October 28, 2003
“The flower beds are still there,” Mom tells me over the phone. I’m sitting in my roommate’s ugly fluorescent kitchen with dim windows, the cord dangling across the table. A million miles from home. “And…the porch, ’cause it was made of brick.” Her voice breaks a little. “And the chimney.” My Aunt Judy was surprised, in fact, at how much was left. “Holly was hysterical,” Mom says. Their whole block was obliterated. Half a million acres so far; 1,500 houses. It’s headed for Julian, where Camp Marston sits in the middle of a forest of draught-stricken, bark beetle-infested timber.
“You kept telling me to send the boxes,” she says. “Don’t feel bad about that,” I order, thinking, See? I told you to send them. “You couldn’t have known,” I insist. “Seven boxes are expensive to send 3,000 miles.”
I think of the precise moment when each thing combusted–the death of each object, from curling edges of paper to flaming skeleton to pure flame to cinders.
Old journals, 1998-2002
Boxes of old photos dating from as far back as 1890
That gigantic Larousse French-English dictionary
An autographed copy of ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’
My senior yearbook
Prints from college photo classes (old boyfriend, trips to Boston, ex-girlfriend, house parties, etc., etc.)
Clothes, CDs, papers, notes, ephemera
There. That’s the stuff.
Right now: you can see the sky from it, there’s no roof; gnarled black trees cling to the smoking hills; I haven’t seen it, but I know. My stuff is two square feet of ash. Aunt Judy’s house is a smoldering black pile. Unrecognizable.
I can’t speak to my aunt’s loss, aside from the obvious. The enormous, life-altering obvious everything.
If you’ll allow me a brief, indulgent mourning while it’s still fresh: All the anguish and elation and obsessive archiving from four years of my life-things I was convinced would outlast me, would be mined by descendents or scholars–gone, never to be recovered, the molecules irrevocably changed. As I write this, I feel it being read–and relaize it’s not that I’m psychic, it’s just a habit. There’s no permanence. Now my things don’t feel like posessions; they feel like unruly birds on their way upward. The sun blinds me and I let them go.