‘Wow, What Else Can Happen to Us This Year?’

    Jason We lost our jobs on the same day and were both home because of the pandemic shutdown. I went into a depression. I couldn’t get out of bed. I felt like we changed our entire lives to move to Oregon from California for nothing. It was like a horrible breakup, like a death. I just didn’t know how to cope, and I wasn’t sure what our future was.

    James My coping mechanism was to solve all the problems so he didn’t have to worry so much. We made plans, like, Jason likes to go food shopping, so he is the only person who left the house and I stayed in the house all the time. I didn’t see another human being other than my husband, because we wanted to be super safe.

    Jason The pandemic made us more resilient. We realized we had each other and needed to rely on ourselves, which was really kind of daunting. Between Covid and the fire, we started to slowly make our own new normal by giving ourselves a daily schedule. And we hadn’t done that before because we didn’t have to before. We had jobs, and we came home and had dinner and watched TV.

    On the day of the fire, James told me to come look out the window and he pointed to the smoke that was coming up over the horizon. We grabbed some suitcases. We grabbed our passports, our marriage license and some personal things. So maybe 45 minutes later, we heard the helicopters.

    James I went outside, and a helicopter flew by and opened the water bucket the next block over. There was black smoke directly over our house, and all of our neighbors were packing. That’s when we said we need to get out of here, so we put our dog in the car and left.

    Jason Unfortunately we left behind a photo album that my mom had made me with pictures of grandparents and pictures of me as a baby and all through high school. But I took a box with photos of James from high school and us when we started dating, and some of his marching band medals. That was the last thing we ended up packing.

    James Honestly, we were just focusing on the moment. But now it’s like, wow, what else can happen to us this year?

    Mohamed Sadek for The New York Times

    Jason We fled the fire and slept in our car that night. Our conversation for probably the last month has been, “Where do we go?” But we love where we live. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival offered to lease us an apartment they found through January at a reduced rate, so we’re going to do that. We had renters’ insurance on the house, so we have to catalog every single item that was in our home from memory so that we can be reimbursed. We know we had about 15 spatulas. So like, do I have to remember each one? How much would it cost? Maybe in the future we’ll simplify our lives and have fewer spatulas. It is heartbreaking though, because we have to think about each and every room and what each room had in it and what was on the wall, all the things we gathered in the life we built together as a family. We had a huge book collection and so many Christmas ornaments. They’re all gone. It’s hard to think about that.

    James I spend a lot of time figuring out what’s the next step. We were at one point going to live with Jason’s parents. So we went down there for a week, and we realized that’s actually not a great option for us. They’re in their 70s, so we don’t want to put them at risk if we somehow bring Covid into the house.

    Jason It has been trial and error on how to live life almost every day. If Covid hadn’t happened and we had this fire, we would have a safe place to go, and there wouldn’t be as many complications. But Covid has complicated it. We can’t interact with my parents. We can’t hug or be near people as much. Covid is making it difficult to move on.

    Going through Covid together and having to survive this fire has given us more license to be honest and open with one another. We’re more forgiving of one another when there’s a mistake. I may forget something at the store but, honestly, our house is burned down. There are bigger fish to fry.


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