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Spoiler Alert: Then My House Burned Down

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Thursday November 8 was my birthday. Like a small child I do enjoy celebrating my birthday. I woke up in the morning to learn of a tragedy the night before just 10 miles from me. The Borderline shootings. Insane tragedy. I spent the morning in tears for those beautiful children and their families. Then I put on my makeup, phony happy face & saw my clients.

I cut out early from work & drove down to the beach to have a fun time with my 9 year old, Miles. My husband called and said “I’m excited to celebrate your birthday tonight, I’m leaving early! By the way, there’s a fire in Camarillo.” All I had to do was turn my head to see a plume of smoke over the mountains. That fire was not expected to reach us.

To be honest right now I don’t even remember my birthday celebration. I am in such a daze. I got a 10 page card from Miles titled, “Stof we liyke to do together Happy birtday mommy” So beautiful! It had drawings of us eating, walking on the beach, playing chess (he always wins) and laying in bed watching TV.

We did go to dinner at Kristie’s, Malibu, a local restaurant and I remember Greg, the owner saying, “hurry up and order cuz the power company is shutting down the power due to the high winds expected.” (Southern California Edison has been responsible for many fires over the years because of their equipment being unable to handle the wind. So they shut off the power to thousands.)

I was awakened by an emergency alert on my phone that read, “Mandatory evacuation. Leave Malibu West immediately.” How does one process a message like that? We sleep with our balcony door ajar as we enjoy the fresh air. It was upon wakening that we smelled the intense smoky air. Our eyes met what appeared to resemble a New York winter (our home town). But instead of snow, it was ash. Thick ash. We could see perhaps 4 or 5 feet in front of us max. Because of this we packed quickly and very little because I was so afraid for our breathing. We had no masks. I was petrified really.

What does one pack when they are scared and can’t see very well? Somehow in the fog of this reality, I did pack Miles’ baby book and his birthday card as well as my dad’s ashes which I had in an anchor necklace. (He was in the navy in the Korean conflict. One of his favorite expressions was, “Nearest land? 1 mile, straight down.) Couple pairs of shorts & maybe 2 shirts. I firmly believed the firefighters would keep our house safe.

Instead, it took us 5 hours just to get out of Malibu. The line of cars down PCH resembled a parking lot full of abandoned cars. Except they weren’t abandoned. The procession was so long and congested with no other outlet that moving was slower than a snail’s pace. We watched the smoke plume from the Woolsey fire behind us. I was desperate for news but we had limited internet. And there really wasn’t much coverage. The whole drive was like a dream. Correction: a nightmare.

I had a gorgeous, generous offer from my cousin Monica & her husband Spence to come and stay with them. They offered without my asking. So we spent another 3 hours driving down to Oceanside in San Diego county. Never really thinking our house would burn down to the ground.

Sadly, that’s exactly what happened. I feel really stupid; we were in between insurance companies. We had none. The people you read about from Malibu are famous super stars who live in homes nobody can see. They’re on huge properties behind gates most of us will never have the opportunity to experience. The majority of us are living in condos and town-homes. I’ve seen the tweets and read the Instagram comments, “let it burn”, “who cares?”, “they deserve it”, “karma”, “they have other homes elsewhere” … honestly, I’m astonished by such judgments. Regardless, I’m here to attest to the fact that “my” Malibu is made up of every day people who work hard and love their community. Malibu is a wonderful group of people from all walks of life and all socio-economic levels.

We are alive! Rejoice! I am so happy that I still have my son & my husband. And my own life. Thank you. I thank the Lord. And honestly if I had insurance I’d not be this upset. I’ll never have an hour of no insurance ever again in my life.

Malibu is still burning and I pray that no one else loses their homes and I hope that everyone stays safe. There just weren’t enough resources for the firefighters to save our home. Many many people lost their homes. It’s been an epic tragedy. Our lives will never be the same.

We have to start from scratch. I have’t really formulated my thoughts about all this. I go back & forth in my head between gratefulness and intense sadness. Every time I think of going through the rubble looking for my dad’s watch (which has been passed down three generations) I start crying my eyes out.

Things aren’t just things, they are items that make up our lives, help us to sleep, nourish our bodies, give us comfort. And yes they are replaceable but is that really the issue? It’s true a well-lived life isn’t measured by what one has attained but rather the character with which they’ve attained it. And yet, here we are, faced with starting over on day one and from this view, that seems a daunting, exhausting task indeed.

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