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  • Kerry Chaput

Bizarro Weekend and Other Neuroses



The west is on fire. I'm going to walk you through my weekend in the bizarro land of West Coast living right now.


As practically my entire state is either ablaze or on evacuation watch, I obsessively check the Oregon Department of Forestry and OregonLive for any sign that the catastrophe around us is lifting. To put it bluntly, it's not. Two giant fires are about to merge into one, suburbs are on edge ready to flee in the direction of yet another wildfire, entire towns have been leveled, and the forest that we have been so lucky to hike and camp in has turned from lush green to black. Ash rains from the sky and the air has turned hazardous through most parts of Oregon, Washington, and California.


I am lucky to live in the middle of the state, still 50 miles away from the active fires. But Thursday night the air turned dangerous. So dangerous that even healthy lungs can't be outside without risking their health. The sun glowed bright like an orange bobbing in the grey sky and walking upstairs made me winded. There isn't an air purifier in the state, so I've resorted to a slow cooker of water and baking soda to "clean" my kitchen air. Someone on Facebook said it works. We practically use socks as face masks now so why not use my slow cooker as a respirator?


Saturday was too much. I baked a pie. I ate several slices of said pie and drank too much coffee and clutched my kindle on the couch, checking the air quality index, grimacing. You still have a home, you are lucky, we tell ourselves. Fast forward to midnight. I wake up from a terrible dream, my throat dry as sandpaper. It hurts to swallow the water at my bedside. I take a deep breath and my chest tightens. I check on my kids who are breathing fine and sleeping peacefully. My husband is still watching a Supernatural marathon on the iPad as the time nears 1 am.


I research RV parks in Idaho, maybe we can get out for a week. Shit. The air quality sucks there too. I think that we can pack up and leave now. Just keep driving with the kids in pajamas and tell them it's a fun road trip. Until I remember that we would be no safer out in our car driving for days than we would be here in our sealed-up house. My husband reminded me of this when I told him my plan to get the hell out of here.


I fumble through the medicine cabinet for my bottle of Xanax I keep around for flying. No flights coming up, so hit me with some lower heart rate and steady hands, please. I take one and run a bath, again clutching my kindle and waiting for my hands to stop shaking. They do eventually and I read about a WW II Nazi-hunter and somehow find myself breathing easier.


I start giggling to myself at 2 am in the bathtub. I read WWII stories to calm myself and beg for the monotony of pandemic life. Remember when a mysterious virus was what we had to contend with? At least then we could still go outside and breathe without a panic attack and didn't have to repurpose kitchen appliances as air filters. I'm about to turn my office closet into my 6-year-old's new remote classroom and hope the teacher doesn't notice her Harry Pottering her way into the first grade. I'm going to fancy it up with stickers and extra lights, but still, so pathetic.


Today I'm tired and I still can't take a deep breath. The air is still hazardous but I still have a house. My anxiety keeps boiling towards fever pitch, but at least I've got pie. Perspective. Coffee, pie, a book, and a healthy family. Not so bad, it seems.

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