When I woke early Monday morning I had my doubts that the fire would affect my life. My wife had gone straight to DefCon 5 and was packing and waking the boys. She was pissed when Mini-Shred, who is all of eight years of age, went right back to sleep. I pointed out that the fire wasn’t terribly close to us and he didn’t need to be awake until and unless we decided we needed to leave.
There was no denying the fact that the fire, which was bright enough at 2:00 am to illuminate the smoke rising from the hillside, was unnerving.
Our power was off, so I used my phone as a flashlight to shuffle through an apartment cave-dark. I shut down my desktop computer, slipped my laptop into a backpack, slipped another laptop into the backpack as well, unplugged hard drives, began collecting cables. From our balcony I could see the flames disappear below the branches of the trees as fire leapt its way toward my neighborhood. In 15 minutes it had moved at least a mile, maybe more.
Once I’d walked the computers and hard drives to my car I went into our garage. I pulled out the SeaSucker double rack that I’d reviewed a couple of years ago and installed that on the car. Between that and my hitch rack, I’d be able to take four bikes with me. There were 19 bikes in the garage between those that were mine, the boys’, my wife’s and review bikes. How to choose?
The DiNucci, the Bishop and the Seven were reasonably easy choices. So was bringing a mountain bike, and as there’s only one in the garage currently, no choice was necessary.
Back upstairs I favored stylish T-shirts to my best suits. I didn’t even look at my tux. I made sure to grab one pair of each type of shoe for the different pedals I run. Yeah, I focused on cycling shoes more than street shoes.
In times of emergency, when homes vanish, people readily say that it’s only stuff. But stuff is the stuff of which a life is made. Photo albums, artwork you saved to purchase, signed books, keepsakes from vacations, these are the things by which we choose to identify our past. So it’s always seemed disingenuous to me to discount the mementos we’ve decided matter. Sure, most of us have boxes of odds and ends we don’t much need, but I’ll admit I struggle to part with those boxed tokens from the 1998 Tour de France.
I have been fortunate to make two more trips back for stuff. My home sits but a single block from two different evacuation zones. It’s middle ground that does not feel lucky. Between three addresses I’ve gotten out 10 of my bikes and one each for my boys. I’ve gotten all the important art off the walls. I boxed up some of my favorite magazines with features I wrote, and one complete set of Asphalt. My MFA thesis remains hidden in a box, as does my other creative work from grad school.
I’m less surprised by what I insisted on taking (I had to enlist the help of friends to get my tandem out), than the things I chose to leave behind. I’ve had this dream of doing lossless transfers of my CD collection to a who-knows-how-many terabyte RAID. I left the CDs, some of which still aren’t copied.
Tuesday night I made peace with the idea that I wouldn’t see my home again. So far, it’s still there, and while more planes have passed overhead than any other day since this fire started, I’m not ready breathe, sigh or feel any degree of relief.
This week’s question is, beyond family and pets, what matters to you? If the air raid sirens turn or neighbors knock on your door, what do you grab? What is the stuff of your life?