on fires in the mountains.

i chose not to write or draw today. 

or so i thought.

it wasn't avoidance. it wasn't a preference for something more trivial. i just chose to enjoy my life in other ways and didn't feel guilty about it. 

until, now, lying in bed. 9:35 pm, which, for anyone who knows me, is far past my bedtime, i laid in bed, my mind racing.

because i saw some translucent red shapes on a map of santa barbara, detailing the mandatory evacuation zones for the thomas fire. those shapes are so close to my parents' house, my childhood home.

when i was a kid, maybe about 8 years old, deep in my emotional turmoil i blindly named "the empty feeling," there were sometimes fires in the mountains. i remember, so distinctly, having nightmares that the fires would blaze down those mountains and engulf our house. everyone would die but me. i was so terrified of being alone. to me, the fires were going to leave me alone.

looking at a map on the internet, 25 years later, that feeling swallowed my whole body. that panicky, fearful, lonely feeling. that desperation to cling to my parents for reassurance and protection.

i immediately called my mom. it must be getting close to your bedtime, sweetheart, she says, knowing why i'm calling so late.

she tells me they were just discussing what they'd take. they have gas in the car. they're getting ready.

i feel frantic thinking about my parents outside of that house. they've lived in that house my whole life. that house feels like part of us-- my mom, puttering back and forth between the rooms, cooking things, piling things, cleaning things, nurturing a home, and my dad, carefully placed before the space heater and his computer in his office, tapping away, calculating, balancing, measuring things. that's where they belong. i panic, thinking about them having to leave, to be outside of their space and their routine. i panic, thinking about my home not being there.

and then i feel selfish, worrying about this in the microcosm. even if their house is fine, so many are not. i feel selfish, because i'm worrying about what my christmas looks like, which has taken place in the same living room with the same windows with the same purple mountains on the horizon every year since i was born. i feel selfish, because of how intent i am upon melby having that same christmas, now, her first year of life. i feel selfish for being so linear and stuck in my thinking. i have ideas and i need them to continue to look just how they have always looked, how i i expect them to continue being. my mom in her rooms. my dad with his numbers. my christmas next to those mountains. that's how it has to be.

i am holding onto it. i'm holding onto it, tight and panicked. i'm clutching it in my sweaty palm. i will not let this go. letting it go means the fires might come down the mountains and burn them up and leave me alone.

that is, truly, at 33 years old, the precise feeling i am having in bed, now at 9:47 pm. sheer terror at the idea of losing literally everything i love. that's how this makes me feel.

i keep reminding myself that they will be safe. that that is all that matters.

i don't say all these words to my mom. i don't know them yet. i just know i needed to call her and hear her voice.

i'm not afraid, she says. this whole thing is creepy, but i'm not afraid.

that voice echoes in my head as i lie in bed.

that's my mother. that's the woman, who keeps me safe.

i immediately picture this photograph that often comes to mind when i think of my mom. it's us in a pumpkin field. i am a baby. i must be 4 or 5 months old. i am curled into my mother's arms, facing her chest, just a pile of baby, totally at ease. and she is standing, squinting at the camera. she looks, to me, like everything a mother should be. what that is, i'm not quite sure. she's just... there. self-possessed. sure that i am hers. she is holding me like i'm hers. she looks not afraid.

that's the woman i feel when she says those words to me. i believe that she is not afraid.

she talks about the humanity of it all— of people helping people, of service and safety and joy amongst tragedy and fear. she finds the good in every possible situation. she is not afraid.

my own baby is just feet away from me now, sleeping. her noise machine mimics the sound of waves, almost deafeningly loudly. she is swaddled tightly and at peace. when i scoop her up, when she cries, she becomes at peace again.

i, quiet woman, 33 year old woman, adult woman in a striped holiday onesie, panicked in her bed, am that person to another living human.

i wonder, briefly, if my mother feels scared and wishes for her own mother some days. i wonder, even more largely, what it's like not to have a person, who makes you feel that way. safe. deeply grounded and safe. like their body itself is home.

i am 33 years old and i can still call my mom, not only when i am scared, but when i am scared for her, and she will reassure me.

she will say, i'm not afraid. and i will believe her wholeheartedly.

in some ways, this makes me feel totally unprepared to be a mother myself. how can i make the world feel safe for another person, when i feel so lost in it myself?

and then i think of that picture. i was so small. her arms held me so easily. she grew with me. she became the mother i needed at each step of me becoming the person i was. she heard me and held me. and she still does.

i still feel scared. i feel attached to a certain idea of home, of holidays, of safety, of certainty.

but i am also reassured that, wherever i go, i have this woman, not only to call, but in my bones. she wasn't afraid in the pumpkin patch and she's not afraid now. that's part of my make up. that person made me and grew me and heals me daily. and, in turn, it is a gift i hopefully will be able to give my own daughter. a lifetime of being held, even when she grows too big for my arms.

for now, i will hold her tight. i will acknowledge the little girl in me, who is scared. i will acknowledge the woman i am, who is capable of handling fear and uncertainty. i will say thank you for my own dear mama, who taught me that both of those things are okay and true. that is something no disaster can take away.


stay safe, southern california, landscape of my childhood and my heart. i am thinking of you.

on the two settings.


last night, inexplicably, melby slept for six and a half hours straight. half of those hours were during my evening awake time and 80% of the others were spent staring at her monitor, obsessing over whether or not she was breathing, because she was sleeping so much longer than she ever has before and getting what you want is really, truly terrifying. (the other 20% was “sleep,” if you can call it that.)

thus i have discerned that early motherhood consists entirely of either wishing your child would sleep or worrying they’ve died because they’ve finally gone to sleep. 

and that’s about as casual and relaxed as i am 100% of the time.