As much as I enjoy listening to excuses, I had heard about all I could take from him.
“You were hitting on her.”
“But she has a boyfriend.”
“That doesn’t change that you were hitting on her. In front of me.”
“But she has a boyfriend.”
I felt the rage boiling inside me, I looked up at the ceiling and wondered if it would hurt when I hit it. I grabbed my 1991 Walkman cassette player, shoved several tapes into my sweatpants pocket along 18ab7f11b053086e19a909ebceec46ebwith a pen for the inevitable snagged magnetic ribbon that I would have to manually scroll back into the plastic casing by jamming it into the circle of teeth to wind it back up.

I went out the door of my Oakland, California apartment and walked and walked and walked, channeling my anger like lava flows down my legs and onto the pavement. The voices in my head yelled and cried and accused, self hatred bounced around the inside of my skull like a super ball. My unfocused eyes looked straight ahead, seeing nothing but the next six inches of ground for me to cover, as I worked to calm my disappointment and hurt feelings. When I finally slowed and looked around I realized I had no idea where I was. I had walked up into the hills of Berkeley, leaning into the gradual incline without any decrease of speed until I reached this spot, in the middle of the apocalypse.

On the morning of the fires the air had smelled like a barbecue out of control, just being outside stung my eyes.  I had stared out at the hills surrounding the IGA supermarket parking lot with a handful of other people in stunned silence, none of us prepared for this vision of disaster on the way to buy milk.  The horizon flashed, alternating between red and orange bursts which were immediately covered by a thick soup of smoke that hovered over the tree line. Bits of ash settled onto our hair and skin, it seemed fire1991aweblike the whole world around us was burning.

My roommates and I tossed a few armfuls of clothes into the car as talk of evacuation buzzed on the airwaves, neighbors nervously evaluating if they should run over the bridge to San Francisco. Anyone with a place to go went. At the last minute we were given a reprieve, in the random game flames play with the wind it had changed direction, taking less fortunate victims as it blazed through the night.

Days later, finally quenched, here I was in the middle of the fire’s path, witness to the  nonsensical trail of devastation in the sprawling neighborhood around me. Here, a beautiful home untouched by the moving inferno, there, a pile of cinders sitting atop a cement foundation. On one side of the street a few homes stood half charred and soaking wet from high powered hoses, some were simply piles of ash surrounding a red, brick chimney. I took off my headphones and felt the silence around me, my shins tingling from the sudden cessation of movement. The trees, once magnificently touching the sky were stunted and black, their branches supplicating and broken, made charcoal in the intense heat.

I could have felt gratitude for all that I had not lost, all I could still call “home.” I could have gone down Victimhood Road, these poor people decimated by circumstances, me by my own dumb-ass choices. I could have taken the route that saw this as evidence that life sucks,  embracing the sad futility of anything that can be reduced so easily to dust. I could have chosen to see the resiliency of it all, the heroes who had rushed into the fray, the families whisked to safety because others had reached out to help, the hope, the survival.

I turned in a circle, deciding which way to go.

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