I’m ashamed to admit this, but when I was teenager I used to give the wrong cross street to the Domino’s pizza delivery guy, hoping he wouldn’t find my house in time and the pie would be free.
When I walked up and down the smoldering ruins of Aaron Drive just days after the deadly wildfires, looking at the basketball hoop lying torched and facedown on my old driveway, a bit of dark humor hit me — the pizza guy will never find the place now. It’s unrecognizable.
That feeling has stayed with me as I’ve driven around and walked the streets of Santa Rosa, a city that has been my home for nearly 40 years.
It’s been a personal and professional struggle to come to grips with what has happened here. The numbers are staggering: 23 dead in Sonoma County and more than 87,000 acres torched. The number of structures destroyed stood Saturday at 6,800, but that count is expected to rise.
The tragedy on a personal level for so many is unbearable. A lifetime of memories gone. Now, multiply that by the thousands.
The tragedy on a community level is unfathomable.
When I saw a video made by two guys, riding skateboards through their Coffey Park neighborhood the day before the fires broke out and then the day after, I wept. It showed the depth of love and loss like nothing a professional could do, no matter our best efforts.
The video shows them stopping to talk to a boy of about 12. He’s selling toys on a table set up on his driveway. The boy tells them he’s “just trying to get rid of something I don’t want anymore.” Hours later, the home behind him would be in flames. There aren’t words for that.
It made me think of riding my skateboard up and down Aaron Drive. The faded scar on the inside of my right knee is a reminder of wrecking on the corner with Sleepy Hollow Drive, en route to someone’s house. Friends were everywhere in that neighborhood. Their childhood houses, too, are gone.
The reach of this disaster is seemingly endless. It’s indescribable for me except for perhaps this — every day since this all began, I’ve been on the phone, at shelters, in someone’s home, and almost without fail, there will be a connection of shared loss. We all know each other.
At a Rohnert Park hotel, I learned mid-interview that the person I was talking with lived up the road from Karen, the woman who hosted my baby shower at her Foothill Ranch Road home. Both of their houses were destroyed.
In the FEMA emergency center in The Press Democrat building, I bumped into Alan, the father of a high school friend. I’d seen him at a party Saturday — one day before this all began. He told me the bushes in front of his home in Fountaingrove were burning as he drove away.
On Monday Oct. 9, I got a text from Katya. We’d been playing soccer hours before the fire broke out. She sent a picture of her Dogwood Drive home that faced Coffey Park. “This is my place,” it read. It was a photo of torched trees, ash and a few flames.