Going To Extremes

They listened to the radio until there was nothing more to do. Philip went into the house and retrieved a container of Kraft vanilla pudding, which he’d mixed with all the drugs he could find in the house—Valium, Klonopin, Percocet, and so on. He opened the passenger-­side door and knelt beside Becky. He held a spoon, and she guided it to her mouth. When Becky had eaten all the pudding, he got back into the driver’s seat and swallowed a handful of pills. Philip asked her how the pudding tasted. “Like freedom,” she said. As they lost consciousness, the winter chill seeped into their clothes and skin.

Lizzie Johnson covers wildfires for the San Francisco Chronicle.

“It’s kind of like when you’re a beginning journalist and you have to write an obituary—calling the family of the person who died seems like this insurmountable, very invasive task and you really don’t want to do it. That’s kind of how I felt about interviewing fire victims at first. I felt like I was somehow intruding on their grief and their pain. But somewhere along the way I realized there’s healing power in talking about what you’ve been through. Saying it out loud and being able to claim ownership to it. I found that time after time these people are very grateful because they need to talk. They have something to say in the aftermath of this big, massive thing that just came and wiped out everything they knew. They really do just need someone to listen to them. I have never had someone tell me, ‘Go away, we don’t want to talk to you.’ And I’m completely bowled over by that every single time.”

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