It has been a year,

365 days since you paid our

Little,

Innocent,

Peaceful

Town of Ventura a visit.

 

Directly affected or not,

This fire, this monster that killed the land we for so long called home

Is one that will forever remain in the back of our minds.

As time goes on the memories will be pushed further back,

But Thomas will never truly escape us—

No matter how many years go by.

 

Thomas,

I think of you frequently  

Of all you did to my town,

Of all that you put us through.

 

Even now it takes a bit of time to realize,

We weren’t the ones hearing about you on the news,

We weren’t hearing about your menacing hand,

We were living it.

The news called you a wildfire,

but to us you were so much more.

 

For so long, I was able to say, “I can’t even imagine”.

Now, because of you, that ability has been ripped from my grasp

You took that from me,

from us.

 

I remember thinking it was a movie,

Or some awful nightmare,

Thinking it impossible for such a tragedy to strike my typical, uneventful Ventura.

Until I realized this was a nightmare there was no waking up from,

For you were real, and you were right before my eyes

 

I remember leaving my house that night,

As you lit the hills ablaze,

Looking at my home, the storage box of all my childhood memories,

thinking this could be the last time I saw it.

In the blink of an eye, you could take it all,

My photos, my yearbooks, my journals, my house.

It could all be gone in a matter of hours,

and there was nothing I could do to stop you.

You were an invader in my home,

You were looking at me with your killer eyes through the window,

Creeping closer through the inky night.

 

Thomas, I wish I could say to you, that if you visited me once more I wouldn’t be scared,

That I would know exactly what to bring with me,

That I would know exactly what to save from your grasp,

But the truth is, I don’t think I would.

 

I can’t say

that Santa Ana winds,

That smoke in the air,

That news of a fire doesn’t remind me of you,

Doesn’t send a chill down my spine,

Or a rush of panic through my head.

 

Though I no longer burst into tears immediately at the thought of you,

Instead you steal a bit more of my time—

A couple of seconds to remember all the pain you have brought upon me, my friends, my family, and my town.

 

I still remember how my heart sunk,

When I saw the house of my uncle on the news,

Your flames surrounding every last bit of it.

I still remember that phone call—the tears of my family members in disbelief, in shock.

You had taken everything from them, all of their possessions,

Their home, their memories, all of it was nothing but ashes now.

 

I still remember the look on my parents’ eyes,

When we saw you raging towards us.

 

I still remember the frantic scrambling that ensued,

Quickly grabbing as much as I could,

I would’ve taken it all from you if I could have,

I would’ve taken all of my Ventura as far from you as I could go.

 

I remember calling, texting, every single person I knew,

Making sure they were okay,

that their house was still standing,

that they had a home to come back to when this was all over.

 

And I remember the tears streaming down my face as I realized how real you were.

I was expecting them to say they were fine, that they just missed you, that you got close but not close enough—I didn’t realize so many of them would tell me “no”,

That all they had was gone, that they had a spare change of clothes, a toothbrush, a couple of pictures but little more.

That the clothes they had worn days ago were now ashes, the bed they had slept in the night before in flames.

Their home was gone.

 

That night of December fourth, I did not sleep,

My body was tired, but my brain was filled with too many feelings—too much fear—too many thoughts of you to even consider rest.

I thought of all the houses and buildings you had destroyed within a matter of hours,

Of all the memories you stole from people who deserved to keep them,

Of all the tears you brought to our faces, of all the trembling you brought to our bodies.

How could we come back from this?

How could we be the same Ventura, after you had taken so much of it away?

How could I keep my head up when you were burning down everything I loved ?

 

You lasted nearly a month,

But it only took a couple of days for me to realize I was wrong,

That I didn’t need to question the future of my town,

Or lose hope for what was ahead.

Your flames blinded me at that moment from seeing Ventura as it really was, for who we really are:

A town that doesn’t back down from a fight,

A town that unites in tragedy.

 

Thomas,

I remember what you did, but I also remember this feeling,

One that puts all the tragic memories you created to shame.

Something that as those memories fade, I will never forget.

That feeling I had when I realized we are Ventura strong, and we always will be, not because of you, but in spite of you.

 

Thomas,

You thought you killed us.

That as you roared through our town,

You left us in a state from which we would never be able to return.

But you didn’t know who we are.

You didn’t know that we are Venturans.

 

Some of us fought you hands on,

We took what we had, garden hoses, sprinklers.

Our supplies small in comparison to yours, but our determination much larger.

 

Those who could donated.

They gave some of what they had to those who had lost everything.

Why? Because Ventura isn’t just a community— it is a family.

And when a member of our family is hurting, we do everything we can to help them.

 

Those who lost their homes,

Spoke of rebuilding just days later.

The thought of leaving Ventura didn’t even cross their minds.

 

Thomas,

Because of you, we may not be the same Ventura,

But I have faith that we are an even better city than the one that faced you just a year ago.

We are stronger now, closer.

We got through the pain you caused us,

Day by day, we recovered together,

Into a town who may have less houses,

Less trees,

Less buildings than before,

But amidst losing all these things gained an undeniable amount of strength.

 

So, Thomas,

If you thought that windy night, on December fourth of 2018,

That your mighty roaring flames,

Could rip through this town and put an end to who we were, to who we are—

Just look at us now.

What do you think?