Two nights ago, my wife’s aunt and uncle again spent the night away from their home of several years. Anxious and distraught like thousands of others, they slept at the winery where they’ve both made a decent enough living over the years to buy in what they no doubt thought was a safe neighborhood.
And it has been. No gangs have been prowling the streets. No drugs are rampant in nearby alleys or on street corners. It’s wine country, but all the winos stayed in San Francisco, where social services were centered and handouts sometimes came with a hand up.
Despite its relative good behavior, though, it remains to be seen if nature — in the form of wildfire — is going to wipe this little piece of the American Dream off the face of the planet. We simply haven’t heard word.
But this kind of tragedy, whether a hurricane, an earthquake, a drought or a thousand-year flood, seems to be the new kind of normal. Danger, once seem at a great remove, just up and flew in their faces one morning with a bad turn of the wind. Holy hell, all of a sudden, sought them out.
It’s as if somehow with the coming of 2017, we entered an alternate timeline where the rapture had occurred, only no one was good enough to go. So we all get to sit and suffer through the Great Age of Bullshit and Blunder.
Amy’s family is fortunate to be safe at the winery, but it’s no doubt painful to be separated from everything in the world they own and value, excepting each other, possibly forever. Such a great winnowing down, all of a sudden, could be maddening to a consumer unprepared to confront his or her addictions.
Over coffee this week, my friend Julie chewed on such a 25 minutes.
Imagine: You’re just home from work, freshly changed into your pajamas, when the television starts to screech and howl like a fox half-caught in the jaws of a rusted bear trap. When the noise settles down, a disembodied voice — as if from out of some celestial soup can — pipes up in mid-sentence, “…with fire. Areas east of Eureka’s M Street will need to evacuate immediately. You have 25 minutes to gather your things and leave, for your own safety and survival. We repeat, Eureka is being threatened with fire. Areas … .”
Julie, like anybody else suddenly caught in the crosshairs of fate and ugly circumstance, needs to think a minute. She doesn’t have a minute.
Her mind is a mess at first, images flashing in her mind one after another, enough to dazzle her, burn vague outlines onto her mind’s eye, but it’s all panic.
She’s never been overly attached to material things, a character quirk that’s kept her out of trouble before. Clothing can get replaced. Jewelry as well. That characteristic makes tasks like this difficult. Finally, her mind alights on a furry afterthought that sucks the most of the forward momentum out of her internal dialogue. Her cat, already cranky by nature, hates to be handled and fights the process of being put in a travel carrier.
It’s going to 20 minutes just to get her in the bag, Julie knows. Her list, once short, shrinks even more.
Then it hits her. There’s one thing, she says, suddenly with certitude.
A box of letters, written between her mother and father when they were dating. They hadn’t yet gotten married. They hadn’t yet realized the possibilities of their romance, and knew it only as budding potential, an unfolding of possibility. A quickening. It was a chance for future happiness that they had protected very carefully over the years, then honored by saving the evidence of those exchanges. Despite all that came later, they’d saved it to savor, then pass it along to their children to experience as part of their legacy.
That’s powerful stuff.
I don’t know for sure, but I want to believe it’s that chance at happiness in the face of mounting crises and fear that Julie most wanted to save. If so, in that at least, may she be the beacon for an age.
For all the other victims of disaster or incompetence — here, there, and everywhere — you have have my prayers.
James Faulk is a writer living in Eureka. He can be reached at email@example.com.