My husband and I have had moments of laughter, in spite of the chaos and grief in the aftermath of the Santa Rosa firestorm. We were chuckling yesterday about how crazy popular The Cars album was. The subject came up because I mentioned that every time I go through something, a chorus from that album pops into my head and helps me get through the craziness.
That sums up week two after the fires. It’s all mixed up.
Grief and gratitude mix about as well as vinegar and oil. They have to be shaken pretty hard and well seasoned to make a palatable dressing.
Living indefinitely in a hotel with three cats is not an option. Going home is not an option. Going anywhere near home is not an option. Meeting our insurance adjuster this week was not an option. Getting information from the park management was not an option. We hear on the news that after a disaster there is chaos and emotions run high. Chaos is a word until it defines your life. Now it’s real. This is what chaos means. It means the news says one thing, a local friend says another, the multiple authorities in charge say something else, the manager in charge of your community doesn’t answer the phone and doesn’t return voicemail (because they’re waiting for clear answers from whomever is in charge–and that keeps changing); it means the internet isn’t working, you can’t do research; your phone flakes out when you need it most–it’s one thing after another, road block after road block; inexplicable detour and traffic jams on the information highway.
FEMA sent me an email saying that we were eligible for transitional shelter assistance, and there was a link, forms to complete, and finally a map with hotels that take in displaced families and pets after a disaster. I tried to make a reservation, only to learn that the list was outdated. Several hotels were no longer part of the program, or for some reason were not participating at this time. Finally, success! We have landed in a home away from home until November 9th. Now, what do we do for the rest of November?
One thing became crystal clear immediately after the fires… we can’t go back home. There is no home to go back to, even though the structure is standing. The community is gone. Infrastructure, utilities, melted. They can’t simply run an electrical line from the street to our mobile home. Anyway, these are all logistics. This week has been about the emotional aftermath, which is that odd mixture of grief and gratitude.
We both fell silent and lethargic periodically as depression hit hard. For me, it’s that my retirement plan has been destroyed. My perfect little retirement home, my affordable little retirement home–all that research, planning, saving–all the years of work that resulted in a successful outcome–my life after retirement was all set, and now, it’s all gone. But stop and smell the roses! YOU’RE ALIVE AND WELL!!!
Grief and gratitude, it’s all mixed up. Tears of sadness and relief. Moments of horror as memories of running for your life are triggered, followed by moments of amazement by the generosity and compassion of the people who have said, “We want to help your family!” The sweetness of hotel staff makes living in a hotel with three cats a little less painful. And the gratitude–always, the gratitude–keeps the floor under us. Things could have been so much worse. We came so close to losing everything.
Silver linings have been free breakfasts and all the little and big acts of kindness.
It is hard to sleep when you have to make big decisions, when every day that you don’t have a place to live after November 9th, the last day of hoteling from FEMA, means you’re paying $3,000/month or more in rent. Urgency deprives you of sleep. Something must be done! But what?
We reached an agreement that Long Beach is a sound economic direction for us to go, because I have been paying for my son to rent a room near college in that area. Rather than continue to pay rent for him, we will combine households. He’ll live with us again, we’ll buy a condo near California State University at Long Beach. That way, I can continue to help him finish college, as he pursues a degree in Industrial Design. I can also help him learn to drive, so he can get to and from the temp jobs he’s been ubering to. He can drive our dependable 1998 Toyota Camry. It has over 207,000 miles on it, and it’s still a quiet and comfortable ride.
We have come to terms with the changes. Instead of living in the natural beauty of sleepy Sonoma County, where we could drive 10 minutes and find serenity in the greenery… once again, we are in the concrete and asphalt jungle with traffic and noise. From Los Angeles, it takes hours to drive to a wild place. We will miss our Sunday afternoons in the Armstrong Redwood Forest. There’s the grief. And then the gratitude…