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Existential First World Problems Of A Worried Girl

November 10, 2018

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Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Me? I’m Facebooking. It’s the middle of the night and television news is sparse. So it’s time for rampant speculation and misinformation. Because it is comforting. I’m culling through threads in my junior high school Facebook group. Looking at photos and clicking links to fire maps. The whole day has been spent with the local news playing in the background. The Poor Bastard and I drank wine while watching the local news team stand around burning structures speculating on where the fire will go next. It’s exhausting, compelling, and I need more Advil and Pepcid.

I’m safe. All the people I know are safe. Their animals are safe. They are in evacuation centers, the homes of friends and family, or in the case of my mother, ensconced in a Motel 6 near the airport. The important stuff, survival, is taken care of. It’s the other questions that remain unanswered. “Is my house still standing?” “Did my business survive?” “Fuck. I think I left without my favorite sweater. I hope it survives.”

The information coming out of my hometown is sparse. We’re taking to social media for clues. We’re reading Twitter feeds and following conversation threads on Facebook. Asking each other for updates. “Hey, anyone know if my parent’s place is still there?” Information is coming in fast, furious, and conflicted. “I heard the whole neighborhood is gone!” “Nah, you’re okay. It totally skipped that part of town, but remember the old Smith place? That’s rubble.” “Check the fire department’s Twitter.” “Anyone know what area is being evacuated now?” “Has anyone seen my parents? Cell service is shit and I can’t get a hold of them.”

We’re all using references for places that aren’t modernly relevant to help identify locations. It’s been 20 years since the Smith’s lived anywhere near that house, but calling it “the old Smith place” gives us a universal geographic landmark to work with. We don’t remember street addresses, just who lived where. That’s how you do geography as kids. That’s how you pull it up in the catalog of memory. We’re referencing the old names for businesses that have long changed hands. We’re calling the high school by its former name. We’re struggling to hold on to an identity for a town that has changed over the years and now will never be the same.

For many of us it’s been years since we lived there. Years even since we’ve last visited. But we’re all tense and grieving. We’re grieving not just for the loss of property. Not just for the displacement of people we know and love, or the displacement of total strangers. We’re grieving for the loss of our personal histories. Total first world problems to be sure. Greater crises have befallen man over the eons. But right now, this is the thing we’re focused on.

My hometown is an enclave for the wealthy, for movie stars and normal people. The storybook land of Hollywood and California dreams. Many people have their own mental and emotional stakes in what happens to this small coastal town, even if they’ve never set foot in it. People from all over the world are reaching out and asking about my home. They are, of course, worried about me and my family. But they are also experiencing their own sense of loss. This town is the place of legend and fable, and in some ways belongs to them as well.

For me, I’m waiting on news, not only to whether or not several of my family members have homes, cars, or favorite sweaters to return to. But also, to find out if the last vestiges of my childhood are still standing. The places that formed my sense of place – my notion of “home” have been slowly disappearing. The structures I have called home over the years have all been sold and re-developed into tract home developments or McMansions. Making it harder to identify my memories. When I drive by I’m often puzzled. It takes a minute to situate myself and grab on to the threads of memory. “There used to be a garden there where I played.” “Remember the dilapidated shack where we used to solve mysteries?” “That, over there, that’s where I lost my virginity.”

Those changes and losses were for the sake of “progress” and the inevitable change of times. Homes get sold. People move on. It’s LA, we tear shit down for the fuck of it. Tonight is different. This is not progress. It’s wholesale destruction. Not just of property, but of memory and identity. The fate of what we’ve always known, the familiar, the comforting, is at the mercy of the wind.

We’re all safe, sure. And that’s what’s important. We’re just unmoored.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. November 13, 2018 8:31 pm

    Beautifully said.

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