I don’t think anyone ever expects to be the one affected by natural disasters or trauma or anything bad for that matter. The night of September 7th, I sat playing video games on my PS4, totally unaware that I would be woken up in just three hours and told we had fifteen minutes to pack up and leave.
I had told my parents that, with the way 2020 was going so far, I “expected” that we would have to evacuate, but we all shrugged it off. I even asked my partner if I should email my professors in case something happened. It wasn’t real until someone was pounding on the door at 4 AM.
My first thought was that I just wanted to cry— but with only 15 minutes, I realized I didn’t have time. Every once in a while I would think about what I would bring if the house caught fire or there was an emergency, but it all felt pointless when it actually happened. I packed the most expensive things I owned first: My new camera, my laptop, my PS4. The last thing on my mind was packing clothes and I ended up barely bringing any.
Although we were told to leave in fifteen minutes, we spent somewhere around thirty minutes to an hour packing anything and everything we could fit in my car, my step dad’s truck, and the RV. I was shaken at the thought of having to drive to some unfamiliar location by following my parents as I’d never experienced an emergency situation where I had to act as an adult.
One of the worst parts of leaving the house was knowing we had to leave the cows and chickens behind, which we had just gotten earlier that summer. My mom, a professional pastel artist, had to leave all of her art supplies and many of her paintings behind; my step-dad left a shop full of expensive tools, gadgets, and vehicles.
We left while ash was falling from the sky and it was pitch-black. We had to trail behind an RV that was going around 35-40 MPH on the highway and try to make sure it didn’t suddenly break down. Our family ended up parked in the Harbor Freight Tools lot for over half the day, unsure of where to go next.
I heard rumors of friend’s houses, restaurants I’d gone to, and stores burning down. Without proper coverage on TV or online news websites, we had no way to actually tell if these rumors were true. In fact, half of them turned out to be wrong.
I spent the next week trapped in an RV, which is actually the same model of RV that’s in the show Breaking Bad, with my mom, step-dad, step-brother, two medium sized dogs, and a cat. There was little to no personal space and I was constantly stepping on tails. I can’t imagine what people who didn’t have an RV or who lost their homes had to deal with. By the end of the week I felt like I was going insane and was having very extreme, fluctuating emotions.
The saving grace of the whole situation was the kind, understanding professors at Pacific who told me not to worry about homework or attending classes and to rather focus on my mental health and staying safe. I don’t know what I would’ve done if I’d had to juggle the stress of schoolwork and whether my house was going to burn down all at once. The threat of losing your home really puts into perspective how lucky you are to have that house and your possessions. I’m so incredibly thankful for the fact that my house is still standing, all of our animals are safe, and that me and my family are safe. My heart goes out to all those who lost their homes, possessions, or even family members during this scary and unsettling time. — Grace Alexandria
Photo: Smoke clouds coming from Linn County covering the Salem sky at 6 AM on September 8th (Grace Alexandria)