One Woman’s Story Helps Writer Realize Destruction’s Gravity

To be honest, I was happy when I woke up on Oct. 22 to find
out that school was canceled. Wildfires, schmildfires — I just wanted some
extra hours of snooze time.

Then, when I heard classes were canceled on Oct. 23, I was
ecstatic; two most-likely difficult midterms were postponed, giving me extra
time to study.

I spent the day lounging with my friends and watching the
television’s fire coverage, joking about the brown ashes hovering in the
distance, the source of the “unhealthy air” that forced UCSD to shut down.

I wasn’t really grasping the concept that people’s homes —
and lives — were burning to the ground while remained safe at home and took the
day off, and that’s all that mattered, right?

When I was asked to head to the Mira Mesa High School
evacuation center to interview evacuees for the Guardian, I didn’t hesitate. It
would be cake, I thought. I would do my interviews, type them out and then head
to the bars for a night of drinking.

I didn’t expect to pull up to a parking lot overflowing with
vehicles. After finding a spot, I headed past a large canopy housing volunteers
who sorted through donated bottled water, blankets and food.

I kept walking, and was immediately struck by the dozens of
people I saw camping out in tents in the quad. Hundreds more lined the gym.

The first person I talked to — Joy Stone, 37, of Rancho
Bernardo, one of the hardest-hit areas — looked exhausted and bleary-eyed.

She told me that her home had burned down and she was able
to make it out with no possessions other than the clothes on her back and her
two cats.

More upset about losing her possessions — she talked at
length about a toy train set from her father’s childhood, and I dared not
interrupt her — than her home, she never once cried.

Instead, she expressed gratitude for the volunteers at the
shelter, emphasizing how patient and accommodating they were.

A cell phone call finally interrupted our conversation, and
she smiled, shook my hand and thanked me for talking to her before answering.

I didn’t go out that night.

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