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Late last night when we were all in bed

December 6, 2017

I have been staying in a hotel since Monday. What day is it now? I’m starting to feel like Joan Didion, who used to check into the Beverly Hilton indefinitely to write. If I stay any longer, I may have to take up smoking, being thin, and writing well.

On Monday night, I was at my mom’s place to meet her new helper, Jennifer, who started her shift at 7 p.m. When she came in, we could hear sirens outside. She said “I think there’s a fire somewhere.”

I went home at about 7:30, suffering from a massive sinus headache. I checked online and there was a small wildfire way out in the hills about 15 miles away. The wind was blowing in hard gusts, slamming the trees against the house, trash flying through the air. I thought “It’s blowing away from us, isn’t it?” So I went outside to check. No. It was blowing straight toward us from the direction of the fire.

Then the lights went out. With rising concern, I added more stuff to my already packed suitcase just in case we had to evacuate.

My sister called at 9:30 pm. She had heard of the fire and had called my mom’s care facility. They told her she needed to come get mom. She told me that and I did what I always do in a crisis, which is panic. “Oh my god oh my god oh my god What are we going to do?” I babbled.

Mom is disabled. Very disabled. It’s not like she would be comfortable just anywhere. She can barely move her feet. She can’t get up a 2-inch step, much less the stairway into my home.

Paula said she and her husband would drive the 90 minutes to come get mom, and I gladly agreed, happy to outsource this task because I was busy freaking out. I am the worst. I swear, I would be the kind of person who ran TOWARD the oncoming swarm of bees.

At 11:00 p.m., Jennifer called to tell me the lights were out at mom’s. I got in the car. With the dog. On the way to mom’s, the staff there called and told me to come evacuate her. That was their whole evacuation plan. Call the families to do it. (Note to self: raise hell with the assisted living management soon).

On the way to mom’s. I could see the fire glowing over the hills and then coming over them. It had traveled 15 miles in 4 hours. It was cresting the ridge a few blocks from my mother’s house. The place was chaos. The staff was freaking out as badly as I was. They were yelling into walkie talkies, the parking lot filled with cars parked all wickety whack.

I roused mom from a dead sleep and she – normally cantankerous as hell – was surprisingly calm and compliant. Jennifer got her dressed as I pulled mom’s van around. The elevators were out, so someone – I didn’t see – carried Mom down the stairs. We loaded mom in her wheelchair up the van’s ramp and tied down the chair.

I thanked Jennifer profusely. Her first night working with my mom, and an insane one. Mom had the clothes on her back and her purse.

I started the van.

“Where are we going?” Mom asked.

“I don’t know,” I told Mom truthfully. My entire plan was to drive away from the fire. That’s as far as I had gotten in my mind.

I drove, chatting with Mom with forced cheerfullness. What a fun adventure we’re having! My sister was texting me because we could not make calls. All the cell towers were down.

Traffic lights were out and the streets were full of people evacuating. As we got further to the west, the situation looked worse and worse. Fire was pouring down the hills behind town and the wind was still howling.

I met up with my sister and her husband in the eerie, dark parking lot of a supermarket. I couldn’t see their car, so I just yelled their names until I found them. The hills about a mile away were on fire. Everyone was just staring up at them.

We did a complicated do-see-do where my sister took mom and the van, her husband took me and the dog back to my car, and we all agreed to head in our three autos to a town about 90 miles north, since that was the first place where the power wasn’t out.

I took Abbie Lynn to her boarding facility, where the woman working there was freaking out worse than me because she was waiting for her mom, who was evacuating herself and the woman’s grandfather to the dog boarding place (they have bedrooms there) and it was taking too long.  I talked to her and calmed her down, told her the area her mom and grandfather was where I had come from, was still safe and the roads were open. She took in Abbie, who was overjoyed to see her (naturally) and knocked her over with 62 pounds of fierce doggy love.

I headed north. As I came down the freeway through town, the fire grew scarier and much closer. All of the canyons were full of fire. Smoke was roiling through town. Visibility was only about 50 feet in some spots. People were swerving and pulling off the road. I barged on, doing that thing where you put your face up over the steering wheel to get 6 more inches of road visiblity.

