Discover more from Just Enough to Get Me in Trouble
Red Flag Warning
Foreshadowing isn't obvious when it's happening
Whenever October comes around, I think of October 2017, one of the more action-packed months of my life. It set the tone for the craziness that came in 2018 when my daughter wasn’t breathing at birth and developed cerebral palsy.
I originally published this piece all the way back in October 2020, when this newsletter was just an itty-bitty baby. I made a bunch of changes and edits, but the basic story is the same. I hope you enjoy this peek into my life six years ago.
Before diving in, I want to quickly remind you once again—this is the last time, I swear—that Foster, the writing collective I love and work with, is running our next Season experience soon and the deadline to apply is coming up on Friday the 13th.
No, I’m not talking about Spooky Season.
Each Foster Season is four weeks of guided facilitation, workshops, and peer coaching that take us deep into the transformative, life-affirming power of expressing ourselves truthfully in writing.
If you’re a writer and you’re interested and curious if it’s the right fit for you, we just published a post called ~Vibe Check~, which has some handy-dandy bullet point lists outlining the type of people we’re looking for, and, more importantly, who we’re definitely NOT looking for. Give it a quick read. And if it sounds like your type of thing, I’d love to see you apply to join us.
It’s almost 10:00 pm on a warm October night in Las Vegas. Sunday, October 1st, 2017 — to be exact. I’m relaxing in my brother Owen’s backyard hot tub. We often do this when I come to visit. I stay with my parents and go to his place in the evening to hang with his family until the kids’ bedtime. Then he and I have a couple of hours to ourselves to catch up. I’m flying back home tomorrow morning, and then driving straight to my office in Sausalito.
We both wish we lived closer to each other so this was a more regular occurrence. But a series of decisions on both our parts have led us to live a 608-mile drive or an hour-and-a-half flight away from each other. They didn’t seem like life-changing decisions at the time, but here we are.
Owen’s a flight paramedic and works out of Elko, Nevada. He works four days on, then has seven days off. To get there, he flies to Salt Lake City, rents a car, then drives three-and-a-half hours to Elko for his long shift. Before this gig, he worked on an AMR ambulance here in Vegas and has the insane stories to prove it. He still picks up a shift here and there with AMR to make some extra cash on his off days.
We’re talking about our Dad who was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer back in the summer.
“I get that he’s worried,” I say. “I mean, I can’t imagine what it feels like to have this thing growing in you that’s basically killing you. And you know it’s killing you, but you can’t do anything about it because there’s no cure.”
“Yeah, it’s so brutal man,” Owen says.
“I just don’t get why he keeps asking the doctors about how long he has left. What is he going to start counting down the days on the calendar or something?”
“I know. But that’s how he is. He wants to know, but it’s hard because nobody knows. The doctors for sure don’t know. They would only be guessing if they told him a timeline. It’s like—”
Owen’s Apple Watch pings on his wrist. He glances at it and says, “Holy shit.”
“What’s up?” I ask.
“It’s from AMR. They’re saying all available people need to come in. Something big is happening. I’ve never seen this before.”
He grabs his phone and texts a few buddies of his who still work for AMR. Within a few minutes, he learns there’s an active shooter situation down on The Strip.
We hop out of the hot tub, dry off, and head back into his house to turn on the news. I grab my phone to check Twitter. There were hundreds of rounds fired into a crowded concert. It looks like the shooting might be over now, but the scene is chaotic. There are dozens of ambulances lined up on the street outside the venue. And the cops still haven’t apprehended whoever did it yet. The news is saying the shots came from across the street at the Mandalay Bay hotel from a single window. I can't believe this is happening so close. I can see The Strip outside Owen’s sliding glass door to the backyard.
“Are you going to head in?” I ask.
I can tell he’s debating it. It’s a tough decision since it means he’s in for a long night. He’s also supposed to leave for Elko tomorrow, but this could upend those plans.
“I think so, yeah.”
It makes sense. This is part of why he got into the field. To help people when they’re having their worst days. And right now, a whole lot of people are having their worst days all at once.
He heads upstairs to tell his wife Ayeesha and get changed. I wait downstairs for him and keep watching the news and checking Twitter for updates. I’m nervous that he’s going down there. Who knows if this thing is over with.
“The nice thing is there won’t be any cops on the road,” he says and he sits on the bottom of his staircase to tie up his boots, “so I can drive like 100 miles per hour to get to the station.”
I give him a nervous laugh and force a smile as we walk out to the garage. Great, the last thing we need is for him to get into an accident, I think.
It’s almost 11:00 pm when I pull into my parents’ garage. We hadn’t heard anything from them since the news broke, so I assumed they went to bed before it all went down. I debate if I should wake them up and tell them, but decide it’s best to let them rest. They’ll hear all about it in the morning.
