You Never Know

  We all know about the California wildfires. It’s always on the news, filming the fires, how it’s affecting the communities, and just plain out, showing people’s emotions during the whole thing. In Missouri, we don’t have to worry about those things, but unless you live there, you do. That happened to my sister, Heather. 

  It was about a year and a half ago when she decided she really wanted to go to Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. She is very smart and got a lot of scholarships, so my parents let her go. I wasn’t very happy about it because I knew I would barely get to see her, but I knew she really wanted to go there. 

  Whenever she got there, she was madly in love. I remember the family calling her one day, and I had never seen her so happy. But then, the first semester happened. I didn’t realize what was going on since my parents didn’t tell me, until a day at school. I remember walking into class and seeing a video we were about to watch on the board. It was a news station talking about the fires. I ask my teacher if this relevant news. When she says yes, my heart completely drops down out of my body and I feel like I’m going to faint. I hadn’t talked to my sister for a long time so I wasn’t sure if she was okay. I was asking myself all these questions. Is she okay? Are the fires near her? Is she going to stay there? I was terrified. I then watch the video, and it’s worse than I had expected. The fire is all around her school. 

  A few days after, my family has a game plan for Heather. She is going to drive up with her friends. I feel a little better, but not quite. Every night, since I found out, I had been praying to God that nothing would happen to her or anyone else. About a week or so later, she is going to be arriving home. I thank God and am more relieved. Before she comes, my mom makes sure I know that she will be emotional, and very scared, which is the opposite of Heather, who is always very brave and put together. When she gets here I can’t wait to ask her questions, but I can’t because I can see the emotion in her eyes. 

  I was never able to ask her the questions I wanted to until I decided to do it recently. First, I asked her to describe the scenery of the fires. She said, “ From campus, we could see the fires through the windows. I was in the library and we could see them outside the glass windows, and it basically looked like the fire was surrounding the campus so it was coming over the hills, and it was basically like everything was all black. And then the mountains were just being consumed with this red fire and they had put fire retardant spray on it to help a little bit and there were helicopters flying and putting water and stuff too so it was kind of receding but it just kept growing.”

  Next, I asked her what was going through her mind when all of this was happening. She said, “I was pretty much just in survival mode. The whole thing was either should we leave? Should we stay? If we tried to leave what would be our plan? The whole time I was just thinking, “I have to do something,” but there was nothing I could do. Just hoping that we weren’t going to get trapped in there and have nothing, nowhere to go, nothing to do. Just panic most of the time and just trying to watch out for my friends that were with me and trying to make sure they were with me in what our next moves were. And then by the times where it got really bad, I was just scared. I was just thinking if we could make it to the morning then we’ll be OK, and then we would leave in the morning and so that’s what we did.”

  After that, I asked her who was there for her when this was happening. “I would say the most were my RA’s and my SLA. They’re my room adviser for my dorm and my spiritual life adviser that is given to us for our freshman dorms at Pepperdine. They were comforting us, I remember they gave up their couch to sleep on to me and just tried to comfort us and help us and know that we were going to be OK and take care and watch out for us the whole time.”

  Then, I decided to ask a question that I knew the answer, but I wanted more detail. I asked if she ever still thinks about the fires. She replied, “Yeah definitely, we just had the one year anniversary of the event last month and so that kind of brought up everything that happened. I went through a long period of time where I was just traumatized from it, didn’t really know what to think about it and now every once and a while it’ll come up in conversations with friends that were there. Sometimes when I see a fire it makes me think about it and there are fires that keep happening so it just makes me remember it.”

  Finally, I asked her how she felt about our parents trying to send her back home. “At that time, I couldn’t fly that day because everything was closed, but when I was in San Diego and dad called me I was at a restaurant and I just remember being very overwhelmed by the conversation. Also, the fact was that was all real and it all happened and I was going to have to fly out of San Diego, go home and it was just all serial, but it also made me really happy because it ended up being the longest around 4 days, until I got home and until that time I didn’t know if I would be able to feel normal or kind of take a breath so it was really exciting that I was going to get to go home and be with loved ones and be with people who were scared for me.” 

  We never really think about our safety because we don’t always have to. But being a sister to someone who has to watch out for hers makes me feel very lucky that I live in a place that I don’t always have to be running from something, or ever worry if I’m going to make it later that day.