without lifting up our neighbors in need.