I’m not tired. I almost always stay up until midnight. But I’m also worried about Owen. It’s eerie being this close to something so horrific. And even eerier considering my brother is going there. I open my laptop and immediately head back to Twitter to see the latest.
Around 12:30 am, I text Owen to see how it’s going. He takes a while to respond. I worry more. He eventually tells me he took the last ambulance from their station and then it broke down on the way to the scene. He had to get a tow truck to take him back and then he drove home to sleep.
What a relief.
It’s 4:17 am on a pitch-black morning eight days later. Allison’s phone buzzes and startles her awake, which means I’m startled awake now too. She answers it, doesn’t say a word, and hangs up.
“Who was that?” I ask.
“It was Sara’s school saying class is canceled today due to fires in the area,” she says.
“Fires? What fires?”
“I don’t know. They didn’t say. Do you smell smoke?”
“I guess it does smell a little smoky,” I say, although I’m still sleepy and not completely sure.
I grab my phone to check the news and Twitter for something about fires in the area. I find out there are several fires around Sonoma County. They have been moving fast throughout the night due to high winds and dry conditions. The same high winds that were battering our house last night. They knocked down our patio umbrella and snapped the pole on it in half.
“Are they close?” Allison asks.
I tell her it looks like the closest one is near Glen Ellen, a 10-minute drive north of our house.
“Wow, that’s pretty close.”
I’m more awake now and I realize now our room smells smokier than I first realized. We left our bedroom window cracked open to cool the house overnight from the warm October day. We decide it’s best to move to a different room, close the door, and roll up a towel to cover the crack between the hardwood floor and the door.
Allison wakes up Sara, my eight-year-old stepdaughter, in case we need to evacuate. We all go into our extra bedroom, the same room that’s soon to be a nursery for our new baby. Before that, the room is going to be our makeshift kitchen for a few months while we do an extensive kitchen remodel project. The contractor is slated to start on it in a few days when Allison and I travel to Australia for a work trip of hers.
I think, I guess if our house burns down we’ll be doing a much, much larger project.
We put some pads and blankets on the floor of the room, mostly so Sara can keep sleeping. I don’t even bother trying to close my eyes since I know I won’t be able to sleep. Instead, my eyes are glued to my phone trying to keep tabs on the fires. As I scroll through fire-related tweets, my mind flashes back to a conversation I had almost exactly a week ago, the night after the shooting in Vegas.
It was at The Lodge, a boutique hotel in Sonoma. I drove there after work because Allison’s company was having a small event with drinks and hors d’oeuvres for her team and their spouses. I was talking to another husband who tagged along. He works for Cal Fire and his job entails traveling around the state working with the strategy teams on forest fires. He was telling me the reasons why forest fires spread so quickly and why late summer and early fall can be especially tough seasons for fire in California. We had had record rains ten months prior, which meant the grasses grew much more lush than usual, which also meant that those same long grasses were now bone dry because it hadn’t rained at all since. In other words, the fuel—as he called it—was especially worrisome. Of course, I didn’t think much of it then, having lived in California under perpetual drought conditions for my entire life.
Then I remember what happened when we got home later that same evening. As we lay down in bed, Allison handed me a small gift box. I opened it and saw a positive pregnancy test, and I immediately broke down crying. They were happy tears, sure. But they were also a release of stress from the months and months of thinking we weren’t going to be able to have a child. And, not to mention, relief that we wouldn’t have to visit that damn fertility doctor again.
We had been trying to get pregnant for well over a year. I even did one of those sperm count tests. The one where they give you a specimen cup. Then they put you in a room filled with adult magazines and videos. And everyone that works there knows exactly what you’re about to do. It was so awkward.
When the results came in, the doctor said my count was “a bit low.” So Allison and I went to see a fertility specialist. She was an intense, boisterous woman with short blond hair and a hard jawline. Before we could get so much as a word in edge-wise, she jumped to the conclusion that we needed in vitro insemination. It felt like she was pitching us a time-share—complete with the glossy brochure about financing—and was trying to close the deal as fast as possible.
We left feeling dispirited and we never wanted to step foot in her office again.
Snapping back to the present, it hits me that I need to find a mask for Allison. She can’t be breathing in this smoky air while she's carrying our baby.
It’s a week later and we just landed in Brisbane, Australia after a layover in Sydney.
As we step out of the jetway, we’re greeted by the potential business partner that Allison and her boss are here to meet with. We’re taken aback since you haven’t been able to stand right outside a gate in U.S. airports for well over a decade now. He’s an older man, nearing eighty years old, dressed impeccably in a suit and tie with smart-looking glasses, the fingers in his hands locked together behind his back with a newspaper tucked under his arm. Meanwhile, the rest of us feel grubby and in desperate need of a shower.
