Some experiences simply leave scars.
Science may have created ways to remove tattoos or melt away stretch marks. Yet, trauma is like a broken bone. You may feel totally healed, but then you ache on days when it’s about to rain.
I was in my classroom, alone, on the day the sky was orange. This was the first day of what would be many weeks with smoke-filled skies. My children were in their bedrooms or living rooms, preparing for our day in Zoomland. Their teacher was in a quiet room at the school.
When something is just not right, you can “feel it.”
“Go to the window and look at the sky,” I instructed my students. “When you come back to the computer, tell me one adjective to describe what you see.”
We made an eerie list, with words including “smoky,” “orange,” “dark” and “zombie apocalypse.” (That’s two words, but I let it slide).
When adjectives are floating in the air, it somehow feels better to put those words on a page, which is likely the reason poetry was invented.
That night, I still felt unsettled. I didn’t know that the state would be burning for weeks. I just knew things still did not “feel right.”
I put my students’ words in a Google slide and added a snapshot of the dusty tangerine of a sun that I saw rising above the barn across from the school.
The next day I gave a dramatic reading of “our poem.” I’m still not certain if the chat that followed was to allow the children to express their feelings, or for me to verbalize mine. We looked online at the Cal Fire incident report to see how near or far the flame icons were from our varied locations.
The kids were 8 years old during those fires of 2018. Last month, they still remembered the smell of the air and the ashes on their front lawns. Most knew people who had lost their homes. Some children had houseguests, folks displaced from fires. My students also knew the orange sky on this recent day did not “feel right.”
I’m one of those people who often doesn’t think about the enormity of a situation until the crisis of the moment has come and gone. How can you “think” in that moment, when you’re holding your breath, when all energy is needed to put one foot in front of the other?
One foot in front of the other. I’ll breathe when it’s over.
Uterine cancer? Talk to me after the surgery.
Lost my job? Talk to me after I eat two gallons of ice cream.
These days I’m driving half an hour each way to my teaching job. Things like personal reflection come easily when you’re looking at a 10-mile stretch of Highway 99, with cows and dry grass on either side of the road.
I have two choices for my commute, Highway 32, which is longer, or Highway 99.
I’ve given this a lot of thought. The quick route takes me along the stretch of road where the Handsome Woodsman died in a head-on collision Nov. 1, 2016. Each time I pass Meridian Road, I say hello or nod a smile in his direction.
After many daily drives, I have added up enough quick glances to get a good view of the exact place where I had previously diverted my eyes.
Did the tree survive? What was the exact trajectory of his vehicle after impact? Did he see the car coming? He had left me a voicemail that day while driving. How many times did his heart beat from the time his thumb pressed “end call” and the moment he died?
I thought this route along Highway 99, would be unbearable. Like most things in life, it is not. I thought I might panic when I saw the headlights of cars traveling south as I headed north. I have not.
The fires, a pandemic, online teaching and fires again.
Some things leave scars, but most of the time we keep moving forward.