Unreal winds, howling at 65 miles per hour, drove the raging wildfire that changed my life. It was October 2017 in Sonoma County, California. The hills were blanketed in tall, flowing, golden grass; the days were hot. The circumstances were ripe for the infamous Tubbs wildfire.
California’s wine country is a beautiful, verdant place covered with trees, grapes, and grasslands. There are wineries, businesses and houses sprinkled onto the hillsides and valley. Living there was magical, at least on the surface. But, below the surface, people did not see the unhappy state that I was living in. My life lacked spark; it lacked joy. I had a vague sense of feeling, “Is this all there is to life?”
The night of the fire, I went to bed, smelling smoke. I couldn’t see any fires in my area. I figured that it was a house fire, and I felt sorry for the people affected. I was awakened at 1:30 am by a phone call; a robotic voice that announced, “Wildfire headed to your neighborhood. Evacuate immediately”
I jumped out of bed to open the back door – what I experienced was frightening! The sky was a brilliant orange. The wind was howling like a freight train, and the fire, which I knew was nearby, was roaring like a lion! It was a thundering noise; I will never forget that sound.
I woke my ex-husband up, we prepared to evacuate. In about ten minutes, we were out the door, dog in tow. At approximately 1:45 am, we drove north to the safety of my mother-in-law’s house. Our neighbor was slower at getting out; he stayed long enough to see the fire catch our houses. He photo-documented the corner of our house catching fire at 2:00 am and then sent a photo of the entire house engulfed in flames a few minutes later. A large middle-income suburban house, utterly destroyed, turned into a two-foot-high pile of ash within a mere 10 minutes.
That night, 5000 homes in my community were destroyed, 25 people lost their life. All of the members of our community had the rug pulled out from under them. We were cast adrift; all of the distractions of life came to a stop; we were lost, untethered, homeless.
In the following weeks, I was forced into a reassessment of what is essential. What I realized is that I had not been valuing myself; I allowed myself to submit to the will of others; I let others construct a box around me to keep me within their boundaries. This applied to both my home life, as well as my work life.
A day came when I had to choose myself. I had to choose freedom from control. I left my marriage, and six months later, I quit my job. I began to travel to experience different cultures. I wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to support myself; I just knew that I couldn’t live the way I had been living.
I started my writing career writing in several self-help anthologies. The first one was a book aimed at helping women overcome adversity, entitled “Ignite Your Life for Women,” published by my friend Jb Owen. My chapter was about the power of forgiveness, how I healed from my relationship, and my healing from the fire’s effects.
Writing a chapter in Ignite Your Life for Women awakened my love of writing over the next few months. I began writing a fairy tale for a young friend. It was fun creating new worlds and characters. The story grew and grew as I kept writing it; until it reached a point that I saw that it could become a book. I sought out publishers; I was signed to a contract.
My children’s books are written to engage the children in the stories and the characters. What they may not realize is that they are being taught emotional intelligence and given tools for managing their emotions. Mr. Rogers said in the 1960s that his program, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, did a great service for mental health in America by teaching the children that their emotions are both mentionable and manageable. My books take the children into a dive down that rabbit hole, opening them to feeling all of their feelings. In addition, the children may be drawn into discussions with their parents, discussing bullying, abandonment, and ways to step out of victimhood.
I started writing one book, and before I knew it, I had four books written. That initial book has blossomed into a series, the Bella Santini Chronicles. I am so lucky that the stories keep flowing into my brain to be put on paper. My days are magical as I follow this path to create the teachings I was born to create. My books are available on Amazon.com through my fabulous publisher, Waterside Productions.
This story is provided to you simply so that you may know that you, too, have the resilience and strength to reach for your dream. It can be scary, but it is definitely worth it.