I’m just here to tag along since I’ve never been to Australia before and I can work from anywhere with a WiFi connection.
This trip almost didn’t happen. Last week, the fires came within a couple of miles of our house in the hills above the west side of Sonoma. We were under an evacuation warning. Not a full-on mandatory evacuation, which meant the fires were still in the area but our house wasn’t in immediate danger. There’s still an evacuation warning at our house now, but it’s looking like it will be lifted soon.
We stayed at Allison’s Mom’s house for two nights, mostly so we could all be together in case we had to evacuate. But also because their kitchen wasn’t empty like ours was because of the remodeling project—the now delayed project due to the fires.
I did find some N-95 masks for us, but the smoke was so terrible every day—especially in the mornings when it looked like an eerie dense fog stuck in the valley—we decided to get out of town. We drove Allison’s family’s motorhome and parked it outside of her Grandma’s house in the rural outskirts of Petaluma and stayed there for another three nights with Allison’s younger brother Casey, our dog Ella, and our cat Mocha in tow.
We were supposed to leave for this trip three days ago. We could’ve left earlier, but it felt wrong to leave when we still had family members in danger of being in the path of the fire if a big wind event occurred. We couldn’t be there for our loved ones if we were on a different continent—a full day’s travel away—in a time zone seventeen hours ahead of California.
As our host drives, he's holding court. He has lived in Brisbane for a long time and you can tell he cares a lot about the city. And he cares a lot about his country. He’s also not shy about sharing how he feels about our president. I think he’s already said the word idiot at least five times when talking about Trump.
I can tell Allison isn’t feeling well. He isn’t exactly the smoothest driver in the world. It doesn’t help that we’re driving on the opposite side of the road than she’s used to. I ask him if he could drive a bit slower. He acknowledges me, but it doesn’t seem to do much. He’s too busy talking and he knows the roads well.
“Can you please pull over somewhere?” Allison asks. She’s looking pale. She gets motion sick easily. But she and I both know this is something else—morning sickness.
He pulls over and she gets out to walk around and get some air. She rounds a corner and comes back within a couple of minutes. I don’t know if she got sick and I don’t ask her. The color starts returning to her face and I tell her, “We’ll be at the hotel soon.”
We arrive at our room and I stop the timer on my iPhone. I started it when we left our house to see how long the trip would take. It’s been exactly 25:24:09:16—twenty-five hours, twenty-four minutes, nine seconds, and sixteen-hundredths of a second.
It’s two weeks later on Monday, October 30th, and today I turn 40 years old.
We’re back home and our kitchen is completely gutted for the remodel now. We moved our refrigerator to the corner of the living room and we’re using the future nursery as a makeshift kitchen with our microwave sitting on top of a barstool and a tiny round metal table with a glass top that usually lives in our backyard as our dining room table. Allison loves cooking and the setup probably annoys her, but the contractor is building her dream kitchen so she is making the most of what we have while occasionally giving him a hard time about the timeline.
Instead of cobbling some food together at home, and since it’s my birthday, I opt for dinner from my favorite taco shop in town. Sara’s at her dad’s house, so it’s just Allison and I eating our food straight out of the styrofoam take-out containers, with plastic forks, on our tiny patio table.
I don’t usually like to make a big deal about my birthday. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate being able to spend it with my family. And it’s nice to get cards and presents from them. But the reality is, my birthday serves as an annual reminder that I’m not getting any younger. And the three turning to a four at the beginning of my age this time around doesn’t help matters either. I wish I could say that the turn of a new decade in my life won’t affect me because “age is just a number”, but I can’t. I guess I’m basic in that way.
But wait, hang on. We have a baby on the way. That little human being incubated in Allison’s belly signals a new chapter in my life. I’m going to become a father, something I dreamed about in my previous marriage but never happened. Thankfully, in hindsight. When I went through my divorce, I simultaneously felt like I had dodged a bullet by not having a child while also locking myself into a childless future.
Before Allison told me she was pregnant, and I was rapidly approaching my 40th birthday, I felt as if time was running out to become a father. I wouldn’t call it a biological clock, exactly. As I said, it was probably as simple as the first digit changing to a four. Those milestone birthdays can feel more significant.
But I also feel like being a father might give my life more purpose and happiness. For many years, I’ve struggled to find my footing in my career. I don’t picture myself as a digital marketing account manager, even though that’s what I do for work now. That identity doesn’t fit me. And yet, it provides well for my family. In other words, it’s a means to an end.
Maybe it’s fitting that I’m going to become a father as I’m entering the next decade of my life. Maybe being a dad is the identity I’ve been searching for my whole adult life. Maybe the best is yet to come for me. I mean, it can’t get much crazier than this month, right?
If you liked this piece, could you please let me know and give the heart button below a little tap?