On November 9th we woke up to mandatory evacuation orders to leave our town of Malibu, California because fires were headed our way. I sent text messages back and forth to mom friends as we discussed our plans. None of us were prepared, including the city of Malibu itself. The entire town was ordered to leave on a two lane highway simultaneously and it quickly turned into mayhem. By the time we were ready to leave, we saw fire on the mountain above our house and the Pacific Coast Highway was a parking lot. We were not willing to be sitting ducks on the highway, so we headed to a safe area at Zuma Beach with many other residents on our side of town.
The fire was was unstoppable. We watched the homes of our friends burn one by one. Someone posted our neighbors home engulfed in flames on Twitter and we were sure ours was burning too. As the air in the beach parking lot we were in started to turn black with smoke, we had to make a decision. The lungs of our little ones were too delicate to handle what was coming. We got on the highway and crept out of town doing our best to stay calm so our children didn’t become more frightened then they already were. We saw flames in our rearview mirror for over an hour as I kept imagining at what point we would jump from our car and head into the ocean to save ourselves. I’ve never felt more scared for the safety of our children. Five hours later we showed up on the other side of town at Alex’s cousins home, dirty, frightened and with two kids in soaking wet diapers. This was the beginning of two and a half weeks in hotels and at the homes of friends and family. In all honesty, with an infant, two and five year old we almost lost our minds.
We finally got word that a neighbor with a garden hose, and a single fireman saved our home. I almost had a feeling of survivor’s guilt that our home wasn’t lost amongst the others. When Alex’s family called us from Nantucket where they live and told us the vacant house next door to them was offered to us, we didn’t hesitate. We were in desperate need of creating some normalcy in our life and our kids were going absolutely nuts without routine or direction. The amount of stress Alex and I were under certainly didn’t help our parenting abilities.
We consider ourselves very lucky, yet the amount of trauma we endured in 2018 is one for the books. I’m not sure when we will be able to go back home. The smoke damage inside of our house has been cleaned up yet there is a toxic dump of homes outside that need to be cleared before we can even think of putting our kids back in that house.
I’m longing for all of my “stuff.” I miss having our old routines and the community pool. I miss California weather. Ray has outgrown all of the clothes we came here with six weeks ago and I’m sad all my plants are probably dead back home. I miss our sweet preschool and the friends who have scattered across the country because of the fire. More than anything I just want to feel safe and settled, with some roots somewhere deep in the earth. My nest has been turned upside down and my chicks have been thrown out, yet we are safe. In an odd way, this forced time together, surviving amongst grief, no school, displacement, illness, fear and so much more has brought our family closer together than we have ever been before. Alex has shown his strength and carried us through this time when all I could bring myself to do was take care of Baby Ray. Our heads are starting to feel as though they are above water again, and I hope before long we can say that we are swimming.