[Essay] The House that Built Me

by Kira Star


I woke up to another routine morning in my sleepy, foggy town in Central California. While looking out my bedroom window, I observed the marine layer. It was extra thick today, it felt eerie, the way it often does before the sun fully rises around six a.m. When I stepped outside to walk to the café where I work, I noticed the lingering smell of bonfire in the air. Ash fell from the sky onto my clothes, which made this particular day, not so typical anymore. The news of the fires spread rapidly. A local firefighter came in for his daily cup of coffee and updated me on the lack of containment, making jokes about these days being the beginning of the apocalypse. That marine layer of fog soon turned fully into smoke, making it difficult to breathe on my way back home. “The beginning of the apocalypse” kept ringing in my mind. I guessed that firefighters must need a dark sense of humor to cope with such an unpredictable, dangerous line of work.



My thoughts about the apocalypse were quickly interrupted by a phone call from my sister. She had worry in her voice and informed me that while she was safe, our childhood home could burn down any day now, it was beyond the fire lines. We talked for a while, sharing memories of our childhood together. I told her I wanted to go back there one more time to sit and reminisce before it was all gone for good, just to steal an old memory or two.



We went on to chuckle at the time she fell out of the treehouse and broke her arm, and how I was dramatically uncoordinated when she was teaching me how to ride a bike. We joked around about how we made our best and worst culinary creations in that kitchen, including our family’s first “secret” chili recipe. A few small kitchen fires taught us to always keep a fire extinguisher on hand. A fond memory came up about when she brought home her first boyfriend. Little did we know at the time, but that man was to be her future husband. Which made it all the more memorable when our father, a nerdy string bean of a man, attempted to put the fear of God in the pubescent young man. We reminisced about the pets we lost over the years and the theatrical funerals we gave them in the back yard. One of my favorite things about that old house was our pantry door where we recorded our height over the years. We laughed remembering how we were in cahoots to cheat during all our family game nights. We cried thinking about how our mother spent her last days at the house. Soon, it would just be ash, just like her.



I am left wondering, if I had known the house wouldn't be there forever, if I would have appreciated it differently. Appreciated it more. Maybe I would have cherished more time there with my sister, who, until the evacuations hit, was still living there. I think I always knew what I had; I just didn't think I'd ever lose it. Not like this. My only hope, if there is hope garnered from an experience like this, is that I learn something from the loss. And maybe I have. Maybe I still am. I certainly have a new perspective on life; to appreciate what I have before it becomes what I had. At least for the moment, I am determined to enjoy the little things, because someday, I passionately believe, I'll realize that they were, in reality, the most important things of all.


Kira Star is a well-healed traverser of the planet who enjoys adventure more than most. She spent her twenties as a nomad and often picks up a pen to write about the experiences. When she is not busy planning her next adventure, she is searching for and editing quality travel pieces for Kelp Journal. In the photo to the left, she takes a moment to enjoy the cool coastal waters of California. Connect: @kstar519

© 2023 by Kelp Journal