Atmosphere

1. The Eighth of November

There’s a heavy air about the campus today.
As I walk past my peers and professors,
some with their faces downcast,
others looking forward as best they can,
they all greet me the same way.

A slow, open-palmed wave.
A prolonged twitch of the mouth: not
a smile, it’s too wistful for that.
Just a slight, tight-lipped greeting
that pulls the corners of the mouth up
while keeping the eyes heavy with grief
and the forehead wrinkled with despair.

“How are you?” and “I’m… okay.”

None of us know what to say
or if we should address the matter further.
The matter being Borderline Bar and Grill,
and the shooting that occurred last night
that took one of our own.

What can we say to do justice
to the unspeakably unjust?
What can we say in the wake
of a Wave’s sudden death?
Alaina Housley,


2. The ninth of November

There’s a heavy air about the campus today.
I walk down the sidewalk towards the gym
alongside my friends and instructors,
some with their faces set stoically ahead
but most with long, fearful backward glances
at the billowing plume of smoke
summiting the ridge behind us.
Our footsteps are heavy with the weight
of hastily packed backpacks,
our mouths are heavy with the taste
of smoke, and our minds are heavy
with our own dark thoughts.
First the shooting, now the fire.

We are at a loss of words.
There is nothing left to say,
not after yesterday’s tragedy.
So we stand in silence,
letting a hug or a hand on the shoulder
speak louder than any hollow word could.

The fire rages and smoke fills the sky.
In the gymnasium, we wait.

3. The tenth of November

There’s a heavy air about the campus library.
Among the stacks of books heavy haze
from smoke slips through
the cracks in the walls, through our breathing masks,
and into our lungs and our souls.

Helicopters rattle the windows overhead
as we huddle on the floor like refugees.

Cops said to leave.
Firemen said to stay.
Tensions are hot.
Panic simmers.

Slowly, students join hands in prayer.
Past the point of stressed to breaking,
past the point of powerless
all we can do is pray:

God, you are our fortress.
We are the Waves.
We are the ocean.
We will not be overcome.

4. The eleventh of November

There’s a heavy air about the campus today
as we stand together to sing “Amazing Grace.”
The congregation usually fills Elkins Auditorium
nearly full, some three hundred attendees to the service
sitting in the salmon-orange cushioned desk chairs,
but today there are a hundred at most.
And many, like me, are only coming
because we’re trapped and can’t get
to our normal places of worship.

During the sermon, our phones ring:
This is an important message from Pepperdine University.
Due to the damage caused by the Woosley Fire,
Malibu and Calabasas campuses are closed until after Thanksgiving Break.
Classes will resume remotely on Wednesday.

As we leave the service, we see
that the winds have picked up
and the smoke has returned.

The panicked exodus of students and residents
from two days ago has cleared, and those of us left
have no competition for the roads.
University officials immediately arranged shuttles
to relocate those that wanted to leave.

I wanted to stay, to help,
but she wanted to leave,
and I wanted to ensure her safety,
especially after last night
when she choked on smoke.
Together, we boarded the bus.

5. The twelfth of November

There’s a heavy air in my mind today.
I’m eating pancakes while sitting
at a table in a suburban house
in Minnesota. I’m watching it snow outside.
Many of my friends are still on campus,
sitting at their own breakfast tables
and eating their own meals. They, too,
watch small white particles drift lazily
from the sky. I am secure in the snow,
but they are far from safe. I want
to do more for them, but I am no longer there.
I can pray, but I cannot physically comfort.
Ashfalls bring with them the promise of destruction.


6. The twenty-second of November

There’s a heavy air of thought about me
as I consider the day: Thanksgiving.

Thankful for what? Mindless deaths?
Since Borderline there have been many more.
And it’s only been two weeks.

Thankful for what? Senseless destruction
at the whims of Woolsey and Camp?
Over a thousand missing, probably dead.

Thankful for what? In light of everything
I still have a loving family
and many friends that truly care.

I suppose that will do.

7. The twenty-fifth of November

There’s a heavy atmosphere in Thousand Oaks today.
as I drive to my church, I pass at least three houses
that aren’t there anymore.

I walk behind my church
and I see scorched hills
that nearly reached the building.
I walk to my minister’s house-
his hedge was burned down,
his neighbor’s trampoline melted,
but their houses stand, though damaged.

We begin our drive back to campus
through blackened hills. Upon arrival
the air still tastes of smoke,
but everyone’s spirits are light:
we made it through. We survived.

The air is beginning to lighten.

8. The twenty-sixth of November

There’s a strange air about the campus today.
Reunions are joyful and the alleviation of stress
is tangible as friends reconnect and see
that they are alive and relatively well.
Some clearly try to focus on their studies,
but gradually conversation wins out
as peers recount their stories
from the past two weeks.

Behind the campus, the hills are black.
But on campus itself, the atmosphere
is one of hope and recovery.

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