Sometimes I wonder about myself. And it’s usually after a strange dream. Take this morning. Before I woke up for the final time (if you’re over 50 or a genetic worrier, you will know what that means), I had a dream that I was at an air B&B with people I was supposed to know including a daughter and her friend. It was a weird place and we were all concerned about keeping it clean. At one point I did washing that included a bright red child’s jacket with fake fur around the hood with a load of whites. When I was ready to dry the still white towels I opened the top loading dryer (it was a dream, people) and found that it already had a bizarre collection of wet doll clothes inside. I couldn’t just turn on the dryer because around the perimeter were tiny pairs of shoes, Barbie Doll size but not heels—more like sensible shoes—loafers, sneakers, flats. I spent a lot of time trying to get the shoes out and keep them paired. It was absurdly difficult and I kept having to start over. Scenes of frustration are common in my dreams. Like my actual life doesn’t provide enough frustration, right?

Later in the dream someone mentioned Jimi Pegg and my mother appeared out of nowhere saying, “ What is it with that guy? You’ve always been obsessed with him.” It was nice to see my mother again, she looked good. Mom went on to say something about not giving Jimi my address. I was stunned. “You mean he came looking for me?” “Twice,” my mom said. I don’t remember anymore of the dream. That was the climax of the action, so to speak.

I wish I could say that Jimi Pegg was the one who got away, but a guy I dated for maybe 3 months in the fall of my sophomore year hardly qualifies. Still the hearts wants what …. etcetera. Mike, my husband who makes frequent appearances in my writing, occasionally mentions Karen Frank, the girl he walked home from school, carrying her books, for all of 8th grade. The next year she was dating seniors and Mike never did get that kiss for hauling her books. Do all of us have that pivotal person who inexplicably plays a large and recurring role in our memories? Because, I have to confess, that Jimi Pegg is no walk-on or cameo. He appears in my memories without warning or invitation and I have to think that’s significant or symbolic or something else profound.

I’m pretty sure that this dream was inspired by the Carr Fire that recently swept through the forest and homes where I live, taking with it our complacency and leaving us in gasping horror. If this seems like a stretch, it’s because you don’t know what it’s like to have your home threatened, to know that people, including children, have died, and to realize that the natural beauty you’ve taken for granted will never come back in your lifetime. Never.

Everyone in my town has a Carr Fire story and over 1000 of them end with “we lost everything.” Across the street a family of five is renting a home after losing theirs. last week the mom came over to borrow a safety pin because that’s how fundamental the loss is. Yes, they have clothes and some furniture and a house to rent but who thinks about buying a safety pin when you head to Target, again, for school supplies, dishes and condiments? After she left I tried to imagine only having time to grab your dog before shuttling your family to safety. I couldn’t do it and my home was directly in the path of the fire.

So here’s my Carr fire story. Mike and I were camping in Oregon when a forest fire turned into an inferno, decimating whole communities in minutes and moving relentlessly toward west Redding where we live. Friends took important papers, photos, mementos from our home to their living room to safety. When Sally called me that Thursday morning to ask if I wanted her to do this, I couldn’t think what to tell her to take. I couldn’t think but luckily she could. “What about those plates your mom gave you?” Ultimately Sally and Alex left with a truck and a car filled with evidence of our lives. Because that’s what photos are, right? They provide proof that your 6’4 lanky son was once a chubby infant, an intrepid toddler, a soccer playing teenager. Not that you would forget these things but you could never hold those albums or sift through the loose pictures in a shoebox again. To a person, everyone who lost everything is grateful to have survived and to have what’s important, their families. And people like me, who can’t drive into or out of our neighborhoods without seeing what their neighbors lost, feel an uneasy combination of gratitude and dread. I wonder if others walk around their houses looking at the things they left behind, aghast at what was forgotten. I know many of us have fire escape plans now. For awhile I thought I would find and purchase old suitcases and fill them with irreplaceable items, like the picture from 1875 of Mike’s great, great, great grandparents and the school yearbooks and keepsakes from Max’s father, who died 24 years ago this month. Max was 4 when Bruce died and his memories are stored in those pictures and videos. But I’m reluctant to buy anything right now. It seems selfish and insensitive because the last thing we need is more stuff.

So what I’m doing now is preparing pre-digital pictures to be scanned and saved on a thumb drive, which I will store in the Cloud and maybe an external drive. Of course this gives me the opportunity to revisit my life starting with the tiny black and white photo of me sitting on my Grandma Krupitzer’s lap. I watch my family age; I see friends I’ve lost in a variety of ways. I put aside pictures to give friends who lost their homes. I have lots of opportunities to weep although I don’t.

Today I’m taking a break from sorting pictures to write this. So far I have 1,876 pictures in 2 boxes. I was feeling pretty good and then I found another shoebox from 1995 and a huge box where I apparently threw pictures after I used them for other projects. In that big box are pictures I pulled out of albums for a high school reunion. And you know who will probably be in some of those pictures? Jimi Pegg. Maybe then I’ll cry.