My husband, step-daughter and I trundled across the street to the park from our apartment, bundled in our cold weather gear. Me in an odd but practical assortment of clothes from the bottom dresser drawer: fleece-lined riding breeches, a heavy wool Aran Islands sweater, down jacket, ski gloves and a Soviet rabbit-fur hat from the 1980s. We stopped along the edge of the large frozen lake that is the park's centerpiece, alone save for a park guard posted in his phone booth nearby, and toasted the arrival of the new year with champagne from plastic cups. Fireworks lit up the horizon from all sides of the park. Imagining party-goers beneath the colorful bursts - the women in their cocktail dresses, strappy heels and kitschy "Happy New Year!" tiaras and the men with too much cologne and slicked back hair - made me feel very frumpy in comparison, but also exactly where I wanted to be instead.
With the new year only a few minutes underway, we continued through the park's snowy lanes towards a thumping bass line coming from a bar hopping with activity. My step-daughter and I tried to cajole my husband into coming inside the bar for a few songs, but he refused and plunked down on a bench with his brandy flask instead. Despite being dressed like a winter road crew, my step-daughter and I couldn't resist going into the bar for a glimpse of the revelry. It was just one week earlier, days before Christmas, that we'd lost our Dodger cat and I needed of a dose of positive energy. Unfortunately, it was too hot inside the packed bar to dance wearing all that gear, so instead we let ourselves go and danced like mad women to OneRepublic's "Counting Stars" in the lane outside the bar. It was just the release I needed. Maybe 2017 would be okay after all.
I was wrong.
Before I sound like too sad of a sack, let me explain that I generally consider myself a bright spark. I prefer to be lighthearted, don't take myself too seriously and believe that what I put out will come back - so why be a grump? But let me tell you that 2017 stepped on my daisy and then twisted its boot toe for good measure.
Re-reading the posts from February this year, I see the signs that the dark cloud had already blown in. At that time, I hoped the "general malaise" I was feeling was temporary. Perhaps it was just a reaction to the political divisiveness assaulting us from the headlines. There were plenty of reasons not to be cheery.
Then in April my father-in-law passed away and we returned to Virginia for his memorial and to spread his ashes in the woods behind their home.
In July we left the country we'd grown quite attached to and moved into our temporary Virginia apartment in time for Toby's health to start to seriously deteriorate.
By late summer, to quote Julia Sweeney, God said Ha! and the cloud overhead continued to darken.
In September, we lost the smart, sweet and lovely 21 year old son of my husband's cousin in a drowning accident. Their only child gone - I can't even begin to imagine their grief.
October 7th Toby died and for the first time in 19 years, our lives felt empty without the loving, funny presence of our fur family.
October 9th I received an early morning text from my sister-in-law telling us not to worry, my elderly father and step-mother had evacuated from the wildfires and were okay.
We'd been out of communication after heading to the mountains for some post-Toby solace. Days later, one of my sisters and her husband also evacuated their house threatened from a different branch of the same fire complex. The following days found my father, step-mother and his dedicated caregiver moving further and further south to escape the smoke from the Sonoma and Napa Valley wildfires. We stayed glued to any source of news that could tell us the fate of their house high in the hills above the town of Sonoma. Mid-way through the week, my siblings and I resigned ourselves to the fact that the house was gone as the official fire maps showed big red swaths over their property. At least they had the two rental properties in town to return to when it was all over. Amazingly, my sister and brother-in-law were able to return to their house, their town spared the fire's devastation.
Then one Saturday morning, while watching the Weather Channel reporter standing in front of a house engulfed in flames, I heard him say he was at the intersection exactly in front of my father and step-mother's two rental homes. The reporter said it was an ember, blown down from the distant hills, that had picked off two houses in the middle of the block. And with that - we figured it was all lost. But two weeks later, with the fires becoming contained and evacuation orders being lifted, updates started running through social media from neighbors, that in fact the two rental houses were still standing. It seems the reporter had "estimated" his location during his on-air reporting. Even more incredible, just days after that, we learned that despite being surrounded 360 degrees by fire, and 100% due to the incredible efforts of the fire crews - their hill top home was also intact. The scorched ground and trees were only 10-15 feet from the wooden house where they'd lived over 35 years. Miraculously, my father and step-mother were able to return home.
|Signs of gratitude hanging everywhere.|
|The approach to my dad's house.|
|View of the fire line from their deck. That line exists because fire crews from across the county, state and country worked 24/7 for weeks with shovels and chain saws to create fire breaks to save strangers' homes.|
|Airborne embers burned holes in their deck umbrella, but somehow didn't ignite the deck.|
|My father's iron sculpture rises unscathed from the ashes.|
|A few of Sonoma's seven flags still flying over a vineyard and charred hillside.|
But they didn't stay home long as my dad was admitted to the hospital just a week or so later. He had some kind of infection from an unknown source. At one point the doctors told us he had only days to live and I immediately flew across the country to be with him. His ship righted itself somewhat, but seven weeks later - he's still in the hospital. I'm thankful that I was able to tell him everything I wanted him to hear. I choose to believe he understood me.
By Thanksgiving we'd lost my brother-in-law to a sudden aneurysm and one of my sisters was left a widow after over 20 years of marriage.
We're now nearing Christmas. Despite this litany of horrible events (are you even still reading?) - we still have a lot to be thankful for. My husband found a job teaching English that he finds interesting and occasionally amusing. My position within Consular Affairs is challenging in a good way and I'm energized being able to teach again. But other than that, we're holding out hope that the new year will bring a change in the metaphoric weather, a universal shaking off of the dark cloud perhaps. I have to have faith that the simple act of turning the calendar page and dancing to a favorite song at midnight - in a cocktail dress or in snow boots - will bring about this transformation.
To 2017: Uncle. You win. Now good riddance.