In 2000, while living in Woodland Hills, a tree fell on my house. I was working down the street and the woman who was caring for my infant son called me to tell me that a big tree came through the roof of my son’s room. The wind was pretty bad that day and the gigantic old tree on the side of my home decided its time had come. Thankfully, my son and the sitter were fine, but it was crazy scary!
Fast forward to November 8, 2018. The wind was howling at 60 plus miles-per-hour and my quaint Oak Park neighborhood was literally in the line of “fire.” My sleepy community in the Conejo Valley had just been through a mass shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill – something we never thought would happen here – and now our grieving community was in flames.
My son and I grabbed the cat and dog, packed a few items including photo albums, jewelry and instruments and stuffed it all into my VW Beetle and his crappy little car. (I love my little convertible, but not the ideal car to evacuate in!). It felt like World War III leaving my neighborhood. Fire engines and police cars were speeding by with their sirens at full blast. Sparks were literally flying, and front lawns glowing. You know how they say to take the four P’s with you when you need to evacuate? Pets, Passports, Prescriptions and Photos. I only took two: Pets and Photos. It was a surreal experience. I had no idea if I would have a home the next day.
We stayed at my ex-husband’s apartment and hoped and prayed for the best as we watched the news throughout the night. I saw my street on the news burning. I saw homes in my neighborhood going up in flames. My heart was breaking, and I feared the worst.
I called my friend who knew some of the reporters and asked her if there was a way that I could speak to one of them simply to find out if my home was still standing. While I couldn’t speak with the reporters who were literally on my cul-de-sac, I did end up speaking with the anchors on the newscast at 4 a.m. Talk about a small world, my best friend’s daughter who was living in Israel at the time instant messaged me to tell me that she just heard me on the news. She was watching the newscast online because her boyfriend’s family was from Oak Park and she was following the story from halfway around the world fearful for their home as well.
The next morning, we drove up my street. It looked like a nuclear bomb had hit. The fire destroyed three homes on our dead-end. It was a checkerboard pattern. One house spared. Another burned. My house spared. Another burned, and so on. Other than a bit of damage on the lawn and front steps, I still had a home, but three of my neighbors lost everything. While I was relieved, I felt guilty. I felt guilty that my home made it and their homes did not. I had survivor’s guilt – a mix of relief for my good fortune and despair for my dear neighbors.
Four years later, I still fear this time of year. I still don’t like wind. Let’s be honest, I hate wind. As I look out the window this afternoon, it’s windy yet again, but it’s also pouring rain. I so prefer it this way.