Laying my head down, the same as usual.
Alarm set for 6:00, blue pajama pants on.
Slowly drifting into a slumber
When the house goes silent and the neighborhood goes dark.
I stumble through pitch black silence,
Into my street, the night sky as clear
And as beautiful as ever.
The power can’t make up its mind,
Flickering on and off, teasing the city.
Amidst the influx of outages, I come to rest.
I’m woken up and glance outside my window, where the sky has turned blood orange,
Like a CGI effect in real life.
My family enters the stress zone,
Waking up neighbors,
Searching for everything, anything of sentimental importance.
We throw our bags in the car and wait for them to tell us
That evacuation is in motion.
But they don’t come.
Instead, I watch as houses above us burn,
The hills ablaze in horrific glory,
A photographer’s delight,
And a homeowner’s nightmare.
But by 3:00, I’ve gone back to sleep,
Hoping it was all a dream,
A cruel joke played by my subconscious.
Then 5:30 hits and I’m back awake,
The fire raging on, ravaging through Ventura like a vulture looking for corpses.
A wave of flame rolls through the city,
Devouring homes and whole neighborhoods at a time,
And we sit and wait
And wait, and wait, and watch.
I wonder how this happened to our town,
Our little untouchable Ventura,
So peaceful and uneventful.
Excitement consumes me,
But in a way I had never felt before.
Calling friends to wake them up,
Nervously watching as the ruby skyline pierces through the darkness.
Flipping from TV channel to TV channel,
Searching for any hope,
Any sort of explanation,
Any sort of containment.
But nothing comes.
Daybreak hits and smokes fills the air,
The town scrambling to get a grasp on reality,
Families grabbing their pets, photos, and a second set of clothes,
Running from Mother Nature like a gazelle from a cheetah.
But I can do nothing.
I pray for safety for myself and for my town,
Hanging onto hope, but with my pessimistic side beginning to emerge.
Social media doesn’t help, as I watch classmates and teammates,
Coworkers and past neighbors,
Strangers and family members,
All hustling to escape, as everything they know is burned to the ground.
They call him Thomas.
Houses aren’t enough for him though.
He hits the churches,
Even inching towards City Hall.
Creeping up the back, he attacks the Cross.
But it still stands.
In the midst of the unexplainable, this sign is enough for me to know
That there’s a plan.
There’s a reason.
Another whole day we wait,
I feel helpless and hopeless, watching as the phrase “0% containment” haunts me,
While first responders break their backs,
Trying everything they can to spare the city.
24 hours later now, I feel the same sort of helplessness.
But the town has shown me something new.
Ventura doesn’t waver.
We’ve received a blow, but we’re ready to bounce back.
As I write, the flames rage on, continuing to engulf the hillsides and freeways,
Threatening schools and hundreds of homes.
They say the wind will increase,
To speeds best described as apocalyptic.
Mother Nature giving us her best shot.
But she’s taking on one giant team.
Social media now on our side.
I watch as neighbors and strangers alike,
Band together in a bond of strength,
Joining forces to unite against the flaming enemy.
We don’t know why it happened.
I don’t think we ever will.
But Ventura will bounce back.
We are bouncing back.
If there’s anything life has taught me,
It’s that nothing can destroy hope.
Local deputies can tell me to evacuate,
To stay out-of-the-way,
To not be a hero.
Fire chiefs can explain the imminent threat to my neighborhood and those around it.
But nothing can suck the fight or passion
Out of Ventura.
We will dig
We will comfort
We will evolve and we will
Stay strong Ventura.
We can’t be put down that easily.
Featured Image Credit: Nick Brandly