by Angeliska on September 6, 2011
Recently, I dreamt of fires erupting in my ancestral home, the home that my great-grandmother,
and my grandparents lived in. My mother died there. My aunt and uncle live there now. I watched
in horror and shock as the fire erupted, the rafters, the walls all draped in sheets of flame. I put them
out with my hands & a rug. I had never dreamt of fire like that – always water. Floods, tidal waves.
I noticed the second fire burning behind me while looking at myself in the mirror of my grandfather’s
armoire. I put out both fires. Calling 911 was ineffective, I couldn’t manage to dial it correctly for some
reason. I was forced to deal with it on my own, and somehow managed to stave off total destruction.
The rafters afterwards were blackened, but the house was more or less intact. Still standing.
I was searching for the symbolism in this, thinking the fire represented repressed passion.
Maybe so, but now it’s hard not to see it so much more literally. That little stone house in
Lone Grove houses all my memories, all my most beloved ghosts. Llano County has been
dry as a bone for a long time now. I’m praying the fires will stay away from there. From here.
I know people who’ve been evacuated now, and some who’ve lost their houses, lost everything they had.
I’m trying to help organize to get them what they need, so if anyone is interested in making donations, let
me know. The volunteer line isn’t accepting any more help fighting the fires (which makes no sense, because
none of the blazes seem anywhere close to being contained.) However, there’s still lots to be done. If you live
in Texas, and have the ability to foster or adopt a cat or dog, I can tell you that the shelters are stuffed full,
and desperately need help. If you are able to donate to the Red Cross of Central Texas, please do.
How You Can Help Fire Victims: Donation Locations & What To Donate
+ more: Help for fire victims
(Photo by Lizzie Chen for KUT News.)
As the Bastrop wildfire continues to spread, hundreds of families are seeking help from Red Cross
and other shelters in the region. This family from Bastrop was at a local shelter around 1 a.m.
I had a moment about an hour ago, where the thing I had been trying to block out all week
was suddenly staring me down with a gaze as black and pitiless as a shark’s or a dog who’s
had all the love beaten out of it. I’ve found myself kneeling on the edge of that abyss not a few
times in my life, but usually I have more preparation when finding myself faced with that long,
dark tunnel, the double barreled shotgun that is utter loss. The total, final, irrevocable taking
away of all that you love, loved. Usually there’s time, usually I’ve known it was on the way – my
face having time to adjust into that ugly silent scream, that endless echoing rictus of NO.
An hour ago, it came upon me in a different way – sidling up along side of me, a dark shape,
a phantom creeping at my peripheral vision. My mind’s been batting it away gamely, all through
this beautiful, strangely cool singing afternoon. The most gorgeous, perfect day we’ve had in
weeks, months. Every minute, I’ve been trying to keep thoughts of the fires at bay, going through
my to-do list systematically, attacking it with a fervor. Keeping myself from thinking about the possibility
of doing that one thing I want least to do. And then, without warning, here it is – standing in front
of me, that beast who says in a voice closing down on you like an iron gate,
“I’ve come to take it all away from you. There’s nothing you can do.”
The idea of packing that bag, of seeking out the most important objects, the things that you would
save from the fire, from the storm – makes me shut down. I think I actually passed out when I started
even going there, like Tony Soprano having a panic attack. In fact, maybe that’s what’s happening
to me now, in slow motion. My joints feel like they’re full of rust. Locked up, confused between fight
or flight. Sand for blood, rabbit heart. Every nerve is shrieking, “Run, run, RUN!” and instead I curl
up into a ball and go somewhere else for a while. At this moment, it isn’t any better, but if I keep
writing, I can keep the buzzing of anxiety down slightly. It’s like I’ve been living suspended in amber
for eons, and now time is speeding up, moving backwards, becoming sludge from stone. I’m wiggling
one leg free at a time. This is what happens when you’ve already been through this. This is what I’ve
been fighting for the last six years, but it can sneak up on you. I’ve noticed for awhile that I get anxiety
for about half an hour, almost every time I leave the house. The series of questions flood my brain: Did
I lock all the doors? Put the dog in her crate? Turn the stove off? Blow out the candles? Shut the window?
The threat of imminent disaster short circuits my brain. It activates the damaged part that knows forever now
that no house is safe, that the idea of home as a fortress protecting you from the evils of the world is nothing
but a cherished illusion. I’ve lived in a half-gutted house for years now. Most of the rooms don’t have walls,
or ceilings – just bare framing strewn with fabric, fairy-lights, tree branches. This, for a person who loves the
idea of home, who falls in love with houses, who loves entertaining, and who works from home – well, let’s
just say it’s less than ideal. I’ve seen my homes now burst open, ripped apart, deconstructed down into their
base parts. I understand now how fragile an idea home is – how fallible our buildings are. Every time I hose
down an anthill and watch as the fire-ants scramble in the ruins of their earthen compound, I feel a pang.
I know what it feels like. It’s just been too much this week, really. I’ve been directly affected by a slurry of
last month’s natural disasters, and those combined the two catastrophic anniversaries has gotten me into
a state of end-times fear-fever. The media, of course, is not helping. I’m tired of thinking about it, I’m tired of
writing about it, I’m fucking tired of it always being so close to home. Is anywhere safe? Is there anywhere
in this whole goddamn world where I could go and not worry about having my life destroyed by a storm
or a fire or an earthquake? Maybe not. This planet is trying to tell us something, and our ears are still plugged.
I’m trying fervently not to indulge too much in scenarios where I run off naked to go live mud-covered in a cave,
but it ain’t easy these days. Could I find home cradled in a curve of rock, a bare ridge where there’s shade and
water? Maybe if everything were stripped back again I could walk off into the hills, forget my name, start again
like a newborn animal, a feral child who forgot her mother tongue. I’d really rather not, though. Just let it rain.
Let me say that at this moment, we’re not in any immediate danger. The fires are still miles and miles away
from us, and the air isn’t hazy here, though my throat is burning like I’ve been sleeping in a smoky club.
But it’s close enough, and it’s moving – jumping highways and rivers and nothing seems to be stopping
it. If the winds calm, and no one flicks any cigarette butts, I think we’ll be fine. I have to keep reminding
myself to let go of the fear that tracks me, to learn to evade it stealthily – lest it sniff and my heels and
catch me unawares again. I’m working on it. To just sit here breathing slowly. To let that be enough.
“The skyline was beautiful on fire
All twisted metal stretching upwards
Everything washed in a thin orange haze
I said, “Kiss me, you’re beautiful -
These are truly the last days”
You grabbed my hand
And we fell into it
Like a daydream
Or a fever
We woke up one morning and fell a little further down
For sure it’s the valley of death
I open up my wallet
And it’s full of blood “