For almost a week now, Dave Jacobs’ life has been consumed by darkness and uncertainty.
Dark rings form under tired, leaky eyes … eyes rubbed raw from emotion.
That which wasn’t burned by Tuesday morning’s fire was baked in toxic smoke. Soot covers the interior walls of his Raymus Village rental and the few possessions he recovered.
“It’s horrible. Everything smells like smoke. You have no idea what smoke can do to a home. I walked in and the walls were black with this soot,” he says, dragging his finger across the top of a pill container. “I tried to clean some of it, but it wasn’t coming off.
”Everything that was in that garage – the solvents, the brake cleaners – all of that went into the house.”
Not much escaped.
Dave lifted his still-sleeping son Kyle out of bed and carried him to safety, and then raced back into the home to grab the essentials.
“This is everything,” he said, pointing to a small collection of items along a wall in their Hampton Inn room.
Dave emerged from the fire with a human lift, a breathing machine, various medications, clothes and, of course, Kyle’s Xbox 360.
The bare essentials.
Kyle, 19, suffers from muscular dystrophy and cannot walk. He requires around-the-clock care and special accommodations, most of which Dave, who quit his job to become a full-time caretaker, can’t give him now.
“I’ve been an emotional wreck,” Dave said. “We feel very blessed to be here, but you just wonder what’s next? Where do we go? Will we end up living in our van? We have a lot of work to do.”
It’s a sad scene with a steep hill.
The fire claimed Kyle’s backup wheelchair, his shower chair and bathing bridge, as well as a specialized hospital bed that prevents sores and supports his surgically-reinforced back.
He sleeps in his motorized wheelchair because the beds at Hampton Inn are much too soft, and he hasn’t showered since the fire. His coping mechanism: playing Halo, a space-aged video game, and the support of his online brethren.
“It’s a form of entertainment,” Kyle said of Xbox 360. “I wanted to make sure I had it. I’ve put a lot of work into those games.”
Said Dave: “Xbox is his world. That’s what he does, because he can’t do a lot of other things.
“He had everything he wanted in his room – flat-screen on the wall, Xbox, hospital bed. He loved that room.”
And Dave, a 57-year-old former boat salesman in Stockton, loved that house just beyond the city limit.
Everything they owned was contained within those walls and he admits to not having renter’s insurance or an emergency fund.
“Who plans for something like this?” he said.
Just when it looked like darkness and uncertainty would swallow Dave and Kyle whole, someone let in the light.
It started with a glimmer; a random act of kindness.
A lady with St. Anthony’s Catholic Church offered to extend the Jacobs’ stay at the Hampton Inn through the weekend. When the hotel refused her voucher, she wrote them a personal check.
Will this cover it?
And the light spread.
Dave received a call Friday morning from his landlord, Jack Mattos, with news of a rental opportunity in Escalon.
Mattos interrupted the Las Vegas vacation of a prominent friend, Bob Raymus, who offered the Jacobs a home in Escalon on the spot.
The house will be ready in a few days, Dave said, equipped with new linoleum to better accommodate Kyle’s chair.
Dave smiled recanting Friday’s news.
For the first time in nearly a week, the darkness wasn’t too deep or depressing. For the first time in nearly a week, Dave and Kyle felt somewhat comfortable with their future.
“We’ve learned a lot,” Kyle said. “When it’s bad enough, people will come together.”
The Jacobs aren’t completely out of the woods. Not even close.
Kyle’s medical demands are steep, but so too are the protocols in place to procure wheelchairs, medications and other equipment.
Dave says he has filed the necessary requests with California Children’s Services. Now it’s a waiting game. “They get these requests all the time. They see the paper,” he said, “but they don’t understand the urgency behind it.”
Then there’s the matter of filling a new home.
The Jacobs are without furniture, pillows and blankets, dishes and cups, silverware, towels and toiletries, and the list goes on. But thanks to Friday’s news and the small gestures of many, they are not without hope.
“We gained more than we lost. I realize I don’t need material objects. Family is more important,” Kyle said. “I can live without my Xbox, but I can’t live without my Dad.”
Silence ensued, broken only by Dave’s “Yeah right” chuckle.
Their world is still dark, but at least now there’s laughter and light.