I am a maid of constant sorrows
I've seen trouble all my days
I'm going back to California
Place where I was partly raised.

Sunday, May 11, 2003
Masline, California

Rose stood slowly from where she had been sitting on the cracked, buckled curb, wiping her eyes. The warm spring sunlight shone down on her, soothing her grief and strengthening her resolve.

Looking around, she took stock of her situation. She was going to leave Masline, going to start her own life outside of the expectations of those who knew her—but how? All she had were the clothes on her back and the few items in her purse, none of which would really help her in her journey.

She wouldn't go home, though, not even to get the things she needed. After the events of the night of the earthquake, now a week past, she knew another side of her mother, one that had shocked and disturbed her. She had known that Ruth was ambitious—she had tried to raise Rose in that mold, even going so far as to arrange a marriage with a man she considered to be suitable—but Rose had never imagined that her mother would take advantage of the horrifying cataclysm to increase her own wealth and status.

Such things were not new, of course—people had been taking unfair advantage of disasters since time immemorial—but Rose had never wanted to think that her own mother would be one of them. Cal's reaction to the earthquake had not surprised her—she had long since seen him for what he was, though it had only been that day that she had decided to break away from him—but Ruth's agreement with Cal's plan to use the disaster to their advantage had made her uneasy. Who knew what else Ruth was capable of, if she would take advantage of other people's fear and shock and misery to benefit herself?

No, Rose couldn't go home, but neither could she set out with what she had. And there was no one she could go to for help. Her friends, as dearly as she loved them, would never understand her need to set out on her own, leaving everything she had known behind. Already grieving over the loss of three of their own—Fabrizio, Trudy, and Jack—they might well see her leaving as a betrayal, or conspire to keep her there. She might see them again one day, but for now she had to go out on her own.

There was no one else she could turn to. Only Cal knew for sure that she was even alive, and she had sworn him to silence, in exchange for her silence about his responsibility for Jack Dawson's death.

Jack. Rose felt tears well up again as she thought of him—the man who she had loved, who had stood at her side through the trials of the past year, who had helped her to see what was inside herself—a strong, courageous woman who could withstand adversity, who could go on and continue with her life when hope was gone.

Rose blinked back the tears, straightening her back and looking around. It was because of Jack that she had survived the earthquake, and had sent Cal away, and had at last made the decision to go on and start a new life. She had made a promise to him that night, promising to survive and go on with life, no matter what. Jack had pleaded with her to make that promise, knowing that she could survive, if only she could find the strength to carry on. It had been too late for him—he had died a short time later, though Rose hadn't discovered his death until morning—but not for her. She had her whole life ahead of her, time in which to live and love and make the most of every moment.

And it was in order to keep that promise that she was leaving everything she had known behind. Her eyes falling on the rubble of what had once been a store, Rose walked toward it, her conscience warring with her need to survive. It would be stealing to take the items still intact in the rubble—but most of the valuable items had already been taken by looters, and what was left was unlikely to be salable. Most of it would undoubtedly find its way to a landfill. Was it really so wrong to take a few items destined for the trash? Few people would object if she dug through a garbage can itself and took things from it, so long as she didn't use what she found to harm others, and the more damaged goods that were removed, the less cleaning up there would be later.

Squelching the voice that told her that what she was doing was wrong, Rose gingerly walked amongst the rubble, carefully so as not to injure her ankle again. Picking amongst the ruins, she found a dirt-encrusted school backpack and began to fill it with items, taking only what she thought could never be sold.

In spite of the looting, there were a lot of things that hadn't been taken—still usable, but damaged enough that they would be consigned to the trash. The rubble had once been a Big Lots, a store that sold cheap, second-rate items, or items that had not sold well at higher prices, or items that were being discontinued. Very little of the merchandise was the luxury items favored by looters, and the small amounts that were didn't interest her. Rose was interested in surviving, not in collecting stolen goods that she had no use for, and so, picking slowly and carefully through the rubble, Rose collected those things she would need.


It was early afternoon by the time Rose was ready to go. Hefting her heavy load on her back, she secured her purse against her side with a belt around her waist, keeping it from swinging and getting in the way. A few additional items had been stuffed into the purse and into the pockets of a pair of purloined jeans. Her old outfit, the dress and shoes, was carefully hidden at the bottom of her pack. The dress was damaged, but she wasn't ready to give it up, in spite of the faint blood and soot stains still remaining in it even after washing.

Looking around, Rose turned and started slowly toward the hills surrounding the Masline Valley, low hills that slowly grew higher to the east, eventually becoming the foothills of a small mountain range. Beyond that, the larger mountains rose before her, and beyond them, the desert.

It would be a long journey, but she was ready for it. This was the beginning. She didn't know when or where it would end, or if it ever would, but that was a part of what she had learned about life. There was no predicting what would happen, no matter how hard a person tried. In spite of mankind's assertion that it had conquered the world, conquered nature, there were some things that could never be conquered—and the unpredictability of life was one of those things. No one had expected the earthquake, or the damage wrought by it, just as she had never expected the twists and turns that life had given her.

It was time to go, to see whatever the world had to offer, and to make each day count. No one could ever be sure of what the next day would bring, least of all her. Whatever happened in her life, she intended to make the most of it.

As she reached the top of the hill, she turned and looked back for a moment, remembering. From this distance, the town looked almost as it had before. It was almost as though it had never happened. But it had, and it had marked the end of her old life and the beginning of her new.

Turning away, Rose continued walking east, her eyes looking ahead to the future. She was on her own now; her old life had ended and a new one had risen from the ashes of tragedy. She had been tested and strengthened by it, and she knew now that she could make it. She would never give up, and she would never go back.