This Is Not A Drill

Photo of wildfire smoke over my hometown
by Prem Moktan

I’d invite you to peek into my mind right now, pull back the curtains just enough to get a slivered view, but there isn’t much to witness. If anything, all you’d come upon is a blizzard of static. Shades of gray and white manic snow buzzing about without purpose, crowding anything of substance from fully forming. Simply, I am tired. Body and mind are running on reserves of energy whose origin I don’t question. But I am not unique in this fatigue.

I evacuated two days ago, along with my mom and her dog. An unusual summer lightning storm sparked hundreds of fires up and down the state of California. There are large wildfires threatening my hometown and thousands of residents in the surrounding area. The one closest to us covers 50,000 acres. Another nearby, the Hennessy Fire, is more than three times the size. The city proper has been issued an “evacuation warning”, but by the time you read this there may be another round of lightning and residents could be directed to follow a mandatory evacuation.

People I know, people who I have worked with or gone to school with or nod to at the grocery store, have lost their homes. Some are still in wildfire purgatory, waiting to hear news about whether their generational family properties have burned to their soil foundations. Most of us are experiencing some level of PTSD. Three major instances of wildfires in four years is traumatic, and cruelly routine.

The last time Mom and I left our house under such circumstances, the Kincade Fire specifically, was only about ten months ago in the fall of 2019. During that chaos we evacuated twice within twenty-four hours, the second time in the moments just before dawn when it feels most unnatural to be awake.

And of course the COVID virus is still finding ample human hosts around the globe, most especially in the United States where I live.

This is why I am on day 159 of caregiving without a full day off. During these one hundred and fifty-nine days I have experienced depression, anxiety, a panic attack, grief, resentment, jealousy, fear, loneliness, and dread. It has also been peppered with moments of quiet, laughter, connection, support, resilience, strength, perseverance, creativity, motivation, and gratitude. Too many emotions to process at once and often. Every other week there is a new challenge, a forced pivot to avoid taking on the brunt of the next matter-of-fact disaster.

This broad stroke doesn’t even mention the other issues specific to this country, many of which are systematic and despicable, bubbling to the surface as nerves become more frayed under pressure.

But I am safe. I am with family. I have a place to stay for the time being. My other work is on pause again, but I am able to continue my writing remotely. I am COVID free. I have been able to protect my mom through all of this.

Others are not as “lucky”.

And yet, it does not detract from the validation of my exhaustion.

Mom has nearly no short term memory left, so she does not understand that there are wildfires or that we are natural disaster refugees again. She did nothing to help get things in order before we left, not that I exactly expected her to. She watched me pack her things into boxes and a suitcase, sweating in the summer heat that had crept into the house. Many times she asked where I was going. Once, when I reminded her that there was a wildfire encroaching, she giggled.

Giggled.

My disgust was quick and furious, most difficult to suppress. I didn’t have time to choke down the venom of my hatred for dementia, nor feel the shame of my reaction. I at least had the wherewithal to leave the room before catching jagged words between gritted teeth.

When it was time to finally leave under the threat of an apocalyptic smoke blanket of sky, she took her time putting on her shoes. Before we reached the front door she casually asked if it was too late to go to the bathroom. She had no awareness of the car being packed to the brim with our most beloved and necessary possessions.

This is why I decided to leave town before a mandatory evacuation was issued. The idea of staying in the house a moment longer with a person whose cognition made emergencies more dangerous, nearly broke me. Her trivial nature and ignorance of reality can be wholly offensive at times, most especially during heightened events such as this. Beyond flinging her over my shoulder and walking out the door, there is no foreseeable way to swiftly direct a person with dementia through a dizzying and urgent, middle-of-the-night evacuation. I can’t even bring myself to imagine what it would be like if the flames were lapping at our porch. How in the world does anyone deal with these things? I suppose this is rhetorical, because in any moment of grit we just do. Understanding the how is to be studied in the aftermath, but really, what’s the point?

3 thoughts on “This Is Not A Drill

  1. Jan Mettler

    Dear Lauren,

    Your posts have helped me a great deal. You see, my best friend since she was 4 and I was 2 has dementia. Her daughter moved her down south six months ago. And like Peggy, she does not know what we are feeling/experiencing. We have been evacuated for a week because we live in West Dry Creek Valley, half a mile from the fire. Tonight we are home, albeit on a day pass issued by the agriculture department. I’m determined to stay and not move the cat again. But like you, I try to come to grips that my pal is not aware, living on a one-way street.

    Keep writing, Lauren. You are gifted.

    Jan Jan Mettler 707.433.5846 jan@bossdogmarketing.com

    >

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lauren

      Oh Jan, I am saddened to learn about your best friend having dementia. What a terrible thing to bear witness to. Friends since before kindergarten…what an incredibly deep bond you must have! I don’t blame you for wanting to stay home after being evacuated. I find that gratitude for people and home is amplified during trauma. Welcome back. I hope you’re able to find a bit of solitude during the chaos.

      💚 Lauren

      Like

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