After about 30 miles, I began to relax some. We were heading out, we were safe. I got phone service back about 50 miles later and made hotel reservations via my mobile phone (thank you, 1-800-HILTON) – one room for them, one for me and mom.

I was kind of hoping that by the time I got there, Mom would be happily tucked in bed. No such chance. She was calmly sitting in her wheelchair, in a room that seemed all too small for 2 beds, three people, and a wheelchair.

Mom decided she needed to use the restroom. My sister and I had to help her get out of the chair – no handicapped bars like at home – and onto the toilet, all three of us in the bathroom with the wheelchair, bumping and bashing and lurching.

After all that, mom said she couldn’t pee. She had forgotten she has a urinary catheter. The whole exercise was completely for naught. We lifted her back into the wheelchair.

It was 2:30 in the morning.

Then the next obstacle. The beds at the Hampton Inn are lovely. And tall. Mom cannot straighten up or hop up onto a bed. My sister and I had to heave her up onto the bed, then jerk her up to get her butt fully on it, then climb around with our arms locked under her armpits, pushing and pulling to try to get her all the way into bed.

We were panting and sweating and bruised. Then we realized she was on top of the sheet.

Paula simply untucked the sheet and folded it over, making a mom burrito. She went to her room. It was 2:45 a.m.

Of course I was too wound up to sleep. I sent an email to work. I looked at pictures on Instagram and Facebook. I cried in the bathroom a little.

At about 3:30, I fell asleep. My mom woke me up, wanting to be shifted in bed. I thought I must have slept for a couple hours. It was 4:03 a.m.

I gave up and looked at Facebook under the covers. I slept a little.

I spent the next morning trying to find a temporary care home for mom because being in a hotel was going to kill either her, or me and my sister. Her hospice helped find a place she can stay until her facility re-opens (the fire is still very close). I was cross-eyed tired but I could not stop looking at the news. Many people had lost homes. Somewhere between 150 and 400. The fire almost got our City Hall, which was built in 1926. Our botanic garden is gone.

So that was that. My home is standing, my dog is safe. I have resources to pay for a hotel and dog boarding. A lot of people are in shelters, not so lucky. The fire is still very active. I’m afraid to go home.

Now I am Joan Didion, writing in a hotel. If the New Yorker calls, I’m ready.







  1. December 7, 2017 05:29

    Sending love! So glad you and yours are safe. It’s such a scary time.

    • December 10, 2017 09:02

      Thank you, August, for your constant support. I appreciate it.

  2. December 7, 2017 07:06

    I’m glad you’re all safe. I was wondering about the details but know you’ve got a lot on your plate. Thank you for sharing. Sending love!

    • December 10, 2017 09:02

      Meanwhile Abbie got another spa week at her favorite place – dog day care.

  3. notcalm permalink
    December 7, 2017 08:05

    I’m so sorry – what a nightmare! It’s so good to hear that you and your family are safe. Take care xoxo

    • December 10, 2017 09:03

      Thank you. It isn’t over yet. I just got home last night and the winds are howling and clouds of smoke are headed our way. Gah.

  4. Stacy Williams permalink
    December 7, 2017 18:18

    I’ve been thinking about you Suebob – glad to know you are safe

    • December 10, 2017 09:03

      So far so good. I think Ventura is good, except for air quality, but the towns north of us are in danger and the winds are howling.

  5. Kerry in Costa Mesa permalink
    December 8, 2017 11:43

    Thanks for the update; I’ve also been thinking about you and am happy to know that you (and yours) are safe. Hoping the winds end and high humidity heads in ASAP…

  6. December 8, 2017 12:26

    Wow! I love your writing. I couldn’t figure out how to comment on your ‘mommy blogs made me a real girl’; but am in awe. Thank you for standing up for us mommy bloggers, women bloggers, women and mommy’s everywhere! Ha! But in all seriousness, I devoured it beginning to end.

    • December 8, 2017 14:52

      Thank you! I appreciate it. Comments close after a week to prevent my Nigerian boyfriends from trying to sell me fake viagra or give me jobs online making $5300 per week in my spare time 🙂

  7. theittybittycottage permalink
    December 10, 2017 05:36

    I am glad you are all safe.

    • December 10, 2017 09:04

      Thank you. Now praying for our neighbors to the north and family out in the remote hills near Santa Maria.

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