Gene and Georgia, along with 20,000 plus people evacuated Laguna Beach, heading South to points unknown. Gene decided my sister Donna's house in Dana Point was where I'd finally wind up, so inched down Coast Highway for four hours on a journey that normally took 10 minutes.
At exactly the same time, the clock in my Tie Chi class said 5:00 P.M. I'd been concerned about the fire, but had no idea how bad it had gotten. Slowly I got up off my mat and walked outside. The hot winds blew my hair up in the air and a black cloud of smoke filled the sky.
A girl standing next to me said, "It's coming from Laguna Beach and it's been growing all day... It looks like bad smoke, the kind that means fire."
"My Tie Chi teacher's daughter had called him and said the fire was in Emerald Bay," I rebutted. "That's far enough away from Mystic Hills. I don't think I have to worry."
"I don't know," she said, " I think you better get going if you live there." I quickly left class early and headed home.
The news on my car radio confirmed that Laguna Beach was on fire, but didn't give any details. I stopped at a phone booth to call my sister Donna, but a lady with a van filled to the top with her belongings - holding two Golden Retrievers on a leash - was talking on the phone.
Looking devastated, she turned to me face and said, "my house just burned down."
I asked her where she lived and she said, "Emerald Bay."
"Has it gotten to Mystic Hills," I asked her.
"I don't know, but maybe," she said.
With that I didn't wait to call Donna. Instead I panicked and rushed down Crown Valley towards Coast Highway. I got stuck in a logger jam of traffic as the police turned everyone away form Laguna Beach. The officer said I had to take a different route, because nobody was allowed to go into Laguna.
My heart was pounding with fear, not knowing what was really going on and found side streets to my sisters house. When I finally got there, I ran up the stairs and could hear her talking on the phone to our dad. Then all of a sudden she saw me and said, "where have you been."
"Where's Georgia," I screamed..
"Georgia's fine, but your house is gone!" she screamed back.
Life as I'd known it was over, gone with the wind just like that. I was beyond thankful that Georgia was safe with Gene. I knew I could count on him in a crisis. I just prayed he saved my work and my pictures. The TV showed aerial views of the fire and the smell of smoke in the air was burning my eyes.
I talked to my dad and he said, "Georgia and and Gene are fine, but the house was on fire when they left."
I was in too much shock to feel pain. A horrible wave of shame washed over me for not listening to my instinct and staying home. Dad said, "Gloria (my stepmother) has already called the Insurance Company and reported the loss, I bet you'll be the first person to file a claim."
He kept talking trying to comfort me, but I drifted into space until he said, "and the adjuster will be calling you tonight and bringing a check for $10,000 tomorrow."
From that point on the phone rang off the hook with all my friends and family wanting to know if Georgia and I were okay....The only one I'd talk to was David my writing partner, who assured me that he had a copy of my manuscript and some of the pictures for to be used in The Maybelline Story. He was optimistic, and said, "don't worry Sharrie, now you can rebuild your dream house with a second story overlooking the ocean."
That sounded like a miracle, but right now, I just wanted my own little house back. After that Donna took every call so I could calm down and wait for Georgia and Gene to arrive.
Gene's truck pulled into the driveway at 9:00 PM and I screamed when they came in smelling like smoke, covered with soot. I grabbed my daughter in my arms, and said, "thank God, you're okay honey."
"Mom, where were you." she asked, with tears in her eyes, "why weren't you home?"
"I was at school, honey," I said, "Don't you remember, I'm always at school on Wednesday."
"Nobody knew where you were," Gene said, grabbing me and holding me tight against his chest, did you talk to your dad."
"Yes," I said, "he's so grateful you both got out safe..... but did you save my work? did you get my pictures?"
looking at him wide eyed... then Georgia... then him again.
"I don't know," he said, "I got a lot of stuff, but you don't understand..... it was so dark and smoky I could hardly see."
"What do you mean," I said, panicking, "it was right next to the door."
"I got what I could," he said, "but I don't know if I got it all."
Georgia looked at me with disgust, as I screamed at her dad, "Mom, you weren't even there, you have no idea how hard it was for us!..... dad got one box by the door, but we had to get out."
I lost it..... screaming at Gene, not appreciating that he'd done the best he could. He wanted to slap me, but finally grabbed me and took me out to his truck. He opened the back up so I could dig through the stuff like a crazy person. The neighbors watched in amazement knowing I was a fire victim. I found one box of pictures and some writing files, but my main Maybelline manuscript was gone and so was everything else.
It was more horrible than I expected, the devastation of my life's work and all of my heirlooms gone forever. I looked at Gene, and hated him for purposely sabotaging my career out of jealousy.
"You're a f....... crazy person right now." he said and I was.....Crazy like a homeless refugee without even a f...... tooth brush.
Gene put all my remaining belongings, mostly underwear and clothes..... as well as the pictures Georgia had taken off the walls..... in the back of my car and I almost threw up looking at the remains of my life.
Georgia was furious that I wasn't more grateful and exhausted from trying to get to me, rather than going straight to her dad's house in Newport Beach. Gene decided to take Georgia home with him so she could have her own bed and let me begin the grieving process.
That night, Donna pulled her living room couch out for me to sleep on and I continued to watch the fires on TV with out ever really falling asleep. My mind kept telling me to just get in the car and go home. I had to stop myself every time I wanted to run out the door and go screaming into the night. I had to keep reminding myself that there was no home to go home to.
I cried and screamed into my pillow and paced the floor. Standing on Donna's deck looking at the red October sky, I was amazed at how haunting the blood-red full moon looked over the ocean. It's Armageddon for sure, I thought. In my fog I remembered last January when my neighbors lost their homes in the mud slides. Now I knew how they felt..... The void was unimaginable, the emptiness and loss overwhelming. But thank God Georgia was safe, and Gene had her. Everything else could be replaced..... except my family pictures and heirlooms. But at least Gene had saved one box of old family pictures and that would be enough for the book.
As my minded raced going over the events of the day, I remembered putting the padlock on the door leading into the garage. We had been robbed a few weeks before and I was being extra safe. Now I could kill myself because Gene couldn't get in to save 35 picture albums and 30 years of my journals. All that work went up in smoke and I wanted to die. How could fate be so cruel? How will I ever get through this? I wanted to give up and let my dream of being a published author die..... but a voice inside kept telling me to keep going..... So I did.
The next day, was the beginning of the rest of my life and the beginning of forming a new identity out of nothing. It was time for me to be tested, to see who I was on the inside..... rather than rely on my possessions as self worth. But what frightened me the most was finding out I was nothing.....
Part three of the Laguna Beach Firestorm.
To be continued tomorrow.....