Salt Burns

Isn’t that how it feels when you have a wound?

I made it to class at HMI last night. It was a near thing: due to the Hill Fire, the 101 was closed at the usual on ramp, and it took me ninety minutes to wend my way five miles through the evacuation from Camarillo Springs to get to Pacific Coast Highway. Traffic up Las Virgenes was throttled until we made it past the hairpins, but flowed freely up to the 101. I thought with the freeway closed traffic would be light through the San Fernando Valley, but the smoke from the Woolsey Fire was driving people out of the Conejo Valley. It was a slow crawl up to Tarzana.

Class began with a review of our “consciousness exercise.” The first three students avoided the point – which was for one day to record our unspoken judgments – instead rambling on about how they learned not to be judgmental. Feeling judgmental, I offered my example: coming in to work yesterday morning to learn of the Borderline Restaurant massacre. Talking with a colleague about the impact on the community where my sons grew up. One of our neo-con, gun-toting conservative colleagues came up behind me and I instinctually turned my shoulder to him. When he walked away, I thought “Well, good, I didn’t need to hear whatever he had to say anyways.”

As we gathered at the elevator at the end of the evening, one of my friends stopped to ask how I was doing. “I’m fine. I just need to stay focused on the situation I described. My weekend is going to be spent trying to find opportunities to project healing energy into the community.” He looked at me, shook his head, and offered, “Well, if anyone can do that, I guess that it would be you.”

I dragged myself to the car and headed back up the 101 to Westlake Village. Traffic warning signs announced that the freeway was still closed at the 23. The smoke was heavy as I exited at Lindero Canyon Boulevard, but let up suddenly when I pulled into the Oak Forest mobile home park. My mother was on the phone with my sister-in-law up in Templeton. We spent a few minutes chatting about the fire and the memorials for the Borderline victims held that evening, and went to bed.

The phone rang at 1:30 AM. I assumed it was another family member calling to check on us. Then my mother, looking pale, shook me to alertness. “Mandatory evacuation.” It was a conservative measure, I understood, but given the impossibility of defending the heavily wooded trailer park, I didn’t resist her urge to prepare an overnight bag. The flames were impressive from the freeway, but hadn’t yet penetrated the housing tracts or jumped to the ocean side. By 2:30 I was helping to set up cots in the Red Cross evacuation center at Pierce College, just two miles from HMI.

Mom wouldn’t lie down on the cot she had claimed, saying that they “were uncomfortable.” I started musing about our camping trips, asking what we had slept on when we were children? Just sleeping bags and heavy mats. She then laid down on the cot and allowed me to drape a blanket over her. My back was becoming tight, so I laid down on the floor and closed my eyes. Unable to sleep, I eventually headed out at 4:15.

Noticing additional closures on the 101 where the fire had jumped the freeway, I took De Soto Boulevard to the 118. The back side of the fire was burning slowly down the hillsides into Simi Valley. Exiting at Los Angeles, I drove the back roads, arriving in Port Hueneme at 5:30 AM.

I’m writing this from work. I tried to fall asleep when I got home after breakfast, but could only dose. We do donuts on Friday morning, and maybe the sugar crash will lay me out on the floor. But it doesn’t feel that way. I did a huge circle around the Conejo Valley where the Borderline Restaurant is the bull’s eye. I’m wondering whether it’s only ego that’s pulling me into the eye of that storm.

I’ll find out at Sunday morning mass.