The winds were hurricane force, I heard on the radio.
The lightning was spectacular and the water was pounding down from the sky, sheeting across the windows. I didn’t know where my parents and my younger sister were.
This summer they’re letting it burn, 150 acres so far, practically nothing when you consider that 1.1 million acres of the American West are on fire and that 5 million acres have already burned in Alaska and 7.2 million in Canada.
I called my daughter and asked her: “If I have to evacuate, what should I save from the house? The copper urn was my first choice, too, though it struck me as odd.
On the way home from the doctor, after the initial diagnosis, Fernando asked me if I was okay. I wanted him to stay home with me, but instead he dropped me off at the house, where I tried to grade papers while he went back to work.
Later, as we were falling asleep, he said that all afternoon, when a customer would say, “Thank you,” or “Have a nice day,” he’d think, “I have cancer.” As a girl, I learned from my mother, who had lost her first husband in the Korean War, to encyst sorrow and bury it deep within, so this is not an essay about grief. In 1977, when Fernando and I had been married for almost four years, we bought a house on the north side of Tucson near the freeway and train tracks.
It rained so hard the first winter we lived there that the water rose and began spilling in under the doors.
The suddenly lush ivy on the front of our house crawled into the gaps between the window frames and the burnt-adobe bricks. Fernando used an ice pick to poke holes in each room’s ceiling, so the water would drain into the hole.
When we called the builder, he told us it was because it was a new house.
He told us to keep the water running, to clear out the pipes.” When Fernando talked about TCE, or trichloroethylene, I imagined dark plumes spreading underneath the ground. From 1952 until the early eighties, workers at Hughes Aircraft and Tucson International Airport used TCE, an industrial solvent, to clean greasy metal parts of airplanes; they later disposed of the spent solvent by pouring it into open pits, directly on the ground or into culverts, where it eventually percolated into the area’s artesian wells.